“You could have your choice of men
But I could never love again”
Taken from the album Jolene
UK #7, US #60
‘Jolene’ was Dolly Parton’s first significant pop hit, and it’s not hard to hear why. It’s endlessly catchy, has a simple, easy to remember chorus, and the instrumental is very nearly almost a dance beat, which was, needless to say, out of the ordinary for country music at the time. Well, possibly not quite dance music, but you know what I mean. It had a lot more kick than most country did.
They say Loretta Lynn was the everywoman of country, singing about the problems of the Average Joanne, and I don’t think that’s untrue. That’s not to say Dolly, who would be a more glamourous and untouchable figure thanks to her larger than life persona, wasn’t also focused on down-home moments. Whether ‘9 To 5’ or ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’, Dolly’s problems were always our problems too. In ‘Jolene’, she fights for her man from a woman who is apparently hellbent on stealing him away. Dolly describes all the ways she is in inferior to Jolene (although I’m hard pressed to imagine a woman more beautiful than Dolly Parton in 1973), and the quiet desperation in her voice is one of Dolly’s defining moments.
“He talks about you in his sleep, and there’s nothing I can do to keep from crying, when he calls your name, Jolene” – this line is so full of pain, I mean, can you imagine lying in bed with your partner while they have some sort of beautiful nightmare involving another woman? And then, as if to compound all the pain, the chorus is a repetition of the name Jolene, like Dolly is torturing herself with the name that hurts her so much. Not just any old pop hit desgined to boost a country star’s profile, ‘Jolene’ is intensely personal and musically creative, two factors that have led to it’s legendary status.