Under Her Influence: Songs Inspired by Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’

After writing my recent post about Dolly Parton’s 1974 album Jolene, I thought I would delve a little deeper into the title song and contemplate its influence on country music and beyond. Of course this song has generated endless cover versions from artists as wide ranging as The White Stripes, Reba McEntire, Strawberry Switchblade and Olivia Newton John but what I’m interested in is how Jolene has inspired the songwriting of others.

Jolene connected with listeners because it was a nakedly vulnerable song, full of fear, desperation, panic and even paranoia. Partly what makes this song memorable is the simplicity of that repeated use of Jolene, sung over thirty times and the ominous beat underneath. But it is the characters that Dolly created who really make this song so iconic. We sympathise with the narrator because everyone has doubted themselves or felt that stab of jealousy when your beloved notices another. And the title character is so vividly drawn, with her ‘flaming locks of auburn hair…ivory skin and eyes of emerald green’ that you can’t help wanting to know more about Jolene’s story.

Here is a brief list of songs, some which are written in direct response to Jolene, others which just echo this modern classic but all of which owe a debt to Dolly. Continue reading “Under Her Influence: Songs Inspired by Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’”

Dolly Parton’s Discography: Jolene

From the ominous opening beat of Jolene, it’s immediately clear that this song is unlike anything else Dolly Parton had ever recorded in her career. Sonically the groove is dark and menacing, with the repeated ‘Jolene’ sounding more and more desperate as the song goes on. The simplicity of the structure adds to appeal of the song – three chords and the truth is no cliche when it is done this well. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography: Jolene”

Dolly Parton’s Discography – Bubbling Over

On her 1973 album Bubbling Over we find Dolly changing direction again, moving away from the deeply personal, autobiographical songs of My Tennessee Mountain Home. This lighter album feels like another step towards finding the sound that would eventually help her make the breakthrough beyond the country charts. The cover image is memorably kitsch with Dolly’s grinning face emerging from a fountain, taken by Les Leverett near the Country Music Hall of Fame. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – Bubbling Over”

Dolly Parton’s Discography – My Tennessee Mountain Home

Early in her career Dolly Parton used her childhood growing up in the mountains as inspiration for songs that dealt honestly with the hardships and struggle faced by poverty stricken families, most famously her song Coat of Many Colors cut to the heart of her sometimes brutal experiences. Dolly also used dark humour to expose the realities of where she came from on songs like ‘In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad), concluding that nothing could convince her to ‘go back and live through it again’.

And yet on her 1973 album ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’ that is exactly what she did. A concept album about her upbringing, with every song written solely by Dolly for the first time, you might expect another harsh slice of reality bites. Instead her glasses are rose-drenched to the point where you barely recognise the place she sang about previously. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – My Tennessee Mountain Home”

Dolly Parton’s Discography – “My Favourite Songwriter, Porter Wagoner”

Dolly’s tenth studio album released in 1972 was a tribute to her boss and mentor Porter Wagoner, who had also been acting as her uncredited producer and manager since she joined The Porter Wagoner Show in 1967. Dolly’s reasons for recording songs by Porter were outlined in the album notes: ‘Porter has performed many of the songs I have written since I have been associated with him, and it is a great pleasure for me to be able to do this album of his songs.’ My Favourite Songwriter, Porter Wagoner was Dolly’s way of honouring the man who had supported her songwriting and helped shape her career in so many ways. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – “My Favourite Songwriter, Porter Wagoner””

Dolly Parton’s Discography – Touch Your Woman

The cover of Dolly’s ninth album Touch Your Woman was markedly different from the childhood portrait of her previous release Coat of Many Colors. On this 1972 release she is pictured wearing a glamorous outfit, reclining amongst a lot of seductive throw pillows. Ok so this might have been pretty tame for the seventies but country music was still conservative so it was significant to have an album with such a suggestive title. In terms of content, the album continues to explore problematic relationships and the difficulties of marriage in a mature and refreshingly honest way. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – Touch Your Woman”

Dolly Parton’s Discography – Coat Of Many Colors

With hindsight it feels incredible to think that Dolly Parton had to be convinced to record what would become one of her signature songs, ‘Coat of Many Colors’. The song was written on a tour bus in 1969, on the back of a dry cleaning receipt ironically for one of Porter’s Nudie suits (the receipt was eventually framed by Porter and can now be seen at Dollywood) but was not recorded until 1971 on this, her eighth album. Two years might not seem like a long time but Dolly had written and recorded many other songs in the interim. Porter himself actually recorded the first version, with Dolly on backing vocals, but he knew that there was only one singer who could do this song justice – the girl in the song. So why did Dolly hesitate to put this one on tape? To understand the answer we have to go back through the years, once again returning to her childhood in Tennessee. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – Coat Of Many Colors”

Dolly Parton’s Discography – The Golden Streets of Glory

Dolly Parton’s mother always told her that if she hadn’t become a country singer she would have been a preacher, and if you’ve ever seen Dolly live you know that her concerts have the feel of mass evangelical rallies, such is the worship she generates from her audience. Dolly’s relationship with religion goes back to her upbringing and her family’s strong ties to the Pentecostal church. Her grandfather Jake was a preacher and many of her relatives followed in his footsteps. Dolly’s mother read the bible to her every night and this faith is woven into the textures of her songwriting. In 1971 Dolly released her sixth album and first gospel collection, The Golden Streets of Glory featuring a mix of standards, spirituals and songs written by herself and other family members. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – The Golden Streets of Glory”

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