"Jolene" is a song written and performed by American country music artist Dolly Parton. It was produced by Bob Ferguson and recorded at RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee on May 22, 1973. It was released on October 15, 1973 by RCA Victor, as the first single and title track from her album of the same name. The song was ranked No. 217 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" in 2004 and according to Parton, is her most-covered song.
According to Parton, the song was inspired by a red-headed bank clerk who flirted with her husband Carl Dean at his local bank branch around the time they were newly married. In an interview, she also revealed that Jolene's name and appearance are based on that of a young fan who came on stage for her autograph.
The thumb-picked guitar on the recording is by Chip Young.
During an interview on The Bobby Bones Show in 2018, Dolly Parton revealed that she wrote "Jolene" on the same day that she wrote "I Will Always Love You".
The song tells of Parton confronting Jolene, a stunningly beautiful woman, who she worries will steal away her lover/husband. Throughout the song, Parton implores Jolene "please don't take him just because you can." The song is unclear about whether or not Jolene intends to steal Parton's lover, an ambiguity that has been addressed in several answer songs. Onstage in 1988, Dolly told the audience "Jolene" was a true story and the reason she did not like to sing it too often.
In 2019, the podcast Dolly Parton's America had an episode addressing the question of whether the narrator's focus on Jolene's beauty and desirability is indicative of her own romantic longings. A musicologist wrote and performed a fourth verse which makes this interpretation explicit; when the podcast's hosts played audio of this performance for Parton, she responded that this was "another take on it".
The song became Parton's second solo number-one single on the country charts after being released as a single in October 1973 (prior to the album's release). It reached the top position in February 1974; it was also a moderate pop hit for her and a minor adult contemporary chart entry. As of December 2019, the song had sold 935,000 digital copies in the US since it became available for digital download.
The song was released as a single later in the UK, and became Parton's first top ten hit song in the country, reaching number seven in the UK Singles Chart in 1976. The song also re-entered the chart when Parton performed at the Glastonbury festival in 2014. The song has sold 255,300 digital copies in the UK as of January 2017.
The song was ranked No. 217 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" in 2004. According to Parton, "Jolene" is the song most recorded by other artists of all the songs she has written.
"Jolene" was nominated for two Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Vocal Performance (first for the original release and the following year for a live version). Despite not winning, the song eventually earned Parton a Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance 43 years after its original release, for a cover by the a capella group Pentatonix in which she was also featured.
In the film The Intervention (Clea Duvall; 2016), Annie (Melanie Lynskey) tells Lola (Alia Shawkat), "Nobody likes a Jolene," after the younger woman stirs up trouble among a group of older couples by making a play for several individuals among them.
The song's international popularity became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic when the New Zealand government put the country in lockdown. A newspaper summary of "essential things to know" explained that washing one's hands with soap should take "as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice or the chorus of Dolly Parton's hit song Jolene."
"Jolene (Live Under Blackpool Lights)" was released as a live single by American garage rock band The White Stripes. The single reached No. 16 on the UK Singles Chart in November 2004 and also reached No. 12 in Norway and No. 28 in Flemish Belgium. 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 No. 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. The White Stripes' version was voted one of the greatest live covers by readers of Rolling Stone magazine.
In September 2016, the American a cappella group Pentatonix released a cover of the song with Dolly Parton herself as feature artist. The cover won the Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
In 2013, country singer Jennifer Nettles recorded "That Girl", which she stated in interviews is a lyrical counterpoint to "Jolene". The song is written from the perspective of the Jolene character, who Nettle feels is unfairly maligned in the original song. In this version, the other woman is shown to have no interest in taking another woman's man, and her song is in fact framed as a warning to Parton's character that "her man" has a roving eye. The concept of Dolly Parton suffering from paranoia regarding Jolene was also discussed in S01 E03 of musical comedy podcast JimBob's Music Massacre in February 2018.
In 2017, American singer-songwriter Cam released her single "Diane" in response to Parton's song. The song is sung from Jolene's point of view, where she sings to 'Diane', Parton's character, and states that she did not know that 'her man' was her man. Cam noted to Rolling Stone Country that the song is her "response to Dolly Parton's 'Jolene.' It's the apology so many spouses deserve, but never get. The other woman is coming forward to break the news to the wife about an affair, respecting her enough to have that hard conversation, once she realized he was married. Because everyone should be able to decide their own path in life, based on the truth. Women especially should do this for each other, since our self-worth can still be so wrapped up in our partners. And in true country fashion, I've set the whole raw story to upbeat music, so you can dance while you process it all."
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, linguist Gretchen McCulloch wrote a parody of the song entitled "Vaccine", inspired by Parton's $1 million donation funding research on a coronavirus vaccine. The parody was sung by English professor Ryan Cordell, and the video went viral.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: February 2021.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Dolly Parton, (3) Bernadette Morris, (4) The Wallens (unknown/website).