Dolly Parton’s ‘Purple Rain’ Cover Is the Unexpected Prince Tribute You Need to Hear

And Dolly’s takes on “Satisfaction,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Free Bird” rock too

On Rockstar, which finally drops today, Dolly Parton challenged herself to get out of her comfort zone, focusing on singing rock & roll for the first time in her career. She wrote a few songs for the album, but the vast majority of the tracks are covers, including some surprising picks.

Her rendition of Prince and the Revolution’s “Purple Rain” leans deep into the gospel feel of the song, giving Parton space to vocalize all the melisma she can handle where Prince played guitar. It starts with church organ and a little Hendrixy guitar riffing, before she sings the iconic opening line, “I never meant to cause you any sorrow/I never meant to cause you any pain” in her distinctive Tennessee accent. When Parton croons, “I only want to see you bathing in the purple rain,” she sounds like she really wants to summon some kind of grape Kool-Aid shower. A gospel choir backs her up about two-and-a-half minutes in and they bring it all home within eight minutes — about a minute less than Prince’s original.

On her cover of the Rolling Stones‘ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” she completely subverts Keith Richards’ iconic riff into something even simpler that sounds a bit like tuning up on “Start Me Up,” but then the guitarist’s fingers slip and it kind of falls apart. Nevertheless, the rhythm section gets a good groove going and Parton, Pink, and Brandi Carlile take turns updating Mick Jagger’s lyrics here and there. In the second verse, Pink skips the cigarettes line in favor of “When I’m watching my TV, and a man comes on and tells me how white my shirts can be/But he’s got no right to preach to me ’bout who I am and I’m supposed to be” And Parton sings about getting a “man in action” instead of a girlie and later sings about “trying to make some boy.” (Note: Parton has been married since 1966.)


Parton first recorded Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway to Heaven” for her Halos & Horns album in 2002, but for Rockstar she sweetened it with an appearance by Lizzo and her flute, Sasha Flute, which adds a little extra pipes to the song. Parton gets so into it she even adds a couple ad-libbed rounds of “Stairway to Heaven, Stairway to Heaven” to the middle.

She closes the outing in true rock & roll fashion with a lighter in the air, singing Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Free Bird” for 10 minutes and 45 seconds — which is about a minute and a half longer than Skynyrd’s original and even longer than the 10-minute outtake the band released on Skynyrd’s Innyrds. The recording features the voice of late Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant, along with a guitar solo by Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington (who died in March) and the Artimus Pyle Band, which features former Skynyrd styck man Pyle. Parton delivers, adding some “spread my wings and touch the sky” and “fly high” riffs here and there. For once, you’re allowed to yell “Free Bird!”

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