1. “Halos and Horns” (Dolly Parton)
I thought of the title about two years ago when I was trying to pitch a pilot for a TV show to Fox. Nothing ever happened with it, but I just thought that was a great title. When I finally wrote the song last summer, I thought it would make a good album title, because it sets up the whole album being about sinners and saints. I go from one song about swimming naked in the pond to a spiritual number. We’re all struggling to be good, but we can’t be all the time.
Musically, it’s just so country. When I started singing it, it took me all the way back to the days of Porter Wagoner and Hank Locklin and all of us.
2. “Sugar Hill” (Dolly Parton)
Every time I’d look at my record company’s label, I’d think, “Sugar Hill, now that’s a really pretty name.” I wondered if there was a place called Sugar Hill and found out there were several. The one I courted on wasn’t called Sugar Hill, but it got pretty sweet when I was up on it. I wrote the song because of the record label. My own little record label is called Blue Eye, so I thought this would be a great Blue Eye way to “brown nose.”
3. “Not for Me” (Dolly Parton)
Everybody says this is such a beautiful vocal, but that they hate to hear me sing so sad. There’s a strange story about the song. It’s at least 35 years old, but it’s never been on a record. I totally forgot it, myself. I’ve got boxes, buckets and trunks of old tapes. I was looking for a particular old song of mine that I wanted to use in the museum at Dollywood. We grabbed one tape and I pushed the “Play” button on the tape recorder and this song started playing, “Not for Me.” I thought it was a beautiful melody and I was picking the guitar before I had fingernails and I remembered that I used to play really good. I don’t even remember when I wrote it. It was just a vague memory, but it must have been a time when I was feeling sad. It had to have been right when I first came to Nashville [in 1964], because there were other songs on that tape that were written before I even left home.
4. “Hello God” (Dolly Parton)
The day after September 11th, I was “given” several songs. One was called “Color Me America,” which I’ll be performing at live shows. The next one that came is “Hello God.” I realized just how fragile we really are, and how small life is, and how everything can change in the blink of an eye.
I had really strong feelings. That song was given to me, that and “Raven Dove.” Some songs write themselves. This one was just calling out, saying, “Write me!”
I hope everything comes across as I meant it. It’s like everybody believes that God is their God. But God belongs to everybody.
Those lines: “I have questioned Your existence, and my resistance leaves me cold.” It’s like, if You exist, how could You let this happen? But then not to believe there’s a God is even worse. Then you’re just cold and totally alone. We’re not strong. We need You. We gotta have some help.
5. “If” (David Gates)
I love that song and I’ve always wanted to record it. But I didn’t just want to rework the slow version that Bread did. I thought it would lend itself to a treatment with a feeling like “Everybody’s Talking,” or the way Ray Stevens did “Misty.” A good song can be done any way.
6. “Shattered Image” (Dolly Parton)
The reason I decided to re-do it is because of all the shit that comes out in the tabloids. It’s like they punish you to death. They tell some God-awful things. Why can’t people just leave you alone to live your life as you see fit? So that is why I wanted to drag this song back out, because I was feeling like that.
7. “These Old Bones” (Dolly Parton)
That old mountain woman’s voice is my mother’s. I’m always cracking up my brothers and sisters with that voice. I can “do” Mama, because I’m so much like her. My brothers and sisters will fall over laughing when they hear it, but Mama won’t recognize it as her. She’ll say, “Lord have mercy! Why do you sound like some old woman?”
I was up at the Tennessee Mountain Home, writing. I was making up breakfast and thinking about this title that had come to me in a dream the night before. Then later I started making up a “mountain” story about some old crazy woman who was psychic. ‘Cause we have those “up home” all the time.
After I wrote the song I got the idea of using Mama for the old woman’s voice, mother and daughter. And in the “duet” at the end, it does sound exactly like me and Mama singing. I’m so glad that I did this, because now I can write more stories about this character, on each album. It touched me when I thought that, because now I can have Mama forever. As long as I live, Mama can be with us, through me. I can “channel” her. Kind of like the “Dollymama.”
8. “What a Heartache” (Dolly Parton)
This song originally appeared on the soundtrack of Rhinestone. I loved that other version, but I love the song too much to just let it lie there. Something in me says that somebody is going to have a big hit record on this someday. It may not be me. But if I do it enough and enough people hear it, somebody else will do it.
9. “I’m Gone” (Dolly Parton)
Now that is a good “kiss-off” song. It’s loosely based on a couple I dearly loved, some relatives of mine. He had saved back a little bit of money and had some property. He was stingy. He wouldn’t turn loose of nothin’. They argued all the time. I remember her saying one time, “You’d probably divorce me, but you’re afraid I’d take half of everything!” That is so true of so many people. I thought, “I’d rather live in a cardboard box under a bridge than to live with somebody who didn’t love me or somebody I couldn’t stand to look at.” That got me thinking, “If I was married to somebody I didn’t like, I’d just leave with nothing.” I love some of these lines - “My ceramic shop out back” - “A UFO abducted me from home” - “In the witness program with the F.B.I.” It’s one of my favorites.
10. “Raven Dove” (Dolly Parton)
I woke up at 2 o’clock in the morning. Something just pulled me out of bed. It was like a force, but not scary. It was like a little inner voice told me to get up because I had something to do. I went into the kitchen, sat down and thought, “OK. Now what?” I got out a piece of paper and wrote the line, “Raven of darkness, dove of peace.” Then I started writing words I didn’t even realize were still stuck in my head from my religious background. And where did that melody come from? It’s such an unusual thing. This whole song was strange for me. It was a very inspired song.
11. “Dagger Through the Heart” (Dolly Parton)
Everybody seems to love this one. “These Old Bones” and “Dagger Through the Heart” are the two I seem to “punch up” most often. I had another song with this title, but it was pretty mediocre so I re-wrote it. The good thing about having a big catalog is that you can pick out good lines from here and there. You find them in your head. You find them in your heart. I have books and books full of titles and lines and unfinished lyrics. I’ll never get to all of them. I was proud of how this one turned out.
12. “If Only” (Dolly Parton)
I’m doing the Mae West story as a movie, and I was writing some original songs for it. This was one of them, “If Only.” I was doing it in a Mae West voice, in the style of a piano bar. Then they decided to take the piece out. They didn’t want her singing something this sad. So I just took it and did it my way.
13. “John Daniel” (Dolly Parton)
That’s another one that’s 30-35 years old. I know I wrote it before “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene.” You can tell its age by the setting of hippies in the park, because that’s how it was when I wrote it. I’ve always loved the song, and I knew I wanted to use the Kingdom Heirs quartet on the album. I was thinking of songs I’ve written that I haven’t recorded, and “John Daniel” came to mind.
14. “Stairway to Heaven” (Jimmy Page/Robert Plant)
It was a song I loved and a song that [husband] Carl loved. We used to love it together. To me, it’s like “After the Goldrush.” It’s an abstract song. You really don’t know what it means. It sounds Old World. On the last couple of albums, I did “Shine,” “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “Traveling Prayer,” so everybody is expecting me to do something “different” on this album, too. Well, I’m the only person to have the nerve to deal with classics. That’s why I took it, ad-libbed it and made it more spiritual.
I didn’t do it just for the gimmick - my love for the song comes from a very real place. It’s not just about making it work - it’s about it really being a part of you. So I thought, “What the hey - I’m just going to go with it, and if it didn’t turn out good, nobody would ever know I even tried it.” I knew I was walking on sacred ground because it is a classic.
But any time you make a change in lyrics or in my case the ad-libs, you have to get an OK from the writers and publisher. I was scared to death to send it to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. They sent word back that it was fine and they loved it. In fact, Robert Plant said he’d always thought of it as a spiritual song, and he was thrilled we’d used a choir on it, because he thought about that, too. If they like it, that’s most important to me. But I do hope the public will accept it too. I even hope they love it.