"Jolene" is a song written and recorded 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, then released on October 15, 1973 by RCA Victor as the first single and title track from her album of the same name.

"Jolene"
Side A of US single
Single by Dolly Parton
from the album Jolene
B-side"Love, You're So Beautiful Tonight"
ReleasedOctober 15, 1973
RecordedMay 22, 1973
StudioRCA Studio B, Nashville
GenreCountry
Length2:42
LabelRCA Victor
Songwriter(s)Dolly Parton
Producer(s)Bob Ferguson
Dolly Parton singles chronology
"Traveling Man"
(1973)
"Jolene"
(1973)
"I Will Always Love You"
(1974)
Music video
"Jolene" (audio) on YouTube

Considered by music critics to be one of the most representative songs of the country genre, the song was ranked No. 217 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" in 2004 and No. 63 on the revised version of the list in 2021.[1] The song was nominated at the Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Vocal Performance twice, in 1975 and 1976 for its live recording.[2]

The song was covered in English and Spanish by many artists, including Olivia Newton-John, The White Stripes, Miley Cyrus and Måneskin. Pentatonix 2016 version won the Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. In 2024, Beyoncé covered the song with significant changes in lyrics and production; the version reached the top ten of the US Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Official Singles Chart.

Background edit

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.[3][4]

The guitar parts on the recording were performed by Chip Young[5] and Wayne Moss.[6] Young played the primary thumb-picked part with Moss playing the complementary steel-string part that enters on the second refrain. Young got the fingerpicking pattern from a similar pattern played by Joe South. [7]

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".[8][9]

Content edit

The song tells of the narrator confronting Jolene, a stunningly beautiful woman, who she worries will steal away her lover/husband. Throughout the song, the narrator implores Jolene "please don't take him just because you can." The song is unclear about whether or not Jolene intends to steal the narrator's lover, an ambiguity that has been addressed in several answer songs.[10][11][12][13] Onstage in 1988, Parton told the audience that "Jolene" was a true story and the reason she did not like to sing it too often.[14]

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 attraction to Jolene. 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".[15]

Release edit

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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[17]

Legacy edit

The song is considered by music critics to be one of the most expressive songs in the country genre.[18][19] In 2014 Rolling Stone ranked the song 9th on their 2014 list "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time".[20] The song was also ranked No. 217 on Rolling Stone's list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" in 2004, and No. 63 on their revised list in 2021.[21] Genius placed the song at 38th on their list of the "The 100 Best Country Songs Of All Time Lyrics".[22] Time includes the song on their 2011 list of the "All-TIME 100 Best Songs".[23]

Time Out ranked the songs at the second place on their list "The 35 best country songs of all time".[24] Parade placed the song second on their list of the "101 Best Country Songs of All Time".[25] The Tennessean includes the song on their 2019 list of the "The 100 best country songs of all time", writing that it "crosses genre and generations, a once-in-a-world song without boundaries".[26] NME also includes the song on their 2018 list of the "The 25 Best Country Music Songs of All Time".[27]

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."[28] According to Parton, "Jolene" is her most frequently covered song.[3]

Awards edit

"Jolene" was nominated for the Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Vocal Performance twice, in 1975 and 1976. The first nomination was for the original recording, and the second was for a live recording from the TV series In Concert. It did not win either time, but in 2017, a cover by the a cappella group Pentatonix which featured Parton as a guest singer won the Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.[29]

Charts edit

Certifications edit

‹See Tfd›
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[45] 3× Platinum 210,000
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[46] Platinum 90,000
Norway (IFPI Norway)[47] Platinum 60,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[48] 2× Platinum 1,200,000
United States (RIAA)[49] 3× Platinum 3,000,000
Streaming
Sweden (GLF)[50] 3× Platinum 24,000,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.
Streaming-only figures based on certification alone.

Olivia Newton-John version edit

"Jolene"
Single by Olivia Newton-John
from the album Come On Over
Released1976 (1976)
Length3:07
LabelEMI
Songwriter(s)Dolly Parton
Producer(s)John Farrar
Olivia Newton-John singles chronology
"Come On Over"
(1976)
"Jolene"
(1976)
"Don't Stop Believin'"
(1976)

In 1976, Olivia Newton-John recorded a version and released it as the second and final single from her seventh studio album, Come On Over, in selected countries.[51] In Japan, the song peaked at number 11 on the Oricon Singles Chart.

The single was released in Australia in early 1978, peaking at number 29.

The song was a part of the 1982, 40-city Physical Tour set list, then became a popular concert event on HBO in 1983.

In 2022, the song was included on the reissue of Olivia Newton-John's Greatest Hits, her first greatest hits album.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Newton-John created an in-studio duet with Parton, with the performance captured on video.[52] The duet was released as part of Newton-John's first posthumous album, Just the Two of Us: The Duets Collection (Vol. 1).[53]

Track listing edit

  1. "Jolene" – 3:03
  2. "Wrap Me in Your Arms" – 3:03

Charts edit

Weekly charts edit

Chart (1976–1978) Peak
position
Australian (Kent Music Report)[54] 29

Year-end charts edit

Chart (1978) Position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[55] 99

The White Stripes version edit

"Jolene (Live Under Blackpool Lights)"
 
Single by the White Stripes
from the album Under Blackpool Lights
ReleasedNovember 15, 2004 (2004-11-15)
Length3:18
LabelXL
Songwriter(s)Dolly Parton
Producer(s)Jack White
The White Stripes singles chronology
"There's No Home for You Here"
(2004)
"Jolene (Live Under Blackpool Lights)"
(2004)
"Blue Orchid"
(2005)
Music video
"Jolene" on YouTube

"Jolene (Live Under Blackpool Lights)" was released as a live single by American garage rock band the White Stripes on November 15, 2004.[56] The single reached No. 16 on the UK Singles Chart and also reached No. 12 in Norway and No. 28 in Flanders. 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.[57]

Track listing edit

  1. "Jolene (Live Under Blackpool Lights)"
  2. "Black Math (Live Under Blackpool Lights)" (only on CD version)
  3. "Do (Live Under Blackpool Lights)" (only on vinyl flip side)

Charts edit

Chart (2004–2005) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[58] 28
Belgium (Ultratip Bubbling Under Wallonia)[59] 12
Ireland (IRMA)[60] 42
Norway (VG-lista)[61] 12
Scotland (OCC)[62] 16
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[63] 55
UK Singles (OCC)[64] 16
UK Indie (OCC)[65] 1

Pentatonix version edit

"Jolene"
Single by Pentatonix featuring Dolly Parton
from the album PTX, Vol. IV - Classics
ReleasedSeptember 16, 2016
GenreA cappella
Length2:11
LabelRCA
Songwriter(s)Dolly Parton
Producer(s)Ben Bram
Pentatonix singles chronology
"If I Ain't Got You"
(2016)
"Jolene"
(2016)
"Hallelujah"
(2016)
Dolly Parton singles chronology
"Forever Country"
(2016)
"Jolene"
(2016)
"Head Over High Heels"
(2016)

In September 2016, the American a cappella group Pentatonix released a cover of the song with Dolly Parton herself as feature artist.[66] The cover won the Grammy Award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.[29]

Charts edit

Chart (2016) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[67] 92
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[68] 84
New Zealand Heatseekers (Recorded Music NZ)[69] 5
Scotland (OCC)[70] 93
US Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles (Billboard)[71] 1
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[72] 18

Beyoncé version edit

"Jolene"
Song by Beyoncé
from the album Cowboy Carter
ReleasedMarch 29, 2024
Genre
Length3:09
Label
Songwriter(s)Dolly Parton
Producer(s)

American singer Beyoncé recorded a cover of "Jolene", with significant lyrical changes, and included it on her eighth studio album Cowboy Carter, released on March 29, 2024.[73][74]

Background and release edit

On March 11, 2024 in a interview with Knox News Dolly Parton revealed that Beyoncé asked to record a cover of the song.[75][76] After the song's release, Parton praised the cover, writing that "I just heard 'Jolene'. Beyoncé is giving that girl some trouble and she deserves it".[77][78]

Lyrics and production changes edit

The cover of the song features changes in the lyrics and production of the song.[79][80][81] Nevertheless, all songwriting credits were given to Parton.[82] On Beyoncé’s version the bridge has additional melodies and includes a choir of voices backing up the singer.[83] Lauren Boisvert of American Songwriter pointed out that although the melody is the same in both the songs, Parton's one is "twangy on the guitar" while Beyoncé's cover "employs a smoother guitar sound backed by a pulsing beat to tie the song into her pop/R&B roots".[84]

Lyrically the cover changes the significance attributed to the role of Jolene and the interlocutor who speaks to her.[85][86] Critics pointed out that while in Parton's version the singer is begging Jolene not to take her man, Beyoncé is warning Jolene not to attempt the same in hers.[87][88] Other critics referred to the re-written lyrics as addressing Jay-Z's infidelity. In the track preceding "Jolene" on the album, titled "Dolly P", sees Parton introducing the cover, saying "you know, that hussy with the good hair you sang about reminded me of someone I knew back when; ... Except she has flaming locks of auburn hair. Bless her heart. Just a hair of a different color, but it hurts just the same." referring to a girl called "Becky with the good hair" on Beyoncé's Lemonade song "Sorry".[89][90][91]

Commercial performances edit

In the United States the cover debuted at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the version of "Jolene" with the highest placement on the chart.[92][93] It scored Beyoncé's 24th top-ten on the Hot 100 and Cowboy Carter's third top-ten, charting simultaneously with "Texas Hold 'Em" and "II Most Wanted".[94][95] The three songs also occupied the top three positions on the Hot Country Songs, with "Jolene" at third, making Beyoncé the first female artist to achieve it.[96]

In Australia the cover peaked at number 24 on the ARIA Singles Chart after its first week of sale, becoming the highest position reached by the song on the chart.[97] "Jolene" debuted at number 8 on the UK Singles Chart on 5 April 2024, one of three songs from Cowboy Carter in the top ten that week.[98]

Charts edit

Chart performance for "Jolene" by Beyoncé
Chart (2024) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[99] 24
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[100] 49
Brazil (Brasil Hot 100)[101] 69
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[102] 19
Croatia (HRT)[103] 23
Denmark (Tracklisten)[104] 32
France (SNEP)[105] 70
Global 200 (Billboard)[106] 11
Greece (IFPI)[107] 53
Iceland (Plötutíðindi)[108] 25
Ireland (IRMA)[109] 11
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[110] 26
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[111] 23
Norway (VG-lista)[112] 34
Portugal (AFP)[113] 30
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[114] 33
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[115] 21
UK Singles (OCC)[116] 8
US Billboard Hot 100[117] 7
US Country Airplay (Billboard)[118] 56
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[119] 3

Other cover versions edit

Answer songs edit

Kirsty MacColl's 1995 song "Caroline" was inspired by "Jolene" and is told from the other woman's point of view.[10]

In 2013, country singer Jennifer Nettles recorded "That Girl", which she stated in interviews is a lyrical counterpoint to "Jolene".[11][12] The song is written from the perspective of the Jolene character, who Nettles 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.

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."[13]

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.[130] Dolly Parton broke into parody herself, singing "Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I'm begging of you please don't hesitate" as she got a 'dose of her own medicine' in a March 2021 vaccination.[131]

Chapel Hart released an answer song in 2021 titled "You Can Have Him Jolene".[132]

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