On May 22, 1973, Dolly Parton recorded the song that would become one of her most influential and career-defining.
She stood in RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee, where she desperately crooned the lyrics, “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene. I’m begging of you please don’t take my man.”
“Jolene” is written by Dolly Parton and produced by Bob Ferguson. It would become the very first single and title track of an album. Upon its release, the song became Parton’s second No. 1 single on the country charts.
Meaning Behind Dolly Parton Hit
So, who wronged Dolly Parton enough for her to sing the beautiful, heartbreaking tune? The song is simple, with only 200 words, but the repetition and simplicity add to the memorability and makes it a haunting story.
According to Parton, the story of the song came from a redhead bank teller who was giving her husband too much attention. She had a crush on him and Parton’s husband would go to the bank more often since he enjoyed the attention.
However, a woman at one of her show’s suddenly sparked the lyrics and caused her to write the song.
“One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably 8 years old at the time. 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 … That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that,” Parton said to NPR.
Despite it being based on a true story and a moment of weakness for Parton, it helped continue her success in amazing ways.
“I wrote that [song] years ago when my husband … was spending a little more time with Jolene than I thought he should be. I put a stop to that. I got rid of that redhead woman in a hurry … Had it not been for that woman I would never have written ‘Jolene’ and I wouldn’t have made all that money, so thank you, Jolene,” Parton said at a concert in the U.K., according to the Independent.
Covers of ‘Jolene’
Out of all her popular songs, Parton said that “Jolene” is the most covered.
Jack White from The White Stripes covered “Jolene” for years and it was a staple at the band’s concerts. Mindy Smith launched her country career after her cover was dubbed Dolly Parton’s favorite. Miley Cyrus, Parton’s goddaughter, recorded a version of the song in 2012. Olivia Newton-John gave the familiar “Jolene” character a disco makeover in 1976. The Sisters of Mercy then provided the world with an interesting Goth version.
“Jolene” has proved, in many ways, to be quite universal. From pop to country to Goth to alternative rock to disco, the genre never stood in the way of a good cover.