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In 1967, musician and country music entertainer Porter Wagoner invited Parton to join his organization, offering her a regular spot on his weekly syndicated television program The Porter Wagoner Show, and in his road show. As documented in her 1994 autobiography, initially, much of Wagoner's audience was unhappy that Norma Jean, the performer whom Parton had replaced, had left the show, and was reluctant to accept Parton (sometimes chanting loudly for Norma Jean from the audience). With Wagoner's assistance, however, Parton was eventually accepted. Wagoner convinced his label, RCA Victor, to sign her. RCA decided to protect their investment by releasing her first single as a duet with Wagoner. That song, a cover of Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing on My Mind", released in late 1967, reached the country top 10 in January 1968, launching a six-year streak of virtually uninterrupted top-10 singles for the pair.
Parton's first solo single for RCA Victor, "Just Because I'm a Woman," was released in the summer of 1968 and was a moderate chart hit, reaching number 17. For the remainder of the decade, none of her solo efforts -- even "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)," which later became a standard –- was as successful as her duets with Wagoner. The duo was named Vocal Group of the Year in 1968 by the Country Music Association, but Parton's solo records were continually ignored. Wagoner had a significant financial stake in her future; as of 1969, he was her co-producer and owned nearly half of Owe-Par, the publishing company Parton had founded with Bill Owens. By 1970, both Parton and Wagoner had grown frustrated by her lack of solo chart success. Wagoner persuaded Parton to record Jimmie Rodgers's "Mule Skinner Blues," a gimmick that worked. The record shot to number three, followed closely, in February 1971, by her first number-one single, "Joshua." For the next two years, she had numerous solo hits –- including her signature song "Coat of Many Colors" (number four, 1971) – in addition to her duets. Top-20 singles included "The Right Combination" and "Burning the Midnight Oil" (both duets with Wagoner, 1971); "Lost Forever in Your Kiss," (with Wagoner) "Touch Your Woman," (1972) "My Tennessee Mountain Home," and "Travelin' Man" (1973).
Although her solo singles and the Wagoner duets were successful, her biggest hit of this period was "Jolene." Released in late 1973, it topped the country chart in February 1974 and reached the lower regions of the Hot 100. (It eventually also charted in the UK, reaching number seven in 1976, representing Parton's first UK success). Parton, who'd always envisioned a solo career, made the decision to leave Wagoner's organization; the pair performed their last duet concert in April 1974, and she stopped appearing on his TV show in mid-1974, although they remained affiliated. He helped produce her records through 1975. The pair continued to release duet albums, their final release being 1975's Say Forever You'll Be Mine.
In 1974, her song, "I Will Always Love You," written about her professional break from Wagoner, went to number one on the country chart. Around the same time, Elvis Presley indicated that he wanted to cover the song. Parton was interested until Presley's wily manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told her that it was standard procedure for the songwriter to sign over half of the publishing rights to any song recorded by Presley. Parton refused. That decision has been credited with helping to make her many millions of dollars in royalties from the song over the years. Parton had three solo singles reach number one on the country chart in 1974 ("Jolene," "I Will Always Love You," and "Love Is Like a Butterfly,") as well as the duet with Porter Wagoner, "Please Don't Stop Loving Me". She again topped the singles chart in 1975 with "The Bargain Store,"
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From 1974 to 1980, she consistently charted in the country Top 10, with eight singles reaching number one. Parton had her own syndicated television variety show, Dolly! (1976–77) During this period, many performers, including Rose Maddox, Kitty Wells, Olivia Newton-John, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt covered her songs. Her siblings Randy and Stella both received recording contracts of their own. During this period, Parton began to embark on a high-profile crossover campaign, attempting to aim her music in a more mainstream direction and increase her visibility outside of the confines of country music. In 1976, she began working closely with Sandy Gallin, who served as her personal manager for the next 25 years. With her 1976 album All I Can Do, which she co-produced with Porter Wagoner, Parton began taking more of an active role in production, and began specifically aiming her music in a more mainstream, pop direction. Her first entirely self-produced effort, New Harvest ... First Gathering, (1977) highlighted her pop sensibilities, both in terms of choice of songs –- the album contained covers of the pop and R&B classics "My Girl" and "Higher and Higher" – and production. Though the album was well received and topped the U.S. country albums chart, neither it nor its single "Light of a Clear Blue Morning" made much of an impression on the pop charts.
After New Harvest's disappointing chart performance, Parton turned to high profile pop producer Gary Klein for her next album. The result, 1977's Here You Come Again, became her first million-seller, topping the country album chart and reaching number 20 on the pop chart. The Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil-penned title track topped the country singles chart, and became Parton's first top-ten single on the pop chart (#3). A second single, the double A-sided "Two Doors Down"/"It's All Wrong, But It's All Right" topped the country chart and crossed over to the pop Top 20. For the remainder of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, many of her subsequent singles moved up on both charts simultaneously. Her albums during this period were developed specifically for pop-crossover success.
In 1978, Parton won a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her Here You Come Again album. She continued to have hits with "Heartbreaker," (1978) "Baby I'm Burning," (1979) and "You're the Only One," (1979) all of which charted in the pop Top 40 and topped the country chart. "Sweet Summer Lovin'" (1979) became the first Parton single in two years to not top the country chart (though it did reach the Top 10). During this period, her visibility continued to increase, with multiple television appearances. A highly publicized candid interview on a Barbara Walters Special in 1977 (timed to coincide with Here You Come Again's release) was followed by appearances in 1978 on Cher's ABC television special, and her own joint special with Carol Burnett on CBS, Carol and Dolly in Nashville.
Parton served as one of three co-hosts (along with Roy Clark and Glen Campbell) on the CBS special Fifty Years of Country Music. In 1979, Parton hosted the NBC special The Seventies: An Explosion of Country Music, performed live at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C., and whose audience included President Jimmy Carter. Her commercial success grew in 1980, with three consecutive country chart number-one hits: the Donna Summer-written "Starting Over Again," "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You," and "9 to 5," which topped the country and pop charts in early 1981. She had another Top 10 single that year with "Making Plans," a single released from a 1980 reunion album with Porter Wagoner.The theme song to the 1980 feature film 9 to 5, in which she starred along with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, "9 to 5," not only reached number one on the country chart, but also, in February 1981, reached number one on the pop and the adult-contemporarycharts, giving her a triple number-one hit. Parton became one of the few female country singers to have a number one single on the country and pop charts simultaneously. It also received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Her singles continued to appear consistently in the country Top 10. bBtween 1981 and 1985, she had 12 Top 10 hits; half of them hit number one. She continued to make inroads on the pop chart as well. A re-recorded version of "I Will Always Love You," from the feature film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) scraped the Top 50 that year and her duet with Kenny Rogers, "Islands in the Stream" (written by the Bee Gees and produced by Barry Gibb), spent two weeks at number one in 1983.
In the mid-1980s, her record sales were still relatively strong, with "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Downtown," "Tennessee Homesick Blues," (1984) "Real Love" (another duet with Kenny Rogers), "Don't Call It Love," (1985) and "Think About Love" (1986) all reaching the country Top 10. ("Tennessee Homesick Blues" and "Think About Love" reached number one; "Real Love" also reached number one on the country chart and became a modest crossover hit). However, RCA Records did not renew her contract after it expired that year, and she signed with Columbia Records in 1987.