49 Years Ago: Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ Becomes a No. 1 Hit
Forty-nine years ago today (Feb. 2, 1974), Dolly Parton earned her second No. 1 hit with her song "Jolene." The tune, written by Parton, was the title track of her 13th studio album.
With lines such as "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," "Jolene" sounds as though it was inspired by trouble between Parton and her husband Carl. However, the singer says that it was actually based, at least partly, on an innocuous relationship her husband had with a red-haired bank teller.
"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."
The name "Jolene," however, came from a young fan who left an impression on Parton.
"One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl -- she was probably 8 years old at the time," the country icon 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.'"
It's a good thing she did: "Jolene" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014, and the White Stripes, Olivia Newton-John, Sherrié Austin, Margo Price, and Ellie Goulding have each recorded or performed versions of the hit single.
In more recent times, Parton recorded a strings-only version of the song for the Dumplin' soundtrack--and is co-starring alongside Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Julianne Hough in an adaptation of the song in the 2019 Netflix anthology series, Dolly Parton's Heartstrings.
Parton has included "Jolene" on several of her compilation albums, including Best of Dolly Parton in 1975, Collector's Series in 1985, Ultimate Dolly Parton in 2003 and 16 Biggest Hits in 2007.
This story was originally written by Gayle Thompson, and revised by Annie Zaleski.
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