“One is only poor, only if they choose to be”
Taken from the album Coat Of Many Colors
Also released on The Best Of Dolly Parton, Heartsongs: Live From Home, The Ultimate Collection, Legendary Dolly Parton, Live And Well, The Only Dolly Parton Album You’ll Ever Need, The Essential Dolly Parton, Ultimate Dolly Parton, The Very Best Of Dolly Parton, Dolly, Live From London
What makes ‘Coat Of Many Colors’ such a country classic? It’s obvious, really – one of country’s defining voices singing about things her listeners could relate to. Modern country (apart from the Dixie Chicks) is terrible for me, it has none of the heart and soul that country from the thirties through the seventies has. Some of the themes may be similar to those found in this song – poverty, struggle, family, overcoming obstacles – but it doesn’t get made as well, or delievered as beautifully, as it was here.
On the CD reissue of Just Because I’m A Woman, the first live performance of ‘Coat Of Many Colors’ is captured, and you can feel the raw emotion in Dolly’s voice, as she is accompanied by just a guitar. The story is about a coat Dolly’s mother made for her when was young, sewed together from rags – giving it a “coat of many colours” appearance. The kids at school laugh and make fun of her, but she explains to them that “one is only poor, only if they choose to be” and that the love contained within the homemade coat was worth “more than all their clothes”.
It could be a syrupy glurge on the scale of ‘The Christmas Shoes’ but the stripped-back, no-frills approach makes sure the focus of the song is never lost in preachy morals. Though there are two Dolly Parton songs higher on this list, I consider this to be Dolly’s definitive recording, completely representing everything that makes her one of the great American songwriters. It’s also my mother’s favourite song, and you can’t argue with The Gospel According To Richard Croft’s Mum.