The Original vs. The Cover – “Jolene”

For the next installment of The Original vs. The Cover we are giving some love to “Jolene” written by Dolly Parton. In fact, she wrote this song the same day she wrote “I Will Always Love You” which would make another great The Original vs. The Cover post. The song was recorded on May 22, 1973 and released October 15th of the same year which became her 2nd #1 solo song. The cover is from The White Stripes and we are going with the studio cover and not the live version as a tough comparison with the live track. The studio track was originally the B-Side to their song “Hello Operator” but was finally issued on their greatest hits album.

The song was inspired by a bank teller that was flirting with Dolly’s husband when the two first got married. Apparently it really bothered her. The physical description of Jolene and here name though were taken from a fan of hers that came running up on stage to get an autograph. The song has Dolly pleading to Jolene to not steal her man as she can’t compete with her beauty, but we know that Dolly and her man are still together today. So she won out in the end.


The Dolly Parton version starts off and continues with some brilliant guitar picking by the great session musician Chip Young. It is a simple production with a great rhythm section as the drum and bass line lay down a great groove that keeps the song moving forward and there seems to be a fiddle added for added texture. But of course the star is Dolly and her incredible voice. Dolly’s vocals are pleading so heartfelt for Jolene to leave her man and you can feel her pain. The lyrics alone are so crushing as you can relate so easily to her it is scary. There are some great vocal harmonies added during the “Jolene” in the chorus which gives it a little more. Dolly is one of the greats.


The White Stripes originally released this as a live song from the live DVD ‘Under the Blackpool Light’, but I decided to compare studio version to studio version. The White Stripes version starts off with a countdown and some great guitar picking. They added a tambourine and other percussion instruments to the mix. Of course they added a distorted guitar and heavy drum beats once they get to the back half of the song when they really up the tempo and the heaviness. What is actually great about it is that Jack sings it without changing the point of view of the main character. And it doesn’t feel contrived at all…it still works. Jack’s whiny, high pitched vocals carry a lot of emotion and he delivers a fine performance.

If you want the live version…here it is…The big difference is the intensity and vibe that they bring to live. Jack is in his element live and really delivers a stellar performance that is unmatched by any cover of this album. It is quite amazing. The sounds he and Meg can produce live are great and what they can’t he makes up for in his vocals as he gets in to it…damn.


This is a tough one as both bring a lot to the table. The White Stripes modernize and bring the song in to the 21st Century. Jack White’s vocals raspiness are perfect to get across the desperation and pleading for Jolene to not steal his man…but Dolly. Seriously! She is an icon for a reason. Her vocal inflections she has when she sings. That little vibration in her tone that really is cool. Plus the simple production and Chip’s guitar picking are really all the song needs. In the end, I will stick with Dolly Parton’s as the best version of the song, but The White Stripes are pretty close behind and if we were talking that live version, it would only missis by a hair and might be the best cover version I have heard of the song. Still not best version of the song though.

I am really interested in hearing what everyone else thinks of these two songs.  Let me know which version you like the best and why.  Feel free to leave a comment and talk about the song and tell me how right or wrong I am on this one.  Thanks for stopping by and have a great day.



Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green

Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain
And I cannot compete with you, Jolene

He talks about you in his sleep
There’s nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name, Jolene

And I can easily understand
How you could easily take my man
But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

You could have your choice of men
But I could never love again
He’s the only one for me, Jolene

I had to have this talk with you
My happiness depends on you
And whatever you decide to do, Jolene

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him even though you can

Jolene, Jolene

17 thoughts on “The Original vs. The Cover – “Jolene”

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