The cover of Dolly’s ninth album Touch Your Woman was markedly different from the childhood portrait of her previous release Coat of Many Colors. On this 1972 release she is pictured wearing a glamorous outfit, reclining amongst a lot of seductive throw pillows. Ok so this might have been pretty tame for the seventies but country music was still conservative so it was significant to have an album with such a suggestive title. In terms of content, the album continues to explore problematic relationships and the difficulties of marriage in a mature and refreshingly honest way.
Opener Will He Be Waiting is a song about lost love, in the folk style with some gorgeous vocals. In the song a young woman leaves her man behind and soon lives to regret it. She walks the road back to him and hopes he’s waiting on her. Dolly evokes nature in the beauty of her songwriting – from the shade of the trees to the smell of the laurel. This song would eventually be rerecorded for her album ‘The Grass is Blue’.
The Greatest Days of All has a more contemporary seventies sound, although it revisits the themes of In The Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad), comparing the city to her childhood growing up in the countryside. Her use of bird imagery is particularly striking and would again recur in her later songs.
Both these opening songs cover similar ground to her work in the past and while they are enjoyable, they don’t progress her music too far. Therefore a song like Touch Your Woman is exactly the subtle shift that the cover of this album promised. Here we have a song about sex and marriage that is honest, true and as good as anything she has ever written. Starting slowly with the steel guitars, Dolly admits to problems in her marriage, weakness in her spirit which can only be solved by her husband’s loving touch. She admits she needs the help of a good man to make her feel ‘satisfied’ and go to sleep ‘in peace’. Most of Dolly’s songs have been about doomed love, or the problems created by men and their hypocrisy but here we have a very personal ode to monogamy, which isn’t afraid to explore the complex conflicts in adult relationships.
Despite this confident move forward the next song A Lot of You Left in Me goes back to her tried and tested theme of a girl abandoned by a no-good man. It does have some nice boogie woogie piano and even a choir but coming directly after the title track means it suffers hugely in comparison.
Second Best has girl group style backing vocals and evokes the classic country heartbreaker sound. This one is about comparing yourself to an ex and concluding that you will always end up second best. There’s sadness and acceptance in her tone, admitting she’ll love him until she ‘folds her hands’. This song somewhat foreshadows Jolene in the way she admits she can’t match up to another woman.
A Little At A Time is a working class woman’s song, all about living on her credit card, buying things she can’t afford on layaway. The song explores the trap of consumerism, with a good dose of Dolly’s trademark humour.
Love Is Only As Strong (As Your Weakest moment) is written by her uncle Bill Owens, a return for his songwriting which was such a feature early in her career. Interesting that both the songs written by men on this album are about cheating. Despite his obvious ability to write a decent tune none of his lyrics or melodies are ever really memorable when placed next to Dolly’s work.
Love Ain’t Free continues in Dolly’s tradition of singing about abandoned pregnant women, who are treated hellishly by a patriarchal society. Somebody has to pay the price for love and it’s usually the innocent women and children.
In Mission Chapel Memories, co-written with Porter, the narrator thinks back to her wedding day, imagining again the rice scattered around, her veil, the bells. Now all she has left is her memories. She’s alone, her love is so far away (possibly at war although he may just have left her, it is unclear). Her heartbreak and desolation is in every note.
Final song Loneliness Found Me was written by Porter and is a confession of cheating, full of regret. Loneliness is the justification for the mistake since, You’re gone so much from me. You wonder if she is singing about her own marriage, just imagining the point of view of her husband. Cheating songs like these were common country music tropes and Dolly sings it like it’s the truth. Whatever was happening in her life at this time we will never know but there’s a telling uncertainty about marriage and commitment in most of these songs.
At only twenty five minutes long this is a short album with only a few really memorable tracks. Touch Your Woman the single reached number 6 on the charts but many radio stations wouldn’t play it because of its sexual nature, which shows just how progressive Dolly’s version of country music was at the time.
In 2018 I started my project to listen and review every Dolly Parton album in order of release. Please click the links below to read the posts so far: