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Dolly Parton's “Jolene” Lyrics Were Inspired By a Real Situation With Her Husband

Day 3 - Glastonbury Festival
The Untold Story Behind Dolly's "Jolene" SongShirlaine Forrest

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Dolly Parton has continually put out hit after hit over the years — from "These Old Bones" and "If I Had Wings" to "Sugar Hill" and "Nine to Five." But one of the songs that really took her career to the next level was "Jolene," a track on her 13th studio album that landed in the number-one spot on the charts in 1974.

The song is so important to Dolly, that when collaborating with Netflix to create the eight-part anthology series Heartstrings (which came out in 2019), she named an entire episode after it and had actresses Julianne Hough and Kimberly Williams-Paisley illustrate the story behind the recording.

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So, what do the lyrics mean? In 2008, Dolly opened up to NPR about where she first got the idea for the now-iconic song. Even though the lyrics revolve around being jealous of another woman, the origin of "Jolene" actually came from a much more innocent place.

"One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably eight years old at the time," Dolly told the outlet. "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.'"

Julianne Hough (right) portrays Jolene alongside Dolly Parton (left) in Netflix’s Heartstrings. Tina Rowden/Netflix

Lo and behold, she did just that. But while Dolly may have used the girl's name for her new song, she drew further inspiration from her own life story. Soon after Dolly married her husband Carl Dean in 1966, an attractive red-headed bank teller supposedly began flirting with him. This didn't sit well with Dolly and prompted her to write out her feelings.

Independent reports Dolly saying at a Glastonbury concert in the U.K.: "I wrote that [song] years ago when my husband … was spending a little more time with Jolene than I thought he should be. I put a stop to that. I got rid of that redhead woman in a hurry ... Had it not been for that woman I would never have written 'Jolene' and I wouldn't have made all that money, so thank you, Jolene."

Yes, thank you, Jolene.

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