In October 1973, Dolly Parton released the song that still continues to haunt and captivate those who listen to it, the lustful "Jolene."
The song's lyrics tell the story of a gorgeous, red-haired woman named Jolene, with the narrator describing her by saying, "Your smile is like a breath of spring/Your voice is soft like summer rain/And I cannot compete with you, Jolene." Since the narrator is aware of how beautiful Jolene is, she begs her not to steal her man, saying "please don't take him just because you can."
Parton, who wrote the song, based the character of Jolene on a person she knew in real life. At the time, there was a red-headed bank teller that would often flirt with Parton's husband, Carl Dean.
"She got this terrible crush on my husband," Parton told 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...So it's really an innocent song all around, but sounds like a dreadful one."
Parton came up with Jolene's name after meeting another redhead, a little girl who came to one of her shows. When the little girl asked for an autograph, Parton couldn't help but note her beautiful appearance and name:
"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.'"
Parton did just as she said, and the rest is history.
"Jolene" claimed the top spot on the Billboard Country Songs chart on February 2, 1974. Thirty years later, Rolling Stone ranked the song as number 217 on their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list in 2004.
So what is the reason behind the lasting legacy of "Jolene"? Parton thinks it has something to do with the simplicity of the song, making it easy to remember.
"It's a great chord progression — people love that 'Jolene' lick," she said. "It's as much a part of the song almost as the song. And because it's just the same word over and over, even a first-grader or a baby can sing, 'Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.' It's like, how hard can that be?"
Parton said that "Jolene" has been recorded by other artists more than any of her other songs. In tribute to the song and its legacy, we've gathered together some of our favorite versions of the song, by Parton and others as well.
In 1974, the same year that "Jolene" hit number one, Parton took to the stage to perform her song live on That Good Ole Nashville Music.
Wearing a bright pink, bedazzled outfit, Parton gave the performance her all, and the crowd went wild when she finished performing.
Parton still continues to thrill audiences any time she performs "Jolene." In 2014, her performance of the song at the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts caused it make a return to the charts over 40 years after its original release.
Parton's 1974 performance of the song is equally notable, with over 25 million views and counting on YouTube.
Folk/country singer Mindy Smith first covered "Jolene" for a 2003 tribute album to Parton, which was called Just Because I'm a Woman.
Smith's cover helped her gain popularity, and even caught the attention of Parton herself, who recorded some background vocals for a new version of the song that was later included on Smith's debut album.
Smith's version of "Jolene" is often credited with helping to launch her country music career. In her NPR interview about "Jolene," Parton named Smith's version as her favorite one of the song.
Parton threw her support behind Smith and her performance, performing the song with her on The Tonight Show and also making an appearance in its official music video.
Say what you want about Miley Cyrus, but there's no denying that she has produced one of the most successful covers of "Jolene."
It only seems fitting that Cyrus would sing the song and excel at it, since Parton is her godmother. Cyrus and Parton performed the song together as a duet at Dollywood in 2010, while Cyrus' popular Disney Channel show, Hannah Montana, was still on the air.
Later, Cyrus went on to perform "Jolene" as part of her "Backyard Sessions" series that took place in summer 2012. Her version of "Jolene" was the last in the series, and the numbers speak for themselves. After almost four years on YouTube, the video has nearly 68 million views.
As remarkable as Cyrus' solo version of the song is, we have a soft spot in her hearts for her duet with Parton. Due to their personal connection, the two of them generate an engaging dynamic when they're on stage together, adding to the already engaging nature of "Jolene" itself.
Good stories have the power to last for decades, even centuries after they were written. If the past 40+ years have been any indication, we'd say that Parton's "Jolene" is one of those of stories.
Even after all this time, "Jolene" still has us under her spell.
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