September 18, 2016

Still agonizing over Jolene after 40+ years, Dolly Parton goes a cappella with Pentatonix.

"Had lots of fun putting a new spin on Jolene w/@PTXOfficial! Thx for the opportunity."



Lovely. If you're wondering, as I was, how Dolly Parton can still be so beautiful — she's only 70. And what does Jolene look like after all these years? Has she kept her more-beautiful-than-Dolly-Parton looks all this time?

In the real life of Dolly Parton, Jolene is a composite of 2 individuals — one an 8-year-old fan...
"One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably 8 years old at the time," Parton says. "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.'"
... and the other a grown woman — a bank teller — who flirted with Dolly's husband:
"She got this terrible crush on my husband," Parton says. "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."
Hearing the song again just now, I got the feeling that "Jolene" is a sisterhood song. The problem is the man who has fallen in love with another woman, and he's hopeless, calling out to her in his sleep. The singer's recourse is to reach out to the woman, a show of belief that the women can work together and do what the man cannot do — the right thing.

As for the music of it:
"It's a great chord progression — people love that 'Jolene' lick," Parton says. "It's as much a part of the song almost as the song. And because it's just the same word over and over, even a first-grader or a baby can sing, 'Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.' It's like, how hard can that be?"

64 comments:

David Begley said...

Video not working.

Mark said...

There is a video of the song being played at 33 instead of 45 that is worth searching for - it's a little slower and sounds like it's sung by a man, but still a great song.

Jolene, a song so good it sounds great slowed down too.

BDNYC said...

One of the saddest songs ever. It actually bothers me to think of a woman admitting she lost her man and pleading with the other woman to please just go away.

Ann Althouse said...

"Video not working."

I redid it with a YouTube embed. Should work here now.

Ann Althouse said...

"One of the saddest songs ever. It actually bothers me to think of a woman admitting she lost her man and pleading with the other woman to please just go away."

She has not lost the man yet and, in real life, she never did. The man is her husband and she's been married to him for something like 50 years.

rhhardin said...

Only technically a capella. There's a huge amount of vocal support. Also makeup.

Various good singers (Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Alfred Deller) have tried unaccompanied voice and it always sounds awful.

David Begley said...

Over 5 million views. Glad I watched it. Madison resident Mary Dahlman Begley loves Dolly and will enjoy this video. Great video!

Fabi said...

I had never heard -- or heard of -- Pentatonix, but they're hugely talented. The things I learn at Althouse!

Bob Ellison said...

Dolly for President! We could and will do worse.

Ann Althouse said...

When I heard the song this time (before reading the bank teller backstory), I thought the problem was that the man was in love with the other woman and the other woman was mainly just being very beautiful. Dolly reaches out to her and alerts her of the situation, letting Jolene know how something that might seem like nothing to her was actually very important to Dolly.

But it's funny to know that it was just some intra-marriage teasing relating to a man's enjoyment of a pretty, friendly bank teller and that there was never a serious danger to the marriage.

The song makes it so dramatic, of course, and I think it does encourage you to visualize Jolene as kind of evil, but why? Dolly is talking to Jolene. 2 women are having a serious discussion. There must be response songs in the voice of Jolene -- perhaps saying I don't even want this guy, he's been sexually harassing me, and if you know what's good for you, you'd find someone else too.

rhhardin said...

Similar but more complex chord progression McGarrigles and Emmy Lou Harrid.

Folk does better than country on chord progressions.

The McGarrigles don't bother with looking young.

Darrell said...

Thanks for femmesplaining it.

rhhardin said...

In real life looks don't matter much compared to personality.

That's a major flaw in bad romantic comedies. The guy leaves the woman he obviously fits perfectly with for some trivial former acquaintance, in the three-act structure.

But no guy does that. It's a stereotype that you can't build a dramatic structure around.

Curious George said...

That was great. Nothing beats the original though https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGEubdH8m0s

rhhardin said...

So the bank teller paid attention to him. What would that be a clue about.

Curious George said...

Here's Miley Cyrus with a nice cover https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOwblaKmyVw

Terry said...

Aren't we all fortunate that Dolly had the good sense to choose to be a woman? I imagine that, when the time came when every child makes that choice, it was quite a toss up for her.

Bob Ellison said...

rhhardin, not very similar, chord-progression-wise. Similar in that it's in a minor key, and the melodies have slight similarities. Dolly's is superior in chords, melody, and tempo.

Paul Snively said...

rhhardin: Only technically a capella. There's a huge amount of vocal support.

Can you explain what you mean by that? I've read it before, and having seen Pentatonix live three times (and met them backstage once—they were absolutely the most adorable bunch of exhausted kids you can imagine), I'm curious.

Paul Snively said...

Fabi: I had never heard -- or heard of -- Pentatonix, but they're hugely talented. The things I learn at Althouse!

Here you go. My personal favorites are probably "Royals," "Carol of the Bells," and "Can't Hold Us." Please be sure to wear headphones, or you will miss 80% of Avi (Kaplan)'s performance, which would be a sin.

Also check out their cover of Radioactive, with violinist Lindsey Stirling.

Finally, how it all started: their judge-requested cover of Let's Get It On on "The Sing-Off."

rhhardin said...

There's a huge amount of harmony support in multiple voices, for the lead vocal to blend into.

It's a technical matter whether an actual instrument is the harmony support or other voices.

rhhardin said...

The key progression is (in key of C) the lead instant Amin to Cmaj. The rest is diddling around.

traditionalguy said...

Nope. Jolene doesn't have a chance. That great Tennessee mountain gal always inspires her man.

David said...

Wow! That's wonderful. Dolly has kept her voice and her looks, and has the sense to share the limelight with these great talents.

Paco Wové said...

While I hate being numbered among the nabobs of negativism, it saddens me to see that Dolly has joined the Legion of Bad Facelifts.

Bob Ellison said...

Oh, man, don't try musicology before you sit down at a keyboard and play the thing.

rhhardin said...

The point of the two instant chords is that it establishes the song in two keys. The diddling around just moves between them.

southcentralpa said...

The Bliss and Pash duet "Bodeen" was faintly entertaining ...

Kate said...

I adore Dolly. Not so surprising she looks great at 70: wealth and a talented plastic surgeon help with that. What's truly amazing is that she has the same sweet and powerful voice. Only good genes (and good habits) can keep the pipes working well.

Comanche Voter said...

A great voice--and a wonderful songwriter. Go read her story of how she wrote "I Will Always Love You"--a going away present to Porter Wagoner when she stopped working with him. She wrote it overnight. You can't beat natural talent.

exiledonmainstreet said...

There's a pretty funny You Tube video of Parton substituting "drag queen" for "Jolene."

"Drag queen, drag queen, drag queen, drag queeeeeennn, please don't take my man..."

Ipso Fatso said...

@Comanche Voter:

As I am sure you know, Dolly paid over $1,000,000 of Porter's back taxes, no questions asked, when he got behind. And this was after a not very pleasant departure by Dolly from Porter's show to go on her own. I am glad they reconciled before he died.

John said...

Dolly Parton has been very successful as:

A musician (40 top 10 albums, 110 charted singles)
Songwriter (3,000)
Performer
Businesswoman/entrepreneur (Dollywood, Film/TV Company)
Actress
Philanthropist
Wife

I am probably leaving some stuff out.

So why isn't she a feminist icon?

Instead feminists simply adore! Crooked Hilary. Crooked Hilary who everything she touches turns to shit. Crooked Hilary of no accomplishments whatever. Crooked Hilary who nobody would even have heard of if not for her husband.

That's who feminists hold up as a role model. Sheesh.

John Henry

William said...

The way some skulls are shaped in a way that is hospitable to toupees, some faces can absorb plastic surgery better than others. She doesn't look like a wax image of herself. Plus she has the kind of authentic rhinestone personality that is forgiving of silicon, peroxide and face lifts. She's phony but in a likable, cheerful way.........Poor woman. She dare not speak aloud her love for Hillary C&W stars have to be very circumspect, but they're in the entertainment industry.............There are only a few songs for which I've ever taken the trouble to look up the lyrics. The hook and maybe a phrase or two stick out, but the rest of the lyrics bob and float in the rhythmic waves without drawing undue interest.

grimson said...

Fabi said: The things I learn at Althouse!

I'll second that. Although I appreciate AA's takes on news and politics, I probably appreciate her posts on other things even more. Thanks, Professor.

dbp said...

There is a much discussed piece over at boingboing:

To find Hillary Clinton likable, we must learn to view women complexly

Find any interview with Dolly Parton and unless you are very unusual, you will agree that she is unrelentingly likable and is also a woman. So, societal conditioning notwithstanding, it is possible to be a woman and likable.

Sydney said...

It is amazing that her voice is still so good at 70. But her looks are due to plastic surgery. And she was always great with makeup and wigs.

wholelottasplainin' said...

Purely by chance, I came upon Parton late last night singing "Jolene" with the Pentatonix on YouTube

A great song, sung by a great singer and a great group.

But the name "Jolene" took me back to when we all used to deposit our camera film at a shop to be "developed".

Our shop was run by a rather large Armenian woman with quite a bit of dark facial hair.

She had a long and complicated Armenian name, so our family always referred to her* shorthand as "the Jolene lady", after the facial cream bleach of the same name.

*(not to her face, of course!)

jamrat said...

Blogger Mark said...
There is a video of the song being played at 33 instead of 45 that is worth searching for - it's a little slower and sounds like it's sung by a man, but still a great song.


The voice reminds me of Miss Jane Hathaway from the Beverly Hillbilles.

Wilbur said...

Of course Dolly is likeable. We easily discern she is comfortable in her own skin and with who she is. She's good-hearted.

A gifted songwriter, my favorite song of hers was Kentucky Gambler as performed by Merle Haggard.

I always thought she was at her best performing in her duets with Porter.

coupe said...
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coupe said...
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Jupiter said...

Ann Althouse said...
"Dolly reaches out to her and alerts her of the situation, letting Jolene know how something that might seem like nothing to her was actually very important to Dolly."

Interesting take on the song. I hear it as the singer fooling herself into thinking she can save her relationship. Jolene has already taken her man, and she maybe doesn't think much of him, but she's not done with him yet.

Which makes it a very sad song, especially the last verse.

exiledonmainstreet said...

"So why isn't she a feminist icon?"

1. She is a CW star and that is the music beloved by the bitter clingers. (I'm not big on CW myself, but I do like some Parton, Cash and Nelson songs.)

2. She is happy to be a woman who likes men and certainly never complained about the "male gaze" settling on her big bazooms. She can laugh at herself and generally comes across as a warm and down-to-earth person instead of an over-privileged whiner.

There's nothing there for Third Wave feminists to admire.

Craig said...

John and Exiledonmainstreet - You two have no idea what you're talking about. Lots of feminists--probably most feminists, and maybe even nearly all feminists--are big Dolly Parton fans. It took me <1 minute on google to find "How great a feminist is Dolly?!" articles from bunches of major feminist websites.

Of course, one's modus ponens is another's modus tollens. You all go from some false notion of feminism to the claim that feminists don't like Dolly. But given how much feminists love Dolly, I'd hazard that you don't understand feminism or feminists, and I'd step onto thinner, but probably still stable, ice and conjecture that your notion of feminism is mere prejudice.

(Exiled, do you even know what Third Wave feminism is?)

Leslie Graves said...

That was great.

Jupiter said...

Craig said...

"Of course, one's modus ponens is another's modus tollens."

So, obviously he is a deep thinker. I'm guessing we're dealing with a beneficiary of higher education.

"(Exiled, do you even know what Third Wave feminism is?)"

Well, I can't speak for exiled, but I confess I haven't a clue. Let's see if Wikipedia can make a dent in my impeccable prejudice;


"Third-wave feminism refers to several diverse strains of feminist activity and study, whose exact boundaries in the history of feminism are a subject of debate, but are generally marked as beginning in the early 1990s and continuing to the present."

Oh. OK, I guess that clarifies the situation. "Third-wave feminism" refers to the well-known desire of women everywhere to have it, not one way, not both ways, but every possible way, as long as it's her way. Got it.

Thanks Craig. Do you get laid much on the strength of that line of bullshit?

Paddy O said...

"It actually bothers me to think of a woman admitting she lost her man and pleading with the other woman to please just go away.">

Reminds me a bit of Lucille, where the husband pleads with the wife in front of her bar date, and the bar date gets a guilty conscious about it.

Craig said...

Jupiter - Your prejudice is perfectly peccable. I didn't say I agreed with third-wave feminism. (I didn't say anything in that regard.) I said only that Exiled's summary, like yours, suggested that Exiled did not understand the basic tenets of third-wave feminism (just as your purposeful misreading of one sentence from wikipedia suggests you do not either).

I don't understand M-theory. Because I do not understand it, I don't make outlandish claims about its being right or wrong, and I don't slander those who accept it or reject it. That doesn't mean that someone can call me out if I slip up and say something in public like "M-theorists cannot explain the directionality of time" only if they agree with M-theory. It just means that I've said some bullshit, and I deserve to be identified as bullshitting. You, Exiled, and John have said some bullshit. You don't know what you are talking about. You deserve to be identified as bullshitters.

Char Char Binks said...

Dolly is extremely talented in so many areas -- singing, guitar, songwriting, acting, comedy... She's actually a lot like Charo in those ways, and in a couple of other ways. Sorry, I had to go there.

Paul Snively said...

rhhardin: There's a huge amount of harmony support in multiple voices, for the lead vocal to blend into.

It's a technical matter whether an actual instrument is the harmony support or other voices.


Uh, so if it's multiple unaccompanied-by-instruments voices, it's not unaccompanied-by-instruments singing?

I'm doing a presentation on quantum mechanics this afternoon that makes more sense than this. ;-)

Jupiter said...

Craig said...
"Jupiter - Your prejudice is perfectly peccable. I didn't say I agreed with third-wave feminism. (I didn't say anything in that regard.) I said only that Exiled's summary, like yours, suggested that Exiled did not understand the basic tenets of third-wave feminism (just as your purposeful misreading of one sentence from wikipedia suggests you do not either)."

Hey, Wiki said it, and Google served it up. I just quoted it.

But the fact is, you don't need to know anything about Third Wave Feminism (or M-theory, either, for that matter) to know that it is a bunch of leftist claptrap. I don't need to master the Zodiac to know that Astrology is nonsense. And I don't need to know which particular set of lies "third-Wave Feminism" substitutes for elementary biological fact to know that the biology is right, and the addled psychos in the Women's Studies Department are wrong. An open mind need not be a blank slate.

Harold said...

I found by reading this that Jolene was a Dolly Parton song. I've only ever heard Olivia Newton-John sing it.

CJ said...

I always thought the narrator on "Jolene" was really pretty pathetic. (My first wife would have bashed Jolene's head in. My second wife would have bashed mine in.)

Craig said...

Jupiter - You're wrong. You do need to know something about third-wave feminism in order to claim, without being an abject bullshitter, that it is leftist claptrap. You need to know, for instance, that it is leftist at all or that it conflicts with "elementary biological fact". And you'd need to know something about the content in order to claim those things with any reasonable basis. But you don't. My guess is that you know that you're wrong about this, which is why you switch from "you don't need to know anything" to "I don't need to master". (Maybe you don't know you're wrong, and you're just failing to recognize your own equivocations.)

You don't know what third-wave feminism is (and you surely haven't mastered it), and so you're just echoing prejudices you've heard other people mouth. You don't know what you're talking about, and you're repeating ignorance. Like I said before, people who spout bullshit deserve to be called out: you're spouting bullshit.

Jupiter said...

Craig,

Did you know that the Chinese have their own form of astrology, which has no relation to the Zodiac? They do. How much more will you need to know before you are certain that Chinese astrology is bullshit? Suppose I told you there was "third-wave" Chinese astrology? Not that tired old first-wave Chinese astrology your great-grandfather regarded as obvious nonsense, nor even the somewhat more vital but still rather dated second-wave Chinese astrology your father viewed with justifiable scorn. No, Craig, this is the all-new, improved, revamped and brass-coated third-wave Chinese astrology. The best minds in modern Chinese astrology have labored over this theory, and they are proud of it, even if Wikipedia can't quite figure out what it is. Hadn't you better spend a few years studying it in an isolated monastery before you dismiss it out of hand, simply because it is, well, astrology? I think you should. I'll wait here. Keep me posted. In particular, let me know if it gets you laid much.

Craig said...

Jupiter,

You commit (yet another) error: you create a false dichotomy. I don't need to research it at all, because I don't need to dismiss it out of hand. I could simply, and would simply, say, "I haven't found much to like in other versions of astrology, and I'm busy, so I'm not going to investigate this one. I don't have much hope, but admittedly I don't actually know. I'll refrain from particular judgment here." I certainly wouldn't say, "This new and purportedly different form of astrology conflicts with elementary truths of physics." I might suspect it does, because that might be my general view of astrology, but I wouldn't claim it to be true, because I'm not a bullshitter.

You don't know what you're talking about, and yet you are confident in your claims. You're a bullshitter, and the things you say are bullshit. (And your obsession with my sex life is troubling and probably revealing.)

rhhardin said...

Third wave feminism is the third alien invasion of Earth. Buy the whole series.

Bob R said...

Elizabeth Laprelle is my favorite solo a cappella solo singer. Experts tell me she's very true to traditional mountain ballad style. I wouldn't know, but I've heard her sing her sing old death ballads by candle light. Chills.

Jolene is a great song to cover. As said, simple minor progression that is very malleable. Easy to add a little of your own style to it.

Jupiter said...

Craig replied;

"You don't know what you're talking about, and yet you are confident in your claims. You're a bullshitter, and the things you say are bullshit."

Wouldn't it be more in keeping with your professed theory of knowledge to say, "I don't know anything about Jupiter or this exiledonmainstreet guy, beyond the little I have read on this thread, so I am not going to offer any confident pronouncements about the extent of their familiarity with third wave feminism"?

Seems a bit tentative, but it would certainly help to avoid errors.

Jupiter said...

Anyway, Craig's gentle but persistent voice of calm reason finally wore down my arrogant facade of strident certainty. I googled "feminism Dolly Parton". Huh.

It does seem that a lot of people who regard themselves as feminists are eager to claim Dolly Parton as a "feminist icon", for reasons that are startling in their variety. They're even more confused about feminism than I am. Here's what google shows for one of them;

"Think “Dolly Parton” and what likely comes to mind is a set of ...".

That's the first sentence of "Why I Am A Dolly Parton Feminist", from Topology Magazine. And yes, that's going exactly where you think it is. Doesn't sound like the topology I studied, must be Third Wave Topology.

Judith said...

I liked this version a lot - a great updating. I've also liked this version by Mindy Smith that really capitalizes on the minor key and reflective/obsessive thoughts of the song's narrator:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-liUKWR6xwg

Some of the comments seem to be working overtime to judge & categorize the song's narrator and her response to her husband's love for another woman. Maybe she'll get strong and feminist tomorrow. Tonight, she's experiencing a big loss. Put the politicizing on pause and have a bit of empathy.

To me, it could also be read as an imaginary talk, despite the "had to have this talk with you," - as the narrator reviews the situation. Many, if not most, songs are centered around the emotional response of a person and are written as being spoken directly to...whomever, but are really more a cri de coeur.

tim in vermont said...

I always felt the line about the skin, eyes, and hair were inauthentic. That they were more a description of what a woman would find beautiful, not a man. Now I get it. The rest of the song is great though.

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