Blond Ambition

That titanic contradiction Dolly Parton is a whore, a saint, a poet and a preacher disguised as a dumb blond country girl

Halos and Horns closes with her now-notorious version of "Stairway to Heaven" -- and no, not even Dolly can make sense out of lines such as "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow/Don't be alarmed now/It's just a spring clean for the May queen." And though it's not the first bluegrass attempt at heavy metal, it's undoubtedly the first bluegrass cover of a song that, when played backward, reveals a satanic message. You could call it a slightly calculated stab at a novelty hit -- Dolly's savvy enough to know the original is among the most-played songs in radio history -- but no one but Dolly could make the song rock without the aid of a single electric guitar and also make a connection, at a personal level, with what was so beautiful about the tune the first time you heard it. The melody is dreamy and the theme strangely mystical. As the performance climaxes, Dolly ad-libs a few lines, drawing her own life into the song's spiritual message. "You can't buy it, you can't borrow," she wails, "You must walk it straight and narrow." It was a country lesson Elvis remembered too late. Dolly, it seems, never really forgot.

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