“Jolene” is probably one of the best-known songs in country music. Much like Dolly Parton herself, the song transcends genres and generations. It’s almost impossible to not sing along with the iconic chorus. On top of that, it’s one of Dolly’s signature tunes. People who aren’t even interested in the genre as a whole know that Dolly sang “Jolene” and “Coat of Many Colors.” In short, it’s a monster of a song.
Dolly Parton released “Jolene” 48 years ago today. It was the lead single and title track from Dolly’s 1974 album. At the time, “Jolene” hit the top of the country singles charts in both the US and Canada. It was Parton’s second chart-topper as a solo artist. Today, it’s certified Gold in the United States and ranked 217th on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Various artists in multiple genres have covered “Jolene” over the years. The White Stripes, Olvia Newton-John, Miley Cyrus are on that long list. There’s even a medieval version of the song on YouTube. Most recently, controversial hip hop artist Lil Nas X did a cover that Dolly Parton loved. It seems to have universal appeal. This, once again, draws a comparison between the song and its artist. Who doesn’t love Dolly?
What Inspired Dolly Parton to Pen ‘Jolene’
Dolly Parton pulled from two very different experiences in writing “Jolene.” Most of her fans are familiar with where she got the name. She talked about it in a 2008 interview. “I got the name from a little girl who came up to the stage for an autograph in my early, early career,” Dolly said. The country icon recalled she was “the prettiest thing” she had ever seen. The young fan had red hair, fair skin, and green eyes. Her name, she said, was Jolene. Dolly thought her name was beautiful and knew she wanted to write a song around it. She told Jolene, “I’m gonna write a song about you and if you ever hear it, you’ll know it was about you.”
In 2013, Dolly Parton sat down with 60 Minutes Australia. During that interview, she discussed the other inspiration for the song. “There was a girl that worked the bank when my husband and I first got married. She got a big crush on him and I think he kind of had a crush on her. I know he was spending more time at the bank than we had money.” Dolly said she called him on it and used the experience to fuel her signature song.
She also gave some insight on why she thinks “Jolene” is so popular. Dolly said that everyone has the feat that there’s someone out there who will “turn the head” of the person they love. So the lyrics resonate with people from all walks of life.