Dolly Parton‘s 1974 fan-favorite “Jolene” has inspired hundreds of cover performances from artists of every background, genre and description in the decades since its release. But the country superstar says that someday, she’d like to hear another performer do a version of her song that’s massive and successful in its own right, and she’s got some ideas about what kind of vocalist might be up to the task.
“Nobody’s ever had a really big hit record on it,” Parton explains in a recent interview with The Big Issue. “I’ve always hoped somebody might do somebody, someone like Beyoncé.”
It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the pop superstar might try her hand at a country cover. In 2016, Beyoncé brought her country-fried “Daddy Lessons” to the CMA Awards stage, stealing the show with help from the Chicks. While the Houston native first rose to fame in the ’90s as one third of R&B group Destiny’s Child, she’s since shown plenty of talent for chasing any genre she sets her mind to, and her signature powerhouse vocals might just be able to make “Jolene” an entirely fresh hit, decades after it last topped charts.
Of course, Parton adds, there have been plenty of other worthy covers of her song over the years. “‘Jolene’ has been recorded more than any other song I’ve ever written. It has been recorded worldwide over 400 times in lots of different languages, by lots of different bands,” she notes. “The White Stripes did a wonderful job of it, and many other people.”
Still, not since she debuted the song in the ’70s has anyone else truly had a gigantic crossover hit with “Jolene,” and Parton’s got good reason to believe that a powerhouse vocalist with a pop background might be the right person to remedy that. Another of the country star’s biggest hits, “I Will Always Love You,” got the pop treatment from Whitney Houston in 1992, and it became a huge hit for her.
In fact, Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” dominated Billboard charts left and right upon its release, spending 14 weeks atop the Billboard Top 100 Single Sales chart and 11 weeks atop the Hot 100 Airplay chart. The song was also a multi-week No. 1 hit on Billboard‘s Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks and Hot R&B Singles charts, and it became the longest-standing chart-topper on the R&B chart at that time.
After Houston died in 2012, “I Will Always Love You” enjoyed a chart renaissance, returning to the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in two decades and shooting to the top of the U.S. iTunes charts.
Parton’s original versions of “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” appear on the same 1974 album, and they’re two of her best-loved and most enduring songs to date. Parton admits that it’s impossible for her to know what the full impact of her songs are going to be before they’re released.
Still, “as a songwriter, you know when some songs are better than others,” she says. “And I knew that ‘I Will Always Love You’ was probably one of the best things that I’d written, because it came from so much heart and soul.”
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