Dolly Parton knows a thing or two about writing sad country songs.
She of course penned one of the all-time great heartbreaking tracks in all of music with “I Will Always Love You,” and with her vast and rich catalog filled with decades of music, that’s really just scratching the surface.
For as fun and upbeat as she usually comes across in public, Dolly’s also never one to shy away from tough topics, and is very honest about the struggles she’s had throughout her life that the public may not have noticed from the outside looking in.
“I think sometimes I ought to get sued for writing such pitiful songs… I write a lot of sad songs, and some of them are just plum pitiful.”
An all-time great quote and something that I, as a sad song extraordinaire, am very grateful for.
And one that Dolly believes is the saddest of them all (no pun intended) is from her 1970 fifth solo studio album The Fairest of Them All, called “Daddy Come and Get Me.”
It was the album’s only single, and peaked at number 40 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
She wrote it with her aunt Dorothy Jo Hope, saying they were inspired by a real-life story about a girl they knew from back home in the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee:
“I wrote it with my aunt Dorothy Jo. We both knew a story back home about a very nervous and emotional woman that some man had driven crazy. He was having an affair.
And because this woman was so crushed and broken, he put her in a mental institution. We knew this woman, and she didn’t have much family on her side to keep it from happening.
He just put her in that institution to get her out of the way so he could go on with his life.”
Officially recorded in 1969, Dolly was also inspired by another acquaintance who found herself in a similar situation in Nashville, after Dolly had moved to Music City.
Although this time, the woman was put in an institution by her father, making it all the more complex considering the fact that she felt betrayed, and not protected, by her father:
“Later on, I knew someone in Nashville who had the same thing happen to her. It was a situation that nobody knew how to handle. This song was based on those stories.
We thought, how sad it must be to have to reach out to your father to say, ‘I’m in this mental institution looking out through these iron bars. How could he put me in here? How could he go that far?’ She couldn’t call on her husband, obviously.
You can always count on your parents, although in the song, you can’t tell if the daddy will rescue her or not. We loved writing that song. During some of my happiest times, I’ve written some of my saddest songs, and vice versa.”
Can you even imagine hearing a song like that on country radio today? I don’t even think many songs like that get written (at least in mainstream country) anymore.
It’s just another example of Dolly’s depth and ability as a songwriter to put herself in other people’s shoes, and pull real and raw emotion from something she maybe never experienced personally.
And if you’ve never heard it before, make sure you do yourself a favor and check it out while you’re here (you might wanna grab a tissue first, though):
“Daddy Come And Get Me”
And how about another extremely sad one from The Fairest of Them All “Down from Dover” (which was later re-recorded for her 2001 Little Sparrow album):