LOS ANGELES (AP) — Last year, Dolly Parton was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — against her wishes.
Now, almost exactly a year later, she’s releasing her first rock ‘n’ roll album, appropriately titled “Rockstar,” on Friday.
In 2022, Parton shared a statement announcing that she didn’t feel she had “earned” the right to be nominated, but the Hall inducted her anyway.
“I just didn’t think that I had done enough in the rock world to be considered, to be put in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame when there were so many great rock artists that are not even in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” Parton told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
“They were going to put me in anyway, so I just accepted it gracefully. But I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to have to earn my keep,’” she says. Parton once thought she’d record a “Linda Ronstadt-type rock album,” but had felt she was getting too old. This presented a fresh opportunity.
“I jumped on that like a duck on a Junebug,” she laughs.
She started covering some of her favorite rock ‘n’ roll classics. Some tracks feature the original artists: “Every Breath You Take” with Sting, “Baby, I Love Your Way” with Peter Frampton, “Heart of Glass” with Debbie Harry, “Heartbreaker” with Pat Benatar. Some are creative collaborations: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” with Pink and Brandi Carlile, “Night Moves” with Chris Stapleton, “Stairway to Heaven” with Lizzo on flute.
She wanted Mick Jagger and Lionel Richie, but the timing didn’t work. She did, however, manage to reunite the Beatles. Sort of. Long before the release of “Now and Then,” Parton asked Paul McCartney if he would sing on a cover of “Let It Be.”
“He said, ‘Yeah, I’d be happy to play on it, too, if you want me to,” and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ve died and gone to heaven,'” she says. Then Ringo Starr replaced the drums they’d recorded on the track.
Earlier this year, Starr told the AP he’s working on a country music EP — to which Parton reacts, “I’ll join them if they want me to!”
“I’d definitely do some country singing for some of the rockers going country,” she says.
“Rockstar” also features nine original songs. Some have been unearthed — the lovelorn My Blue Tears,” for example, was written when Parton was with “The Porter Wagoner Show” in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and the cheeky “I Dreamed About Elvis” was written over two decades ago. It features the ’50s vocal quartet Jordanaires, recorded right before they broke up in 2013, and Ronnie McDowell, who plays the Elvis character in the song.
“I had him come in and do the Elvis voice on it, just to kind of sum up that whole story about Elvis,” she says. She’s referring to the now-infamous event in which Elvis Presley said he wanted to record her hit, “I Will Always Love You.” She turned him down — because Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, wanted half of the song’s publishing rights.
Those sweet songs contrast with the album’s lead single. “World on Fire” is theatrical arena rock to the highest degree — big drums and bigger power chords — sonically ascendent and thematically frustrated.
“I’m very sensitive,” she says. “I care about people, human suffering and all of that.”
“World On Fire,” she says, was written after she thought the album was completed. But after watching so many natural disasters last year, she says, “I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to write this song and I’ve got to call another session, because I think the song needs to be heard. I need to say this. People need to hear it, people that are feeling that way but don’t know how to express it. And I just feel like sometimes it is my place to do that.”
With lyrics like “Greedy politicians, present and past / They wouldn’t know the truth if it bit ’em in the ass,” many assumed Parton was getting political — having spent the entirety of her career impartial.
“I’m not political. I hate politics,” she says. “This is not about politics. This is about saving the world as opposed to destroying it.”
For now, Parton says “Rockstar” is her first and last rock album. She’s currently adapting her life story into a Broadway musical and wants to explore other genres.
“I’d like to do an R&B album,” she says. “And blues. I’d love to do a blues album. So, who knows? There’s all kinds of things out there to do.”