Jolene, Jolene, Jolene-Jolene! “Jolene” has only 200 words but appears to have been covered at least that many times. One of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 songs of all time, Dolly Parton’s 1974 #1 country hit is a song of love and jealousy that clearly continues to resonate with artists as well as fans. Musicians of all genres from all over the world have performed and recorded “Jolene” and the covers have reached the top 40 in multiple countries.
Growing up with a bunch of hillbillies who came north, I was well acquainted with the song as a child, even though it was released the year I was born. But it wasn’t until 1995 when I heard Paula Cole perform a rendition of “Jolene” (that included a literal beatbox breakdown by Paula) that the song would become a permanent part of my psyche. After that chance encounter, it seemed as if every couple of years I would stumble upon a surprising, possibly shocking, or just downright terrible, new or new-to-me cover of “Jolene.” Allow me to share with you my list of the ten best. (Spoiler alert: the Paula Cole version didn’t make the list.)
The White Stripes – 2004
The now-defunct Detroit duo’s blues/rock version may be the best cover of “Jolene” in the last 20 years.
Olivia Newton-John – 1976
Olivia Newton-John added a disco twist to the country-fried hit with a Nile Rodgers-esque guitar lick backing the track. Here she is doing it live, back in the day. Dig her down-home accent!
Leila Forouhar – 1990
Iranian pop star Leila Forouhar covers “Jolene” with a Persian flair.
Pentatonix & Dolly Parton – 2016
A capella group and TV talent show winners Pentatonix featured Dolly herself and were awarded a Grammy in 2017 for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. I want to hate this cover, but it actually works just fine.
Strawberry Switchblade – 1985
This Scottish New Wave group gave us an electro-pop version.
Mindy Smith – 2003
“Jolene” is such an incredible song that it might just land you a record deal, as it did for Mindy Smith after covering the song for a Dolly Parton tribute album. Dolly appears in the video and actually considers Mindy’s version to be her favorite to date.
Darcy Clay – 1997
Tragedy surrounds Darcy Clay’s “Jolene.” An up-and-coming artist from New Zealand akin to an early Beck, Clay took his own life two weeks before he was supposed to perform at a suicide prevention and awareness event.
Queenadreena – 2000
“Jolene” gets a real makeover with this gothy alternative-rock number by former members of Daisy Chainsaw. The most interesting thing about this cover is its back-beat similarity to one-hit wonder Sly Fox’s “Let’s Go All The Way.”
Miley Cyrus – 2012
Dolly’s goddaughter Miley Cyrus throws her hat in the ring with a more-than-competent version.
The Sisters of Mercy – 1983
The Post-Punk goth rockers felt like they needed to cover “Jolene” too. I’ll just leave this one here…
Dolly Parton is an American treasure and “Jolene” speaks eternal truth about who we were, and who we still are. Some stone-cold classic covers of an all-time classic tune.