Saturday 28 March 2015

Jolene: A Queer Perspective

This morning my Facebook feed contained a song link with this comment from Simon, an old friend of mine:

"A classic C&W song slowed down 25%. You might almost call it "The Revenge Of The Altos"... It's soulful, it's thoughtful, and for me it cuts through the sickly syrup of a modern Christmas. Enjoy."

Original deleted: here's a similar version -

I responded:

"Simon, thank you so much for sharing this. I love the Dolly original. Slowing down the track, alters her voice to a more manly version which totally shatters the sexual dynamic of the tale; a fresh take on the eternal triangle"
Both my parents were into Country & Western music across the spectrum; although I do not recall either being particular fans of Dolly, with the exception of "Love is Like a Butterfly". Somehow or other, presumably from some show or other I heard "Jolene" and even as a boy was struck by the singer's terrifying  potential loss. No-one wants to lose someone they love.

This masculine-sounding rendering had me pondering whether any men had actually produced a version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene".

Regrettably, I am of an age where I am no longer musically literate nor up-to-date with much of popular culture, so all the versions I shall post below are by musicians, of whom I personally have never heard. In other words, I have not selected these versions for any ulterior motive. They are the takes that took me for some reason or other.

To whittle down the numerous versions of "Jolene" to the few listed here, I had to wade through some dire productions, dreadful line-dancing videos and shocking karaokes.

This first cover has an emotional delivery and a guitar-playing that had Simon filled with lust - not that kind:

"*converts self into electron stream, sneaks onto YouTube and Tunes. His. Damn. Guitar.* "

The White Stripes were a Detroit husband & wife duo. As far as I know, Jim White is straight. Nonetheless, he conveys the universality of the sentiment contained within Dolly Parton's lyric: the fear of losing a loved one to another suitor.

The lead in this next clip is a woman, but the duet is with a hirsute, bearded bloke, with the addition of three other menfolk, so I have included it within my remit. I have to admit the bands name, The Little Willies, also had something to do with me selecting it!

Can just imagine being in a night-club, sipping a whisky sour & enjoying this live. Ahhh, daydreams…

In contrast the next example is from an all-male quartet. This version makes me feel all eighties and brooding teenage angsty again - those were the days! Here goes, seat-belts on for Sisters of Mercy from 1983.
Original deleted: here’s the same track -

Men singing this track switches the sexual dynamic from purely heterosexual to queer,  depending on the character: (bisexual or) homosexual - singer; bisexual - man; or, heterosexual (or bisexual) - Jolene. In 1983, at the height of the AIDS panic, this sensibility would have been subversive.

Similarly, in current homophobic Poland, the song sung solo by a young man on a music television programme (program), Mam Talent III, can be perceived as a public declaration of homosexual love and a potentially seditious act. Here Piotr Lisiecki sings live and at a galloping pace:

Original video now deleted; but a similar version can be found here:

Piotr eventually went on to produce an album which contained by far the most intimate version I have come across: it's almost unsettling, as if one is overhearing a private discussion. Well worth a listen!

This next one definitely had me laughing. West Coast meets hill-billy with a punk twist - ha, ha, ha! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Me first and the gimme gimmes singing "Jolene":

And whilst talking of laughter, every time I watch this clip or the actual episode from American Dad, Steve's expression cracks me up! Go Roger!

On to another TV version. I am not impressed with the final Samuel Larsen version that made the GLEE album; on the other hand this audition is perfectly well executed, if a tad soulless perhaps?

Surprise, surprise: the audition has been deleted. Have a GLEE-fan version:

Certainly Samuel's androgynous appearance, in clothing, hair and his epicene features adds a gender-bending hue.

It really seems that "Jolene" is now a worldwide staple of talent shows whether in Poland or in the USA (and later in this post even the UK). The following had me horripilating: the power, the gusto, the emotion of Dolly and re-interpreted as his own. Cody Belew performed this for The Voice in the States. Fabbo!

And yet again never heard of this guy: this final male version by Matt Cardle (apparently of X-Factor fame) had me sobbing and rapidly soggying tissues. Really powerful version. What a voice & totally live!

Matt "is known for his falsetto and being able to reach notes typically unusual for a male singer" according to Wikipedia. A voice that takes us full circle from Dolly with her delightful, slowed-down manly voice to Matt with his awesome, womanly voice.

Of course, this blog-post would be incomplete without the original Dolly version. However, here it is with a twist…

The clever juxtapositioning of Sherlock characters, Watson (singer), Holmes (man) and Moriarty (Jolene) with Dolly's version along with some very judicious editing of shots from season 2 finale The Reichenbach Fall are perfectly combined to create a purely queer melodrama.

It is quite clear that the song has resonance across the musical spectrum from rock to lullaby amongst both professional and amateur singers. A testament to Dolly Parton's word-smithing.


I have had to update as of 28th March 2015 as so many links had broken or videos had been deleted. Any problems with the links in future, do let me know and I can then try to rectify. Cheers, "Jolene" lovers! %)


Update: 30th January 2019. Today, I have been made aware of a couple of other videos that have a bearing on our queer perspective: Jolene actually sung by Dolly with Pentatonix and, below, additionally with Miley Cyrus.

I have to say that last - live - version had me goose-bumping for days! %O

Enjoy, y’all! ;)


  1. Matt really makes an impact when one is being confronted with his voice an passion unexpectedly, doesn't he? :)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Julia.

      After posting the link on Facebook, one of my friends wrote, "Oh my word. ! Stunning!"


  2. You should listen to Matt's covers of Joni Mitchel's 'River', Alanis Morrisette's 'Thank You' and 'Uninvited', Gaga's 'Paparazzi', Adele's 'Set Fire 'To The Rain', Duffy's 'Mercy' and he is best known for his cover of Peggy Seeger/Roberta Flack's, 'First Time ever I Saw Your Face' as well as male artists as diverse as Bob Dylan ( All Along The Watchtower), Pearl Jam (Daughter) the Moody Blues(Nights in White Satin), Dave Mathews (Ants Marching, Bartender)John Legend (Ordinary People) and Extreme (More Than Words). He is also an accomplished song writer, musician, arranger and producer himself. He will be touring the UK and Ireland in April with his current album 'Porcelain', as well as selections from his other albums 'Letters' and 'The Fire'. I'm a gay American, who found him on Youtube in 2010, around the time he won X Factor UK. Have been a fan ever since. He is a good friend to the LGBTI community, has posed for Gay Times and performed at G.A.Y.
    His manager is gay.

    1. Thanks for the info and the comprehensive list of recommendations, M.H. I shall certainly listen to some if not all that are available on YouTube. Cheers! %)

    2. Oh and check out his song with former Spice Girl, Mel C, aka Sporty Spice, 'Loving You', it was a top 40 hit over much of the world this past fall and is still getting radio play in Europe and Asia.