Dolly Parton – Jolene
(Todd Terje Remix)
In the late 60s, just as Parton was launching her career on a country-music television show, a little girl came up to the stage after the broadcast, asking for her autograph.
The girl, no older than 8, had red hair, green eyes and fair skin and according to Parton was ‘just about the prettiest little thing I ever saw’. When Parton asked for her name, she replied ‘Jolene’.
‘Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene’, Parton mused, ‘That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.’
Some years later, it came to Parton’s attention that a flame-haired beauty, working as a local bank teller, had taken a liking to Parton’s husband, Carl Dean.
‘She got this terrible crush on my husband,’ Parton said in an interview with 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.’
So the flirtatious, flame-haired bank teller was given the name Jolene and the eponymous song was released in 1973 just as Parton was emerging as a solo country queen in the making.
In the US, Jolene became Parton’s second solo number-one single on the country charts in early 1974, and in the UK it became her first top ten hit, reaching number seven in 1976. The song re-entered the charts in 2014, after her performance at Glastonbury Festival where, characteristic of her lightning wit, she told the crowd that every time she sees her husband ‘sleeping over there in his La-Z-Boy, snoring, that hair turning grey at the temples, I wonder if Jolene is still around. I’ll call her up and say, you come and get him now!’
Those same off-the-cuff remarks, paired with her ever-relatable-yet-artful lyricism, and defiantly individualistic appearance have left audiences enamoured for generations throughout a career that spans half a decade.
One of 12 children, Parton was born into an impoverished family in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, where her family would sing old-time mountain songs on the porch on summer evenings. Parton’s father paid the doctor who delivered her with a bag of cornmeal; her mother would make all the children’s clothes (the subject of Parton’s song Coat of Many Colours), often out of scraps of material provided by relatives.
Since those early days, Parton has turned country music into a global phenomenon, writing over 3000 songs, producing over 50 records and garnering just short of 10 Grammys and countless country music awards. She can be credited as the first woman to have successfully blended country and pop music and she also penned I Will Always Love You, often miscredited to Whitney Houston whose 1993 rendition became the biggest-selling single by a female artist of all time.
Perhaps more importantly though, Parton’s songs have carried generations of listeners through romances, break-ups and bereavements, through the pitfalls and rocket-highs of life itself.