Dolly Parton has always been a rock star, but on her 49th solo album, she’s got the leopard print and leather to prove it.
Rockstar, released on Friday, is basically the Barbra Streisand memoir of rock albums: a mammoth, star-powered hit parade that celebrates both Parton’s legendary chops and the theater of rock. Spurred by her 2022 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—an honor the country icon initially refused because she felt she needed to “earn” it—the album boasts nine original songs and 21 covers, clocking in at 141 minutes. But it’s packed with big moments and even bigger guests that live up to its marathon length, as Parton recruits many of the cover songs’ original artists—including Pat Benatar, Elton John, Sting, and even Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr on a godly rendition of “Let It Be.”
Below, see our picks for the eight Rockstar songs that rock the hardest.
The album opens by introducing us to wannabe Rockstar Dolly, an ambitious “teenage dreamer” determined to show her lame parents she’s got the power to make it big. Is it weird hearing 77-year-old Parton embody a schoolgirl standing in front of her bedroom mirror and screaming, “I don’t want to be ordinary!”? A bit, but it’s an utterly charming introduction to Rockstar—bolstered by a searing pop-metal guitar solo from Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora—and a reminder that Parton is one of the most relentlessly positive stars we have.
“I Hate Myself for Loving You” (ft. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts)
This one rocks mostly because it’s a cool move to not do “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” which would’ve been the much more predictable (and thus, more boring) choice when choosing a duet with Joan Jett. Parton’s version opens with a cheesy but fun back-and-forth with Jett as the two rev each other up and Parton beckons, “Grab your guitar and let me sing along with you. Let’s go girl!” What follows is a pretty faithful rendition of Jett and the Blackhearts’ 1988 banger, with a few ad libs from Parton that give the hook some theatrical flair.
“Wrecking Ball” (ft. Miley Cyrus)
This isn’t the first time Parton’s teamed up on wax with her A-list goddaughter—who had her own rockstar makeover moment on 2020’s Plastic Hearts—but it might be the best. Cyrus’ wail has only gotten mightier in the decade since she first released this thundering ballad, and here, she lets it rip more than she did on the original. The moment in the second verse when the power chords kick in behind her is a particularly badass moment, and it only gets better from there. Well… except for maybe the interpolation of “I Will Always Love You” at the end, which feels like a weird afterthought. But hey, if there’s anything “Wrecking Ball” has taught us, it’s that sometimes you just gotta close your eyes and take a swing.
Covering Prince’s epic psych-gospel ballad is often a foolish man’s downfall, but leave it to Parton to absolutely nail it. Her sprawling, smoky take on the classic would certainly have made The Purple One proud, as she—with the help of a killer choir—takes us to church.
“What Has Rock and Roll Ever Done for You” (ft. Stevie Nicks)
Does it get any cooler than Dolly Parton and Stevie Nicks on the same track? Nope, and it doesn’t get more fun either, judging by the intro and outro of this one, which find the two living legends quibbling about who’s going to take the first verse, and then laughing about guzzling champagne. “He said, what has rock ’n’ roll ever done for me? / I said everything,” they sing on this bluesy romp, which Nicks originally wrote for Fleetwood Mac about an affair she once had with someone “famous and rich” in the rock scene. The band rejected it, but their loss is Parton’s (and our) gain.
“World on Fire”
A pissed-off Dolly Parton banger is a scarce treat, and platitude-filled as this one may be, we gotta take them when they come. “World on Fire” is a theatrical arena rock screed about the “great divide” in our society between what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s also a rare political outing for Parton, who spits over a stadium-stomping beat, “Don’t get me started on politics / Now how are we to live in a world like this? / Greedy politicians, present and past / They wouldn’t know the truth if it bit ‘em in the ass.”
“Tried to Rock and Roll Me” (ft. Melissa Etheridge)
You’d be forgiven for assuming this is a spin on Etheridge’s sultry blues ballad “Rock and Roll Me,” released in 2012. Instead, it’s a blistering, country-tinged swipe at a player whose shtick won’t get past these two: “You’re arrogant, conceited, and vain / But baby I’m not playing this game,” they snarl. It only gets better when Etheridge ends the song by coaxing, “Come on Dolly, let’s rock.”
“Keep On Loving You” (ft. Kevin Cronin)
REO Speedwagon’s classic power ballad gets a sharper, more sinister revamp in Parton’s finely gloved hands. Cronin recently revealed that teaming up with Parton uncovered the song’s true meaning: “When I wrote that song, I kind of portrayed myself as more of the good guy than perhaps I was. Perhaps it takes more than one snake in the grass, ‘all coiled up and hissing,’ to tango—if you catch my drift. That’s the reality of the song, you know?” By trading verses with Parton and play-acting two cheating lovers, he added, “the song becomes this kind of dark duet. It just slays me, because that’s how the song was meant to be performed; I just didn’t realize it until Dolly called me the other day.” Two vocal powerhouses wailing about their embattled love over towering electric guitars… what’s more rock ’n’ roll than that?
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