Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Dolly Parton : Jolene

Possibly the best known of all Dolly's compositions, Jolene ( is the lead track on a seven-inch maxi-single (RCA Victor RCA 2675) which was her breakthrough hit in the British market in 1976, reaching number seven in June of that year. Whilst there's nothing remotely unusual about this disc in itself, either musically or as an object (unless one views the value-for-money three-track maxi as a curious product of the 'seventies, like Dynaflex, say), it merits inclusion in this journal because of how Dolly was manipulated by John Oswald (link : - it's number 13).
"Dolly Parton gets a sex change by slowing down the speed of one of her singles...", wrote Andrew Jones in his book Plunderphonics, 'Pataphysics + Pop Mechanics, which includes this quote from Oswald : "Although the idea of slowing down Dolly Parton was my idea, two separate Dolly Parton fans told me on two separate occasions that I should listen to Dolly Parton 45s at 33 RPM, because she sounded really great at that speed. And it's true."
From "Pretender (based on 'The Great Pretender' written by Buck Ram) features the opportunity for a dramatic gender change, suggesting a hypothesis concerning the singer, Ms.Parton, perhaps worthy of headlines in the National Enquirer. The first inklings of this story came from fans of Ms.Parton's earlier hit single 'Jolene'. As many consumers have inadvertently discovered, especially since the reemergence of 12' 45rpm records of which this present disc is a peculiar subset, it is not uncommon to find oneself playing 45rpm sides at the LP standard speed of 331/3. In this transposed tempo 'Jolene' reveals the singer to be a handsome tenor. Additional layers of homosexual longing, convoluted ménages à trois and double identities are revealed in a vortex of androgyny as one switches, verse to verse, between the two standard playback speeds."
Whilst to my ears the backing music does work extremely well, the reduced pace darkening the mood of the track wonderfully, I'm not sure I'm totally convinced that Dolly's voice resembles that of a male when heard at twelve revs fewer per minute - but if disbelief can be suspended briefly, one gets a whole new intriguing perspective on her lyric : a man worrying about losing his man to the song's female subject; the vulnerability of a male capable of being moved to tears by the potential situation.
As the strangeness of this release resides solely in how the disc's misused, I'm rather tempted to have a one-off custom pressing produced for my "museum" by Vinyl Carvers ( which plays at the expected speed yet features the song at its adjusted pace.
I once read of a show on Resonance FM dedicated to records being played at the wrong speed, but I've yet to listen in.

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