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Happy Birthday Lady Gaga: Here's Why You Should Be Thanking Dolly Parton Not Madonna

by Gareth Dimelow
28 March 2012 17 Comments

You may be tired of hearing people accuse Lady Gaga of ripping off Madonna, but actually it's Dolly Parton who deserves the real credit.

With just over a week to go until its release, Lady Gaga is pulling out all the stops to ensure that everyone knows that her new album is almost here. Given the speed at which she attained world-wide fame, there’s a considerable weight of expectation resting on her curiously attired shoulders. Since she’s been talking it up for the last 12 months, anything less than the musical equivalent of Christ’s second coming will be considered a disappointment.

Meanwhile, the obsessive Madonna fans who continually accuse Gaga of ripping off their icon, will be sharpening their bras ready for all-out war. But in this game of pointy tit-for-tat, one key fact has been overlooked. Gaga may well owe Madonna a considerable debt, but there’s another blonde music legend who can surely take some of the credit for influencing the self-proclaimed Mother Monster’s career. Dolly Parton, take a bow – just remember to bend with the knees.

The two stars actually crossed paths back in February at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards, where Dolly was finally receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her five decade-long career as a singer, songwriter, actress, author, philanthropist and wig seller. Of course, Gaga managed to steal all the limelight by turning up in a giant yellow plastic egg, like the world’s most self-involved Kinder Surprise.

Obsessive Madonna fans who continually accuse Gaga of ripping off their icon, will be sharpening their bras ready for all-out war.

Since releasing her first single back in 1965, Dolly has steadily grown into one of the world’s most recognisable recording artists – the country singer it’s OK to like. It helps that she’s got a back catalogue of mucic that’s testament to her incredible talent, not to mention a self-deprecating wit and larger-than-life persona that invites audiences to laugh with, rather than at her.

And then there’s that image of hers. Like a Rubenesque beauty sculpted in Anchor squirty cream. She’s always been unflinchingly honest about her tacky glamour (inspired as a child by the local hooker in her hometown of Sevierville) and her enthusiasm for plastic surgery. As she sings in her recent autobiographical song ‘Backwoods Barbie’, “I might look artificial, but where it counts I’m real.” She’s been through more faces than Lon Chaney, and at times her eyebrows almost appear to levitate above her head, like Penfold getting a nasty surprise. But she’s always unmistakably Dolly, slathered in more make-up than Ronald McDonald’s pillow case.

Gaga, on the other hand, has to resort to increasingly outlandish displays – not everyone can carry off an outfit inspired by Jim Henson’s recurring nightmares of a muppet mass grave. However, one thing both artists share is a belief in the importance of appearances. You’ll never see either of them getting papped putting out the bins in a pair of pizza-stained sweatpants.

But she’s always unmistakably Dolly, slathered in more make-up than Ronald McDonald’s pillow case.

Lady Gaga gets a lot of credit for being an accomplished pianist, but her musicality has nothing on Dolly who plays guitar, banjo, autoharp, piano, dulcimer and drums. In fact, if it weren’t for a couple of prominent obstructions, she could probably take to the stage as a one-woman band. And despite never learning to read or write music, she’s composed over 5,000 songs, many of which are considered classics in both the country and pop genres.

Everyone knows her most successful song is ‘I Will Always Love You’ – butchered in the early nineties by Whitney Houston, who wouldn’t know subtlety if it surreptitiously tapped her on the shoulder. Not only did Whitney over sing the life out of the song, she also completely missed its meaning. If you’ve never heard Dolly’s original, give it a listen and marvel at the definitive passive-aggressive love song – “If I should stay, I would only be in your way… so goodbye, Oh please, don’t cry, we both know I’m not what you need.” Now that’s a bad romance.

There’s no denying that Lady Gaga is happy to use her international celebrity as a platform to advocate for gay rights, an issue she clearly feels passionate about. Again, the critics who argue that Madonna did it first overlook the fact that Dolly has long been an outspoken enthusiast for equality. Asked about how she reconciles her devout religious faith with her healthy gay fan base, Dolly once said “God and I have a great relationship, but we both see other people.” Sometimes, a little wit is more powerful than political grandstanding.

Her musicality has nothing on Dolly who plays guitar, banjo, autoharp, piano…if it weren’t for a couple of prominent obstructions, she could probably take to the stage as a one-woman band.

And several years before Gaga’s ‘gay anthem’ was released, Dolly wrote and recorded ‘Travelin’ Thru’, the Oscar-nominated theme song from TransAmerica. Coming from a sector of the music industry not known for its progressive world-view, it took incredible courage on Dolly’s part to sing from the perspective of a pre-operative transsexual: “I’m out here on my journey, trying to make the most of it. I’m a puzzle, I must figure out where all my pieces fit…” Likewise, consider the line “God made me for a reason, and nothing is in vain”. What she’s saying is, “I was Born This Way baby, but what’s a little remodelling between friends?”

Dolly’s list of accomplishments is too long to list here. But it’s worth also mentioning her Dixie Stampede restaurant chain and the Imagination Library – a book donation fund established in 1996. The scheme has now grown into one of the world’s largest book gifting programmes, distributing over 30 million books worldwide since its inception. Plus, of course, there’s Dollywood, the theme park in her home county which provides employment for over 3,000 people. As well as countless folksy diversions, the park also has a credible range of thrill rides. Although as yet, there are no plans for an Appalachian log flume that culminates in a brutal gang rape at the hands of a bunch of inbred locals.

At the grand old age of 65, Dolly is showing no signs of slowing down, with a European tour and a new album in the works. If Gaga wants longevity from her career, she could do far worse than modelling her approach on the country grand-dame. When I first met Dolly eight years ago, I’m afraid I got a little gushy, admitting that I’d loved her since I was a child. Grasping my hand in hers, she looked up and in that distinctive southern trill, said “Oh honey, don’t stop now.” I hope Gaga takes the same advice.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

Bran 12:33 pm, 15-May-2011

So anytime a new artist starts writing their own music, they are copying Dolly. So anytime a new artist is able to play an instrument, they are copying Dolly. So anytime a new artist address cultural issues, they are copying Dolly. So anytime a new artist becomes a world superstar, they are copying Dolly. Hmm... a reading this material you typed out im gonna go with a "Dolly fan-biased anecdotal article" rather than an article of "professionally researched journalism" on this one. I love Dolly to, but if you have to try and compare her 40 year+ career to any artist who only began just to re-validate your commitments and overtures to Dolly success... then something is really wrong with your priorities and I suggest psychological help from obsession ...or try another career/hobby.

Anon 12:41 pm, 15-May-2011

Wait, what? Someone with a career that's older than time itself has accomplished more than a woman who hasn't even been around for three years? Who would have guessed! Thank you for writing this article, I did need reminding that Dolly Parton is irrelevant, and this desperate soap-box of trashy writing was just what I needed.

USA-Today 1:10 pm, 15-May-2011

I agree completely, it's about Damn time somebody gave DOLLY a little (well-deserved) credit! I think first.) the last two comments were by ignorant pinheads who are probobly losers and FAIL at life! Pay no mind to them bc they are jealous and bitter that they will, neither one, be as beautiful, sexy, talented & God Knows NEVER as rich ... Even if they live to be DOLLYS age!!! Secound.) GaGa is a joke... One , she is not pretty with or without the makeup ext ext, two, she is far less than musically inclined! Bearing all this in mind, both, are large stars and there are recent rumors they are going to duet together... I say HORRAY!!!!!! And just a note for the fool that commented prior to myself... Dolly is FAR from irrelevant and her last album debuted at #2 on the billboard country charts, she's currently getting ready to release a film with queen latifah, play a sold out WORLD tour and release a new mainstream album titled 'Better Day' her first single debuts on Ellen may 26 Dont forget that she currently owns the #1 amusement park in the WORLD! Holder of the applause award! These are just a select few things she has going on .... I could go on, but, I'm sure you could too had you done your RESEARCH!!!!!!!!!!!!! Anyway point is DOLLY=#1 above ALL else and GAGA is a fad!

Colin 2:54 pm, 15-May-2011

Uhm, her amusement park isn't even in the top ten list from several sources, including Forbes... And if her next world tour is sold out, why did ticketmaster just let me select tickets to buy? Maybe you need to do more research, USA-Today.

James 5:16 pm, 15-May-2011

Whitney Houston butchered I Will Always Love You? LOL. She took singing to a whole other level more like. The only person who clearly doesn't grasp what subtlety is, is you with this over the top blog, you bitchy Queen.

skoobydubious 6:19 pm, 15-May-2011

'like Penfold getting a nasty surprise'- genius

heres 6:34 pm, 15-May-2011

What does this have to do with anything? I agree Dolly Parton is a legend but nothing to do with Lady Gaga. I am not an obsessive Madonna fan nor does it take an obsessive Madonna fan to know that Lady Gaga is has and is molding her career after Madonna's and it is a bit scary!

Miranda 7:30 pm, 15-May-2011

AND Dale Bozzio (Missing Persons) AND Cyndi Lauper AND Lene Lovich AND Toya AND Nina Hagen AND a few dozen other costumed drag queen wannabes.

Gene Walker 2:48 am, 16-May-2011

What an ignorant statement to say that the legendary Whitney Houston of all singers, born with the most tremendous vocal gifts of our era, missed the meaning of 'I Will Always Love You'. Obviously you completely missed the point of the magic and meaning she imbued the song with from the quiet acapella at the start to the rousing passion at the climax. You might want to leave actual song reviews to those with the 'subtle' sensitivity to recognise vocal greatness and spectacular lyrical interpretation when they hear it. Finally, considering that Whitney's version became (and still is) the highest selling single by a female artist in music history, millions of people would agree with me that you have no idea what you're talking about!

Todd 9:32 am, 16-May-2011

Whoa... Gareth you can say what you want about people cause i love me some Dolly and Gaga, but don't ever trash Whitney, esp in her heyday cause you ain't worthy dude.

Darolo 7:28 am, 17-May-2011

Dolly IS amazing, Madonna IS amazing, Whitney WAS amazing, Gaga is an amazing rip-off !!!

Mickey 2:57 pm, 21-May-2011

Dolly is one of the most amazing, talented, beautiful, and kind heartfelt women!!!! She is and will always be amazing. I think that who ever wrote this is ignorant. I don't understand why they are comparing Dolly and Gaga but I guess that's their opinion on things. They need to get their research correct, though! Some of the things said about dlDolly were inncorrect. Some of the things on Gaga were incorrect, too.

monstrousity 8:33 pm, 19-Jun-2011

1. Both Gaga and Dolly are as different as any other music artist. 2. Both are talented, anyone who has seen live performances of either can tell you that. If you haven't ...check youtube. 3. In order for Gaga to rip off someone like Madonna, Madonna would have had to actually write/produce her own material. Guess what? She doesn't, Gaga does. 4. 'The Fame', 'The Fame Monster', & 'Born This Way' are albums unlike anything ive ever witnessed before their times, Gaga is pretty original in her own work. 5. Get the f**k over who is better who is not. Humans have this thing called an "opinion" and musical taste is different for everyone. Duh.

Darolo 8:47 am, 20-Jun-2011

Hey Monstrousity! YOU need to do a little homework. Madonna does write her own songs!! Gaga just mainly re-writes other peoples!

Vee Bdosa 7:41 pm, 13-Feb-2012

I agree, Dolly's version of I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU is far greater than Whitneys. I personally think Whitney was "shouter" more than a singer, but who the hay am I? Dolly COAT OF MANY COLORS? is the song I connect more with Dolly even today. And when you look at all Dolly has done, which is more than any ten singers, AND THEN we see her at Porter Wagoner's bedside as he died, how much more perfect can a person be? I think it was 1989 when I got close enough to touch Porter Waggoner's hand while attempting to shake his hand, Easter egg gathering celebration at the Old Opryland amusement park, he in his blue silver studded suite, riding he Palimino --- it was like he was King of the World to us. Another singer many a new singers owe their gratitude to. It rubbed off onto Dolly as well, and when I took a songwriters course with Chuck Neese at Warner Brothers, in Nashville, we all joked about the classic fights Porter and Dolly had in this very basement room, we also knew that the only place Dolly could be when Porter died, was at his bedside. And she was. I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU, a Dolly Parton song for Porter Waggoner.

Xen 12:15 am, 29-Mar-2012

When has Madonna ever gone through an ET phase?

katy b 11:31 pm, 29-Mar-2012

I agree fully that Dolly Parton has been and is an icon for women, Country music and music in general.She's a singing/songwriting/business/philantropic genius who has sustained that for more than five decades. You can go back as far as songs such as 'Just Because I'm a Woman,' or 'Down From Dover,' which were more or less banned in the 60s/70s to understand how she went out on a limb. The problem is that today via internet etc music is downloaded in millions and tends to make people more important than what they really are. What she did in the past is grossly underestimated because of that. The fact that she fills halls of 25,000 (as in Australia etc on her 2011 Better Day tour) is testament to her real value.Her contribution to charity is not just Imagination Library, but many other domains that she chooses not to publicise. Nonetheless, you will not win anybody over by putting down Madonna or Lady Gaga. Both artists deserve respect and stand out in their own right as great. Dolly Parton herself never puts other people or their achievements down. She has had a lot of hard lessons in life and is reminded every day of the need to stay humble and understands the importance of paving our own way without walking on others. She invests, thanks and gives. Why not just praise all musicians,singers and song writers. They help keep the heart and soul of humanity alive. Bravo Dolly, Bravo Madonna, Bravo Lady Gaga.

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