Prep For Dolly Parton’s New Album: 5 Best Versions of “Jolene”

Photo: WireImage

Photo: WireImage

Dolly. She’s the Queen of Country. After all, an entire theme park bears her name. But when the beauty icon isn’t creating the best loop-de-loops in the South–or writing her own BuzzFeed quiz to help you determine, once and for all, which Dolly Parton song you really are–she writes songs. (And who needs a quiz? If we’re being honest, aren’t we all the other girl in “Jolene”?)

She dropped a new album called Blue Smoke in the U.S. today (folks in Austria and New Zealand have already been spinning it for a fortnight). The record features Willie Nelson and Kenny Rodgers, and Dolly’s giving her pipes a workout, offering a take on Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands On Me.”

In honor of Dolly, here are some of the best, most eclectic, and most interesting versions of her iconic song “Jolene,” which has been covered by everyone, including Nora Jones, John Mayer and Keith Urban (at the same time!).  Listen to these, then get out there (or log onto iTunes) and grab a copy of Blue Smoke.

“Jolene” by Dolly Parton (Studio Version)

The title track of her 1974 album was released a year early to critical acclaim and the love of a nation. The song’s about a woman who would rather the beautiful Jolene not steal her boyfriend/husband/good male friend/whatever the guy in question is, even though Jolene is like a country music Siren and men will basically crash on the rocks at her feet. Who gets the unnamed male? Good question, and not one our lady Dolly is interested in answering. But the studio version quickly skips along (almost happily), so we’ve got to think everything works out.

“Jolene” by Dolly Parton (Slowed Down to 33 RPM)

A few weeks ago, the Internet buzzed with the lonesome sounds of the aforementioned version, slowed down to 33 RPM. This versions make clear that things do not work out. Dolly’s voice lowers to quavering, stolid desperation. It sounds like Leonard Cohen covering the song after ingesting some helium. If you feel like spending the day reviewing past heartbreaks, toss this version on (and thank/blame the Internet for bringing it to our door).

“Jolene” by The White Stripes

Before he moved to Nashville to open Three Man Records and record with Neil Young, Jack White was in a band with his sister-or-wife. The band grunged up the song in the studio, but the live version it released is both rockin’ and haunting, Jack’s voice soaring while Meg’s crash symbols crash. It finds the anger beneath the song’s cool veneer.

“Jolene” by Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons

While it lacks the emotional weight of some other versions here, it’s got the pop quality that only alt-country all stars like these can give it. Warning: it will make you envy everyone who had the pleasure of attending this show.

“Jolene” by Jay-Z and Dolly Parton

We’ll leave it to your investigative skills to find the only hip-hop version of “Jolene” out there (actually a mash-up, but who’s counting?). Let’s just say it adds a certain groove Dolly’s version (understandably) lacks. Perfect for bumping down the streets of Atlanta while having a creeping sense of abject loneliness!

Like a different version of “Jolene”? Think one of these is an abomination to her original song? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. Building A Country Music Library: A Song Per Decade | Your Hub for Southern Culture

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  3. Sandi

    Unquestionably Dolly – as with Willie, these two institutions of song can be redone but never will outdo the originals.
    That being said, have to admit the Mumford w Laura Marling comes close to the hauntingly beautiful original.

    May 13, 2014 at 4:37 pm
  4. al

    Mindy Smith Accompanied by dolly

    May 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm
  5. mendy

    Recent actions aside, she can sing:

    May 13, 2014 at 12:19 pm

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