Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Jolene" by Dolly Parton

Easily one of my favourite songs of all times was written and is here performed by easily one of my favourite artists, Dolly Parton - whose birthday it is today. Jolene tells the story of a woman at risk of losing the love of her life to a more beautiful woman, who it turns out is only trifling with the man's affections. Despite the many incongruities in the song*, it is sincerely told - both heartbreaking and heartfelt - taking the form of a heart-to-heart talk between the singer and the song's namesake.

While I'd loved it as a child, the song fell off my radar for a few years; all my original fervour and more returned when Jack White performed it on Late Night with Conan O'Brien during The White Stripes' week of guest appearances there in April 2003. As is often the case, having a man sing a song written to be sung by a woman** takes the lyric to an entirely different level, which was definitely true in this case.

Jolene is the title track to Parton's 1974 album, and the fact that the song is based on a true story only makes it that much more gut-wrenching. She's seen here performing it on Porter Wagoner's long-running TV show in 1974, when the song was still new.

*1) More beautiful than Dolly Parton?, 2) What does Dolly want with this cheating creep anyway?, and 3) He's only getting what's coming to him if he strays from someone who loves him with some tease, etc etc...
**As in the case of Dan Finnerty and The Dan Band, who came to prominence in the LA music scene doing just that.
Indeed, the same applies with most cover versions, since a different performer invariably brings (or ought to, anyway) a different perspective as well as different phrasing etc. to the material, while a vocal sex change causes a major paradigm shift.

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