Jolene Lyrics: The Story Behind Dolly Parton’s Classic Song

by Alex Harris

12th May, 2023

Jolene Lyrics: The Story Behind Dolly Parton's Classic Song

Discover the real-life inspiration and enduring legacy of Dolly Parton’s iconic country ballad, Jolene

Dolly Parton is one of the most iconic and influential country music artists of all time. She has written and recorded countless hit songs that have touched the hearts of millions of fans around the world. One of her most popular and recognizable songs is Jolene, a catchy and emotional plea to a beautiful woman who might steal her man away.

But what is the story behind this song? Who is Jolene, and why did Dolly Parton write such a powerful and personal song about her? In this article, we will explore the meaning and inspiration behind the lyrics of Jolene and some interesting facts and trivia about this classic song.

The Inspiration Behind Jolene

Dolly Parton wrote Jolene in 1973, based on two real-life events that happened to her. The first was when she met a young fan named Jolene at one of her concerts. She was so impressed by her beauty and name so decided to use it for a song. She told NPR in 2008:

One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably eight years old at the time. And she had this beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, these beautiful green eyes, and she was looking up at me, holding, you know, for an autograph. 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.

The second event that inspired Jolene was when Dolly Parton felt jealous of a red-headed bank teller who flirted with her husband, Carl Dean, whom she married in 1966. She recalled in the Netflix series Heartstrings:

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. 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.

Dolly Parton combined these two experiences to create a song, expressing her insecurity and vulnerability as a woman who feared losing her love to another woman who had everything she lacked; legs, beauty, hair, style, and grace. She begged Jolene not to take her man away, even though she knew she could easily do so.

The Lyrics of Jolene

The lyrics of Jolene are simple but powerful. They consist of four verses and a chorus that repeats throughout the song. The verses describe Jolene’s appearance and appeal, as well as Dolly Parton’s feelings of desperation and admiration for her. The chorus appeals to Jolene to spare her relationship and leave her man alone.

Here are some of the most memorable lines from the song:

Dolly Parton – Jolene (Official Lyric Video)
  • Your beauty is beyond compare / With flaming locks of auburn hair / With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green: These lines describe Jolene’s stunning physical features that make her irresistible to men.
  • Your smile is like a breath of spring / Your voice is soft like summer rain: These lines compare Jolene’s smile and voice to natural phenomena that evoke freshness and sweetness.
  • He talks about you in his sleep / There’s nothing I can do to keep / From crying when he calls your name, Jolene: These lines reveal how Dolly Parton’s husband is obsessed with Jolene even in his dreams, and how it breaks her heart to hear him say her name.
  • And I can easily understand / How you could easily take my man / But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene: These lines show how Dolly Parton acknowledges Jolene’s power over her man, but also how much she loves him and needs him in her life.
  • Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene / I’m begging of you please don’t take my man / Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene / Please don’t take him just because you can.
  • You could have your choice of men / But I could never love again / He’s the only one for me, Jolene: These lines show how Dolly Parton is loyal and devoted to her man and how she would be heartbroken if she lost him to Jolene.
  • I had to have this talk with you / My happiness depends on you / And whatever you decide to do, Jolene: These lines show how Dolly Parton is respectful and honest with Jolene, putting her fate in her hands, hoping that she will do the right thing.
  • Please don’t take him even though you can: This line is repeated several times in the chorus, emphasizing how Dolly Parton is pleading, vulnerable, knowing Jolene has the power to take her man away.

The Success and Legacy of Jolene

Jolene was released as a single in October 1973 and became Dolly Parton’s second solo number-one hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in February 1974. It was also her first song to cross over to the pop charts, reaching number 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was the title track of her 13th studio album, which also reached number one on the country albums chart.

Jolene has been widely praised by critics and fans alike for its catchy melody, emotional lyrics, and Dolly Parton’s distinctive vocal performance. Rolling Stone ranked it at number 217 on its list of “the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004, and at number 63 on its revised list in 2021. The song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2014, joining Dolly Parton’s other classic song “I Will Always Love You”.

Jolene has also been covered by numerous artists from different genres and backgrounds, such as Olivia Newton-John, Reba McEntire, The White Stripes, Miley Cyrus, Pentatonix, and Dua Lipa. According to Dolly Parton, Jolene is the song most recorded by other artists in all the songs she has written. She has also performed it with several of her collaborators and admirers, such as Rhonda Vincent, Julianne Hough, and Norah Jones.

Jolene is not only a song, but also a cultural phenomenon that has inspired various interpretations, adaptations, and tributes. 

Some examples are:

  • A Netflix anthology series called Heartstrings features eight episodes based on Dolly Parton’s songs, including Jolene.
  • A podcast episode called Dolly Parton’s America: Jolene, explores the song’s meaning and impact from different perspectives.
  • A musical called “9 to 5: The Musical features a character named Jolene who is a rival to the protagonist Doralee (played by Dolly Parton in the original film).
  • A parody song called Brolene, which reimagines the song from a male point of view.
  • A children’s book called “Coat of Many Colors”, includes a reference to Jolene as one of Dolly Parton’s friends.


Jolene is a song that resonates with people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, and that has stood the test of time. It is a song that tells a story of love, jealousy, and insecurity, but also of admiration, respect, and hope. It is a song that celebrates the power and beauty of women, but also acknowledges their struggles and fears. It is a song that is both personal and universal, both timeless and contemporary. It is a song that is simply unforgettable.

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