Sad Country Songs Make Me Happy: Hailey Whitters’ Pick – “Down From Dover” By Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton country music
Harper Smith (Hailey)

Believe it or not, Dolly Parton can write a damn sad country song, too.

Of course, if you follow Whiskey Riff in any capacity, then you know how much all of us here love a good old fashioned, sad country song.

And since some of my favorite artists in the genre right now wrote some of my all-time favorite sad songs that hurt so good, I wanted to know what some of their favorite’s were that inspired them to write soul-crushing music just like George, Willie, Merle, Waylon and all the other country greats.

So far for this new Sad Country Songs series, we’ve heard some great picks from Whiskey Myers frontman Cody Cannon and Wade Bowen, and today, the corn queen Hailey Whitters is giving us her favorite sad country song.

Hailey says one of her go-to’s is from the Queen herself, Miss Dolly:

“I love, this song is so depressing, but I love it because I feel like it’s the opposite of what people usually associate with this artist.

But it is a Dolly example, but it’s called ‘Down from Dover,’ it’s so dark.”

A solo write by Dolly, it was originally released on her 1970 The Fairest of them All album, but she later re-recorded it for her 2001 Little Sparrow record, where she added in an extra verse.

It tells the story of a girl who gets pregnant out of wedlock, and her boyfriend tells her he has to leave for work but plans to return, and winds up never coming back.

The girl’s parents disown her, and she ends up living out out on a farm taking care of an older lady to make money and stay alive, still trying to convince herself that he’s coming back before she has the baby.

He never does, and she winds up devastated after she delivers the baby stillborn because:

“I guess in some strange way she knewShe’d never have a father’s arms to hold herSo dying was her way of telling meHe wasn’t coming down from Dover”

It’s an incredibly dark and sad song, but it’s real, and that’s one of the things Hailey admires about Dolly and her masterful songwriting… though we as country fans don’t always necessarily associate Dolly with sad and depressing lyrics, she could pen ’em better than just about anybody:

“But it’s always such an interesting song to me because it shows that like, Dolly was writing about all kinds of topics.

And I thought that was very fascinating thing and really just made me admire her even more for having, kind of, the guts to talk about real things and hard things.”

Dolly’s even said of the track that Porter Wagoner told her she’d never get played on the radio with story songs like “Down from Dover.”

She actually wrote the song on his tour bus back in the day, and in her 2020 book Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyricsshe explained where the inspiration came from:

“We rode past Dover, Tennessee, and my mind started going. It was a beautiful day, and the wind was blowing. There was this field of clover waving in the wind.

So there we were, Dover-clover, and that started me off: ‘The sun behind a cloud just cast a crawling shadow o’er the fields of clover. And time is running out for me. I wish that he would hurry down from Dover.'”

Of course, back in those days, and even now to a certain extent, that kind of topic was very taboo and totally off limits in terms of it ever getting released as a single or played on the radio:

“It couldn’t be released as a single because of its subject. Disc jockeys weren’t interested in it; it was too controversial. Even to this day, people don’t talk about this, and they especially didn’t back then.

Back when I wrote it, if you got pregnant out of wedlock, you were either going to have to get rid of the baby, have it adopted, or you just had to leave home altogether.”

Dolly added that she can dig deep and come up with the saddest stories you could ever imagine, and I believe that versatility and ability to be so vulnerable is what has made her the country icon that she is today:

“Lord, I just can’t get depressing enough, can I? When you tell these stories, you have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. So I just keep writing along.

I never know, myself, how I’m going to end it, until I get close to the end. Only when I start talking about it or thinking about it do I realize how morbid I really am.

People always say, ‘You just seem so happy.’ I say, ‘Yeah, but I can certainly write you a morbid song!’”

Hailey also explained that, part of the reason she thinks so many of us gravitate to those old, sad songs so often is because it makes us feel a little less alone on our best and worst days:

“I think it’s kind of misery loves company. I think that we all have some really shitty days, and I think that’s just a reminder that we all feel low, and we all can feel low together sometimes.

And we’re not alone, and that’s kind if my favorite thing about country is, it’s like, we’re all in this together. It’s real and it’s honest, and it’s people sharing their highs, but it’s also people sharing their lows.

And I think it kind of comes down to feeling less alone when you feel really alone in the world.”

Amen to that…

Hailey also suggested Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss’ “Whiskey Lullaby” and Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” as some of her other go-to’s.

And if you’ve never heard Dolly’s “Down from Dover” before, it’s an amazing song, but you might wanna grab a tissue before you hit play:

And while Hailey admits that she doesn’t have a ton of really sad songs in her repertoire, I also want to include my favorite one from each artist and band I feature.

From her debut 2015 Black Sheep record, “Get Around” is a stunner of a song, and is in the same vein as Dolly’s aforementioned “Down from Dover.”

The subject of the song admits that “it ain’t easy being easy,” and while we all have issues and problems that manifest in different ways, she doesn’t know how she’ll ever be able to live down her reputation of being the girl who “gets around.”

It’s a great song too, so make sure you check it out, as well:

For more of the best sad country songs, check out the Whiskey Riff Sad Country Songs Make Me Happy Playlist:

Listen on Spotify.

Listen on Apple Music.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock