Dolly’s second solo release of 1975 was an album made up entirely of self-penned love songs. Porter Wagoner had long been working as an uncredited producer on Dolly’s solo albums but this was the first one which boldly declared itself ‘produced and arranged by Porter Wagoner’. The album was given the original title of simply ‘Dolly’ but it has since become more commonly known with the added subtitle of ‘The Seeker – We Used To’, to differentiate it from other self-titled collections of hits. The subtitle refers to the two singles from the album, the most successful of which was The Seeker, which charted at number two and ended her run of four consecutive number one singles.
On first listen this album feels like a departure of sorts, certainly it has a smoother seventies sheen to the sound overall and Dolly’s vibrato is toned down. You may conclude this was to appeal to a more mainstream, middle of the road audience who perhaps did not like twangy traditional country music. Most of the songs are introspective ballads, and there’s nothing edgy lyrically either, like her previous hit The Bargain Store .
The subtle vocals on We Used To are barely recognisable as Dolly Parton at times and the song opens with a chord progression which is almost a direct lift from Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven (which Dolly has also covered). Dolly explores the aftermath of a long term relationship, the narrator wistfully dreams of when her and her beloved spent days ‘walking though fields’ and ‘making love in the rain’. It’s familiar territory for Dolly thematically anyway, even if the sound is a product of its time.
The seventies schmaltz continues on ‘The Love I Used To Call Mine’, although there is the echo of a steel guitar in the swell of the orchestra. The spoken word element part of the song conveys Dolly’s heartache and pain. My Heart Started To Break Again is even more devastating and Dolly’s sounds so sad the notes just fade away as she sings them.
Most Of All Why is a song for a marriage that is ending without anyone having even noticed. The orchestra sounds beautiful on this and it’s one of the strongest songs on the album, even if you do long for a little more of Dolly’s personality in the vocals.
Bobby’s Arms is the first song on the album where she celebrates love rather than lamenting its loss. In the arms of her lover she feels comforted and ‘sheltered from life’s storms’. I’m not sure exactly who Bobby is but ‘Carl’s Arms’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, so I’m sure her husband doesn’t mind.
The seconds half of the album begins in a more upbeat fashion with the classic, The Seeker, one of Dolly’s best songs. While it is certainly religious it could also be heard as a simple love song, the double meaning allowing the song to appeal beyond gospel audiences.
Lyrically Hold Me is almost identical to Bobby’s Arms, and while Dolly always recycles themes and ideas in songs (often improving on her ideas the more she sings about them) it is unusual to see such repetition happen on the same album. Some of these lyrics are also more than a little questionable in terms of feminism – lines like ‘you control me’ and ‘without you I’m nothing’ sound particularly terrible to my twenty-first century ears.
Because I Love You is one of the catchier melodies on the album, but the lyrics repeat this idea from the previous song that being in love means giving in to the other person’s demands. anyway you want me that’s the way that I am yours/Love as strong as this lets you control me. Maybe it’s an acknowledgment of the sexual power of her lover or an honest reflection of how she feels in a relationship but you can’t help but be disturbed by the romanticising of the helpless female cliche.
Only The Memory Remains and I’ll Remember You As Mine both rehash the themes of the opening two songs, with diminishing returns. Both songs may tell the story of the power of memories but they are ultimately forgettable.
Overall this is a somewhat repetitive effort from Dolly, who paints a picture of love that is much more sentimental and subservient than we have seen on her previous albums. Only ‘The Seeker’ itself stands out on this album and that’s a song more about her faith than her faithless lovers. Without her trademark wit, southern charm and country style you have to conclude that most of these songs just suffer from a lack personality and that’s a rarity in Dolly’s discography.
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: