My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘Porter & Dolly’

220px-PorterdollyalbumFive years after the release of Say Forever You’ll Be Mine, one final collaboration album surfaced from the pair. Porter and Dolly wasn’t a new studio album, although it was comprised of unreleased tracks from their heyday as a duo. The album came about after Wagoner won a court settlement stemming from his split from Parton, eleven years earlier.

At the time of this release, in June 1980, the pair weren’t speaking, so the two singles went without proper promotion. Unusual as it may have been, it didn’t make a difference. Lead single “Making Plans,” a simple piano drenched ballad written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison, shot to #2. “If You Go, I’ll Follow You,” written by the pair, hit #12.

The remainder of the ten-song album gave Parton four solo compositions. “Hide Me Away” and “Beneath The Sweet Magnolia Tree” feature production values opposite to their themes – the former, a love song, is creepy while the latter is much to jovial (although I enjoy the sunny banjo). “If You Say I Can” is a bit slicker and right on the money.

Parton’s final number, “Little David’s Harp” is another of her dead children songs, this time about a couple’s blind-from-birth son who played a magical golden harp. He would mysteriously die on Christmas Day, before reaching adolescence:

And then there was a storm on Christmas morning

And the snow brought such a chill little David, 7 now lays quiet

And still his hands reach out to touch his harp gently rested

The angels came for him that night and on the 7th year he rested

***

Little David’s playing now in God’s angel band

He’s gone home to Heaven now the way that it was planned

But on his birthday every year which falls on Christmas day

All through the house we hear the harp that little David played

Without much understanding of this era, I have to admit I don’t fully understand Parton’s affinity for writing these types of songs. She handles them delicately, and technically Wagoner does sing the dire verses, but I don’t quite get the appeal. The story of “Little David’s Harp” is good but it’s still as creepy as “Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark” and “The Party,” among others.

Wagoner only wrote two other songs. “There’s Singing On The Mountain” is a fabulous ditty about mountain heritage and close knit family. “Touching Memories,” with Nashville Sound era piano, is more of a standard and features a co-writing credit for Tom Pick.

The legendary Jerry Chesnut wrote “Daddy Did His Best,” a wonderful tribute to a hardworking father featuring a beautiful vocal from Parton. The final cut, “Someone Just Like You,” is an unremarkable ballad composed by Joe Hudgins.

Porter and Dolly marks the final recordings released by the duo, in Wagoner’s lifetime. In revisiting his astonishing final solo effort Wagonmaster, I can’t believe Marty Stuart didn’t succeed in getting one final duet between the pair on the album. She was at his bedside when he passed, so a final collaboration wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility.

But this album, which credits Wagoner as producer, is the last of their legacy. The album is notable for featuring 1980s overdubs on the recordings and Parton did reprise “Making Plans” seven years later on Trio.

Like the rest of the pair’s discography, this album can be found scattered about on Bear Family’s Just Between You and Me. Those particular recordings are the original versions and thus are scrubbed of the aforementioned overdubs. The album itself isn’t terribly remarkable although given its origins (even the album cover is a composite of two images spliced together) it feels in sync and not mailed in. For a compilation of recordings, that’s a noteworthy feat in and of itself.

Grade: B

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4 responses to “Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘Porter & Dolly’

  1. Ken August 31, 2016 at 11:47 am

    I rate this album a bit higher. At least an A-. Perhaps because after Porter & Dolly’s much publicized split and legal battle I did not expect to see any more duet albums much less new singles. So it was a very pleasant surprise in 1980 when this album and two new singles hit the market.

    This album was indeed a consequence of their lawsuit being settled. The duo had actually ceased performing together in 1974. Porter continued producing or co-producing Dolly’s solo recordings until February 1976. Their final duets were recorded two months later. The eleven year reference to their lawsuit [see above] is incorrect as the actual litigation was resolved within one calendar year. Porter’s lawsuit was initiated on March 21, 1979 and it was settled later that year. By early December 1979 Porter was remixing and overdubbing his vintage duets with Dolly from the RCA vault to create the Porter & Dolly album.

    I disagree that “proper promotion” efforts were lacking for the album or single releases. RCA Victor knew that this was an “event” release that had strong appeal to the many Porter & Dolly fans that had not vanished within a few short years. Radio continued to play their oldies so their profile remained significant. Their non-LP single “Is Forever Longer Than Always” was a top 10 hit in mid-1976 so their absence from the country chart was only a few years. I worked in radio at the time and recall that my RCA Rep promoted this release as much as the other hot acts on the label during that era. Their efforts paid off when “Making Plans” became a #2 Billboard hit. A single lacking promotion would have little chance of peaking that high. RCA also pushed the second single “If You Go, I’ll Follow You” but it stalled at #12. That song was a victim of poor timing as it was competing for airplay with Dolly’s huge solo hit “9 To 5” which was grabbing all of the attention with her hit movie as a promotional vehicle. The Porter & Dolly album spent 31 weeks on the album charts and peaked at #9 which was quite an accomplishment in an era dominated by pop/country sounds from Kenny Rogers and Crystal Gayle and the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. RCA’s retail promotion team was also working to keep product in the stores to make those significant sales possible.

    “Making Plans” was written in the early 1960’s and recorded by many artists but it never became a chart hit until Porter & Dolly’s version. The earliest recording of the song that I can recall was made by the Wilburn Brothers in 1963. They released it on the B side of their 1964 single “I’m Gonna Tie One On Tonight.” Porter & Dolly’s version was the oldest track revived for that 1980 album. Recorded at a May 1968 session the song remained unreleased for 12 years but sounded very contemporary with keyboard fills replacing Buck Trent’s original electric banjo licks. New backing vocals were also added. It’s my favorite version of that great song. That song and the rest of that album are testimony to Porter’s skills as a producer because he was able to breathe new life into those vintage tracks creating a commercial success.

    Dolly’s preoccupation with children and tragedy comes from her own childhood experiences. Most notably her mother almost died of spinal meningitis and later miscarried a baby boy that was supposed to be Dolly’s responsibility to help raise. Nine year old Dolly took the child’s death very personally. That incident was dramatized in the excellent “Coat Of Many Colors” TV movie last year. She also mentions other hardships from her early life that left lasting impressions in her 1994 autobiography “Dolly – My Life And Other Unfinished Business.” In the era that Dolly grew up sad and sentimental songs were a significant part of country music.

    • Jonathan Pappalardo August 31, 2016 at 3:46 pm

      Thanks for the background, Ken. I appreciate your insight as always. I’m not well versed on the historical aspects of Porter & Dolly’s career beyond a deep appreciation for their recorded output. The sad and sentimental songs make more sense in proper context.

      I had assumed, which was short-sighted, that artists were as involved in promotion then as they are now. I wasn’t thinking about RCA putting in the work opposed to Poter & Dolly actively making appearances together in support of the album and singles. Thank you for clarifying.

      • Ken August 31, 2016 at 8:30 pm

        You’re welcome. Happy to add to the discussion.

        I suppose that if you were not around to experience mid-20th century country music firsthand it’s rather difficult to assess some of it’s merits. Especially for songs that deal with deep emotions like sadness, loss and death. Those topics are virtually unknown to today’s so-called “country” fans. It’s party-party all the time preferably with a pick-up truck -or- some kind of purported love song containing superficial lyrics with variations of girl (or boy) you’re sure lookin’ good……I don’t waste my time on it.

        I believe that Porter Wagoner actively promoted the duet LP back in 1980. Dolly was already a superstar in both country & pop music with a new movie on the way so the duet project was definitely in her rear view mirror. However not every artist actively promoted their new recordings. Hank Jr. never called radio stations or met radio folks to any great extent much to the dismay of his record labels. But during the 1980’s he had a long string of hits and best selling albums. He’s one of the few artists that could be completely detached from radio yet still succeed.

        • Razor X September 1, 2016 at 10:02 am

          I was around to experience mid-20th century country music firsthand, although most of the Porter & Dolly albums were released before I was really old enough to be into music of any kind. I don’t mind sad or sentimental songs but I do find Dolly’s dead children songs from that era to be a bit over the top.

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