If there ever was a more iconic, recognizable country song than “Jolene,” I have yet to hear it.
On this date in 1974, Dolly Parton was topping the country charts with one of her first hit singles and an all-time country classic, “Jolene.”
As the famous story goes, she wrote it on the same day in 1972 that she wrote her other massive hit, “I Will Always Love You”, if you can believe it. Talk about a good writing day…
And of course, I think we all know by now that Miss Jolene was a very real person, and Dolly was inspired to write the song after the bank teller in her hometown got a little too flirty with her husband, Carl Dean, not long after they got married (and she got the name “Jolene” from a little girl who asked Dolly to sign an autograph early in her career):
“She got this terrible crush on my husband. 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.’
“And I kept thinking, we ain’t got that kinda money, not yet anyway. He was in asphalt paving, he and his father, and I said, ‘Why are you having to talk to her all the time?'”
Dolly added that part of what makes the song so great is how relatable it is.
If we’re being really honest, I think a lot of us understand the feeling of being threatened at some point by another girl who we feel like might have some qualities we lack:
“She had everything I didn’t, like legs — you know, she was about 6 feet tall. And had all that stuff that some little short, sawed-off honky like me don’t have.
So no matter how beautiful a woman might be, you’re always threatened by certain… You’re always threatened by other women, period.”
Carl assured her there was nothing more to it, and Dolly wanted to know why there wasn’t someone else he could talk to at the bank if that was the case:
“And he said, ‘I’m trying to get a loan, I’m trying to do this for our asphalt paving company.’
And I said, ‘Well, couldn’t you talk to one of those hairy legged boys about a thing like that?’ And he said, ‘No’.”
Dolly was gonna set him straight regardless of why he was really there, though, and told him he better act right or else…
“And I said, ‘Look, you better be talkin’ to one of those boys, or it’s gonna be your ass and your fault! So there’s your asphalt.’”
Spoken like a true queen… I have a feeling he never went out of his way to talk to “Jolene” again.
Decades later though, Dolly looks back on the situation and realizes that it was more about her own insecurities than anything else.
But hey, at least we got one of the best country songs of all time out of it, right?
“But I was just jealous, ‘cuz she was prettier than me and I think I just felt threatened. He didn’t have a thing going with her, but he was flirtin’.
But I’m a flirt, too. Anyways, I thought, this makes a great idea for a song. So I wrote it.”
I could go on about how important this song was for her career, or how it has become a classic country tune for elements like it’s catchy hook and perfect production. But, I think that’s pretty apparent when you consider how timeless it’s become across generations and the cultural impact it has made over the years.
Dolly Parton is a true original and one-of-a-kind, and this song is as perfect an example of that as anything.
And ladies, while we’re at it, a bit of advice from the queen herself:
Here’s my favorite performance of her singing “Jolene” on The Porter Wagoner Show back in 1974: