"Jolene" tells the tale of a woman confronting Jolene, a stunningly beautiful woman, who she believes is trying to steal away her man and begging her to "please don't take her man". Throughout the song, the woman implores Jolene "please don't take him just because you can". The song became Parton's second solo number-one single on the country charts after being released as a single in late 1973 (prior to the album's release). It reached the top position in February 1974; it also was a moderate pop hit for her and a minor adult contemporary chart entry, and was released as a single in the UK the following year, where it reached number seven in the UK singles chart.
Parton has said that the inspiration for the story was a tall, red-headed bank teller whom Parton believed was flirting with her husband, and her husband's apparent vulnerability to the teller's charm as indicated by his sudden interest in making frequent trips to the bank. In her live performances of the song, Parton often states she fought this woman tooth and nail for her husband. The name "Jolene" came from a beautiful little red-headed girl with green eyes who sought her autograph at a concert.
I said, 'what is your name?' And she said, 'Jolene.' And I said, 'well, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.' I said, 'that is pretty,' I said, 'that sounds like a song. I'm going to write a song about that.'
Post punk band The Sisters of Mercy often covered this song in concert as part of a series of tasteful but goth-"uncool" covers to provoke the audience. It can be heard on their live bootleg Amphetamine-Boeblingen.
The Chilean cumbia compositor Paskual Ramirez made a 'Spanish-translated' cover with cumbia rhythms, partially based on the translation made by Las Chicas del Can for the LP: "Fantasía Vol. 1" (1991) and a techno-cumbia re-arrangement of the cover for the disc Paskual y su Alegría - Internacional (2000). His mate Claudia sang in the 1st version and his daughter Eva sang in the 2000s rearrangement.
A 1994 version by Swedish show group Spirella Girls was named "Brolin, Brolin" and was about Swedish soccer player Tomas Brolin.
Also in 2011, Samuel Larsen performed this song in the finals of Oxygen's reality competition series The Glee Project. Larsen won the competition along with a fellow contender.
It was also performed on the show Glee by Dot Marie Jones who portrays Coach Beiste in the episode "I Kissed a Girl". The episode aired on November 29, 2011.
In 2012, The Little Willies covered the song on their album For the Good Times with Norah Jones on lead vocals.
In 2012, Brandi Carlile covered this song on her Bear Creek tour.
In 2012, Miley Cyrus (Parton's goddaughter) performed a version in a "Backyard Sessions" video found on Cyrus' official website.
In 2012, Sandra van Nieuwland, a Dutch singer, covered this song for her album And More.
In 2013, Straight No Chaser, an a cappella group from Indiana, covered this song (with featured vocalist Dolly Parton herself) on their 2013 album Under the Influence
In 2013, YouTube user goodlittlebuddy's slowed-down version of "Jolene" rose to internet fame. On a number of occasions, the version is erroneously cited as being 33RPM. The song is actually slowed down by 25% of the original speed.