Dolly Parton - Jolene (1974)
By the time I had first heard of her, Dolly Parton was already a punchline. Her big hair, bigger figure, and, you know, the fact that she has her own theme park has a tendency to obscure the fact that she’s an enormously talented songwriter and performer. Many of you already know this song — most everyone I know counts it among their favorites — but if you’ve never been able to get past Dolly’s admittedly somewhat bizarre public image, start here.
Dolly Parton was one of the first female country songwriters to achieve major success, and one listen to “Jolene” reveals why. It’s a perfect story song with a haunting hook, in which a woman pleads helplessly with a beautiful seductress — “I’m begging of you please, don’t take my man.” In a departure from the slickness of the Nashville Sound, an acoustic fingerpicked guitar creates a spare and atmospheric background — it’s striking to realize that this enormous 1970s chart hit wouldn’t sound out of place on a neo-traditionalist country album from the 2000s.