On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Dolly Parton – Jolene (1973)
So long to the UK, dear reader, because it’s back to the US for us and to Tennessee today. Back in the 1960s Dolly Parton began writing songs for other artists but started building a solo career of her own late in the decade. We join Parton in 1973 in a decade where she became very popular. Parton has written more than 3,000 songs, which is insane, but 1001 Songs has gone with one her most famous pieces in the form of Jolene.
Parton wrote Jolene after observing another woman flirting with her husband and based the woman in the song on a fan she met at one of her shows. In the song, Parton’s narrator looks on at the stunningly beautiful Jolene who could have any man she wants. The narrator beseeches Jolene not to steal her man, insisting he is the only one she will ever love so to lose him would mean not only heartbreak but emotional destitution for the remainder of her life. Jolene, on the other hand, has her pick of the men so why not go for someone else? It’s unclear in the song whether Jolene is interested in the narrator’s man but he speaks Jolene’s name in his sleep so the omens are not good.
Dolly Parton has acknowledged that of all the songs she has written, it is Jolene that has been the most covered and it isn’t hard to understand why. The desperation of the narrator is conveyed by Parton’s beautiful pleading vocals and the uncertainty of how this potential love triangle unravels only adds to the appeal of this song. Parton would also write I Will Always Love You in this decade, made very famous by Whitney Houston in the 1990s, but she truly is at her best with Jolene.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
The Kinks – Days (1968)
Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)
David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Carly Simon – You’re So Vain (1972)