Retro Single Review: Dolly Parton, "Jolene"

1973 | Peak: #1

This haunting little record went on to become Parton's most covered song.   Not bad for a humble tale of a woman simply begging another not to take her man.

One of the reason it works is that it's recorded in a minor key, which is still a rarity for country songs.   The instantly recognizable guitar hook played with solemn urgency practically drips with sorrow, setting up Parton to deliver a performance wrought with tension and fear.   She's begging him not to take her man, but everything about the record and her performance suggest she's already lost him and she knows it.

“Jolene” was the first of a string of five #1 singles for Parton, and it was also her only solo top ten hit in the United Kingdom.   Other artists have also had success with the song, most notably Olivia Newton-John, who spent three weeks at #1 atop the Japanese pop chart with her version, and the White Stripes, who had a successful live version that was a major rock hit in many markets.

Written by Dolly Parton

Grade: A

Next: I Will Always Love You (1974)

Previous: If Teardrops Were Pennies (with Porter Wagoner)




  1. A classic performance if ever there was one. Forasmuch as this song has been covered, it seems none have been able to match Parton’s layered, desperate performance, though I daresay Newton-John came close. The minor-key arrangement and guitar hook makes it especially memorable.

    (Glad to see Dolly seems to have put away the seventies pant suits though, as they have not aged nearly as well as the song has)

  2. I think the song remains a classic because Dolly is both honest and poetic at the same time, in a way that, nowadays, is practically impossible to get away with except in the alt-country/Americana sector. Dolly’s good friend Linda Ronstadt once said that honesty is the most important thing in any kind of art, and this song really defines that (IMHO).

  3. I think this song has been covered and translated into our native language here in the Philippines. I just can’t remember the artist/band who performed it.

  4. Jolene has always amazed me. It did go to #1 in 1974 but it wasn’t at that time considered to be a monster hit. It was just another #1. Its the one song I know of that just seems to get bigger and bigger all the time. If this had come out during Dolly’s peak in the late 70’s, I often wonder how big this would have been. It could have possibly been the biggest country song of all time. I do believe in time this will be much more known than Stand By Your Man, Crazy, He Stopped Loving…, etc. Only time will tell I guess

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