"I’m not one to be marching in the streets with a sign or holding a gun or a knife, but my words are my tools and my weapons": Dolly Parton on why her heavy metal protest song World On Fire needed to be written

Dolly Parton
(Image credit: Christopher Polk/Penske Media via Getty Images)

Dolly Parton's Rockstar album, released earlier this month, is undeniably, and understandably, one of the most talked-about rock releases of the year. Much of what has been written about the release has centred on the iconic, much-loved singer's ability to charm some of the the biggest rock stars on the planet - Paul McCartney, Elton John, Steven Tyler, Stevie Nicks, Debbie Harry, Steve Perry, Rob Halford and many more - into guesting on the 30-track collection, and while some snarky reviews have likened the epic undertaking to a protracted all-star karaoke session, less has been said about the fact that the record was introduced, back in May, with one of the most scathing, raging, and politically-charged songs that the Queen Of Country has ever written.

In a new interview with Vulture, Parton identifies World On Fire, the album's lead-off single, which features lyrics such as “Don’t get me started on politics. How are we to live in a world like this?” as the song that best embodies her own mythology, and laid out her reasons why it needed to be written, and why it needs to be heard. 

“I write a lot of uplifting songs, but I think World on Fire makes a statement because people often say, 'Oh, I didn’t know you’re political',” she tells the website. “And I’ll respond, Look, I’m not being political here. I’m a person in a position to have a voice and this world is going up in flames. Nobody seems to care enough to get out and do something about it” I’ve written several songs along those lines, but I felt the need to write World on Fire to reflect this point in time.”

“I think this is an anthem for me, where I am in my life right now, and the things I’m worried about — which are the same things we all need to be worried about and I’m sure we are,” Parton continues. “Who’s going to rise up, who’s going to try to make a change, and what are we going to do to make a difference? What I do best is write and sing and get out there and preach my gospel in my own way.”

While Parton acknowledges that part of her intention with the song was “to have something catchy”, the single was also written “to draw people’s attention to things.”

“You don’t know how much, or if anything, is a help,” she admits. “But when you’re like me, when your heart is tender and you care about human beings and our civilization - the world in general - you feel helpless if you don’t do something. I’m not one to be marching in the streets with a sign or holding a gun or a knife, but my words are my tools and my weapons. I try to draw attention, point a finger, and throw some light on dark situations. And I’ll continue to do that. I’ve tried to do that all through the years, even with songs like Light of a Clear Blue Morning or Better Get to Livin. I’m always trying to say, Hey, rise up. Look up. Do better.

Rockstar recently became the 77-year-old singer’s highest-charting album ever in America, debuting at number three on the Billboard 200 chart. The album peaked at number five in the UK.

The singer is also, for the first time ever, on the cover of the current issue of Classic Rock magazine. Buy it here.

The cover of Classic Rock 321

(Image credit: Future)
Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.