|“||I said, what is your name? And she said, Jolene. And I said, well, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene. I said, that is pretty, I said, that sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.||”|
“Jolene” is a song written and performed by Dolly Parton from her album Jolene (1974), produced by Bob Ferguson. It is ranked #217 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time“.
“Jolene” tells the tale of a housewife confronting a voluptuous seductress who she believes is trying to steal away her husband and begging her “please don’t take my man”. Throughout the song, the housewife implores Jolene “please don’t take him just because you can.” The song became Parton’s second solo number-one single on the country charts after being released as a single in late 1973 (prior to the album’s release). It reached the top position in February 1974; it also was a moderate pop hit for her and a minor adult contemporary chart entry, and was released as a single in the UK the following year, where it reached number seven in the UK singles chart.
Parton has said that the inspiration for the story was a tall, red-headed bank teller who Parton believed was flirting with her husband, and her husband’s apparent vulnerability to the teller’s charm as indicated by his sudden interest in making frequent trips to the bank. In her live performances of the song, Dolly often states she fought this woman tooth and nail for her husband. The name “Jolene” came from a beautiful little red-headed girl with green eyes who sought her autograph at a concert.
In Tom Vitale words:
When Dolly Parton launched her career on a country-music television show in the late 1960s, she says, she used to sign autographs every night after the broadcast.
“One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably 8 years old at the time,” Parton says. “And she had this beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, these beautiful green eyes, and she was looking up at me, holding, you know, for an autograph. I said, ‘Well, you’re the prettiest little thing I ever saw. So what is your name?’ And she said, ‘Jolene.’ And I said, ‘Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene.’ I said, ‘That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.'”
Parton says that she got the story for her song from another redhead in her life at the time — a bank teller who was giving Parton’s new husband a little more interest than he had coming.
“She got this terrible crush on my husband,” Parton says. “And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention. It was kinda like a running joke between us — when I was saying, ‘Hell, you’re spending a lot of time at the bank. I don’t believe we’ve got that kind of money.’ So it’s really an innocent song all around, but sounds like a dreadful one.”
When Parton released “Jolene” in 1973, it became one of her first hit singles. The song has only 200 words — and a lot of those are repeated. But Parton says that that very simplicity, along with the song’s haunting melody, is what makes the character of “Jolene” memorable.
“It’s a great chord progression — people love that ‘Jolene’ lick,” Parton says. “It’s as much a part of the song almost as the song. And because it’s just the same word over and over, even a first-grader or a baby can sing, ‘Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.’ It’s like, how hard can that be?”
“Jolene” has been covered by more than 30 singers over the years, and in several languages around the world.
Jack White’s emotional rendition of “Jolene” has been a staple of The White Stripes‘ concerts for years.
“I thought to take the character and change the context and make this red-headed woman my girlfriend, and that she’s cheating on me with one of my friends,” White says. “Then, that would be what I could really get emotionally attached to.”
White says that the character of Jolene has fascinated him for a long time.
“I love the name, first off,” he says. “I thought that was an interesting name when I started hearing that song as a teenager. And I guess later on, as a songwriter, I started to think about names starting with ‘J,’ like that could be used almost accusatory, like Jezebel… Jolene.”
“Jolene” launched country singer Mindy Smith’s career five years ago, when Parton said that it was her favorite version of the song.
Smith says she could relate to the vulnerability of the woman pleading with Jolene.
“I think the main character is really the person singing about Jolene,” Smith says. “Jolene’s a mess. She just steals things.”
A Universal Character
Parton says that Jolene is so popular because everyone can relate to her feelings of inadequacy— competing with that tall redhead in the bank who was after her husband.
“She had everything I didn’t, like legs — you know, she was about 6 feet tall. And had all that stuff that some little short, sawed-off honky like me don’t have,” Parton says. “So no matter how beautiful a woman might be, you’re always threatened by certain… You’re always threatened by other women, period.”
Parton says that “Jolene” has been recorded more than any other song she’s written — in styles that range from Olivia Newton John’s 1976 disco version to the Goth rendition of the post-punk band The Sisters of Mercy.”
|U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles||1|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||60|
|U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks||44|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||1|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||84|
|Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary Tracks||40|
|U.K. Singles Chart||7|
|Irish Singles Chart||8|
|Swedish Singles Chart||16*|
|Danish Singles Chart||19|
*19 June 2008
|“Jolene (Live Under Blackpool Lights)”|
|Single by The White Stripes|
|from the album Under Blackpool Lights|
|Released||November 20, 2004|
|The White Stripes singles chronology|
- Olivia Newton-John
- Olivia Newton-John‘s version of “Jolene” is featured on her 1976 album Come on Over.
- Sherrié Austin
- Sherrié Austin‘s version of “Jolene” is the second track on her 2001 album Followin’ A Feeling.
- The White Stripes
- “Jolene (Live Under Blackpool Lights)” was released as a live single by American garage rock band The White Stripes. The single reached #16 in the UK singles chart in November 2004. The White Stripes previously released a studio version of “Jolene”, as the B-side to their 2000 single of “Hello Operator“, from the album De Stijl. In Australia, the song was ranked #10 on Triple J‘s Hottest 100 of 2004. Another live performance of the song is featured on the 2010 live album Under Great White Northern Lights.
- Track listing
- “Jolene (Live Under Blackpool Lights)”
- “Black Math (Live Under Blackpool Lights)” (only on cd version)
- “Do (Live Under Blackpool Lights)” (only on vinyl flip side)
- Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
- The punk cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes cover the song on their sixth album Love Their Country, released in October 2006.
- The Sisters of Mercy
- Post punk band The Sisters of Mercy often covered this song in concert as part of a series of tasteful but goth-“uncool” covers to provoke the audience. It can be heard on their live bootleg Amphetamine-Boeblingen.
- Darcy Clay
- New Zealand singer-songwriter Country Punk Rocker Darcy Clay included a cover version of the song on his EPJesus I Was Evil.
- Susanna and the Magical Orchestra
- Norwegian Electric and Experimental duo Susanna and the Magical Orchestra covered the “Jolene” in 2004 for them debut album List of Lights and Buoys.
- Sophie Ellis-Bextor
- British popstar Sophie Ellis-Bextor covered the song in 2008, and it was used on the new BBC series Beautiful People.
- Anneke van Giersbergen
- Dutch singer Anneke van Giersbergen, ex singer of the Dutch band The Gathering, has covered this song, a few times, live on stage.
Strawberry Switchblade: Scottish female pop group Strawberry Switchblade released an electro-pop version as a single in the UK and Japan in 1985, and it was later included on an expanded edition of their 1985 s/t album.
- Other versions
- In addition to the above, “Jolene” has been performed by numerous performers, including Natalie Merchant, Keith Urban, Paula Cole, Jill Johnson on the 2007 albumMusic Row, Reba McEntire, Mindy Smith, Katie B, Sherrié Austin, Rhonda Vincent, the Geraldine Fibbers, Lacrimosa, Queen Adreena, Ashley Arrison, Alison Krauss, 1980s Scottish pop-goth group Strawberry Switchblade (1985), dance music act One Dove, the Macedonian–German singer Alexander Veljanov, the Iraniansinger Leila Forouhar, the Dutch singer Patricia Paay in 1977, the Japanese bubblegum pop trio Candies, Norwegian singer Elisabeth Andreassen in 2004, Irish American musician Moira Nelligan, British singer Ellie Goulding in 2009 and season 7 American Idol contestant Brooke White, Season 8’s Alexis Grace, and also in the third season of Australian Idol by Klancie Keough. The version with Mindy Smith was performed on stage with Dolly Parton, who is also featured in the official music video.
- Las Chicas Del Can covered this song in the 1980s.
- Mindy Smith covered “Jolene” in 2003 both for her debut album One Moment More and the Dolly Parton tribute album Just Because I’m a Woman. The Song has also been parodied by Australian satirical comedy show The Chaser’s War on Everything. The title was altered to “Pauline” in a reference to former One Nation Partyleader Pauline Hanson.
- The chilean cumbia compositor Paskual Ramirez made a ‘spanish-translated’ cover with cumbia rhythms, partially based on the translation made by Las Chicas del Can for the LP: “Fantasía Vol. 1” (1991) and a Techno-cumbia re-arrangement of the cover for the disc “Paskual y su Alegría – Internacional” (2000). His mate Claudia sang in the 1st version and his daughter Eva sang in the 2000’s rearrangement.
by Tom T. Hall
|Billboard Hot Country Singles number-one single
(Dolly Parton version)
February 2, 1974
“World of Make Believe”
by Bill Anderson
by Loretta Lynn
|RPM Country Tracks number-one single
(Dolly Parton version)
February 16, 1974
“Love is Blind”
by Janis Ian
|Japanese Oricon International Chart
(Olivia Newton-John version)
November 8–22, 1976
“Take Me Home, Country Roads”
by John Denver