On This Day: Dolly Parton’s Iconic ‘Jolene’ Hits No. 1 in 1974

by Liz Holland

48 years ago today, one of Dolly Parton’s most iconic tracks hit Number 1 on country music charts. 

The tune in question, “Jolene,” hit number 1 on February 2nd, 1974. It was the star’s second song to earn her a Number 1 spot, and was the title track of Parton’s 13th studio album. The lyrics seem to tell an ominously serious story of another woman involved in Dolly Parton’s marriage with her husband Carl. 

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene / I’m begging of you, please don’t take my man / Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene / Please don’t take him just because you can / Your beauty is beyond compare / With flaming locks of auburn hair / With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green”

However, the real story behind the track is much more harmless. The singer says that the muse behind the tune was an innocent relationship between her husband and a red-haired bank teller. 

The Woman Who Inspired the Dolly Parton Hit

“She got this terrible crush on my husband,” Parton recalls to NPR. “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.”

Ultimately, the inspiration for the song came from multiple places. The infamous red-haired bank teller wasn’t named “Jolene.” Instead, it was a young fan who went by “Jolene” that made an impression on Dolly and inspired the title. 

“One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably 8 years old at the time,” the country star explains. “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.'”

The Impact Of ‘Jolene’

That small moment in time would go on to make a huge impact in Country music and Pop Culture. Countless stars have recorded and performed their own versions of the single, including the likes of Olivia Newton-John, The White Stripes, and Margo Price, to name a few. The track was inducted into the Grammy Hall of fame in 2014, 40 years after it hit Number 1. 

The track appears on several of Dolly Parton’s compilation albums, most recently on “16 Biggest Hits” in 2007. Parton also co-starred alongside Julianne Hough in an adaptation of the song for the Netflix anthology series, “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings” in 2019. Nearly 50 years after it’s Number 1 spot, Parton’s “Jolene” remains a staple song in millions of music-lover’s rotations.