Eleanor Rigby, Layla, Billie Jean. Songs have been named after women for as long as we as humans have been capable of writing them down. Lola, Mandy, Sharona. Some are beautifully romantic. Ruby, Rhiannon, Peg. Others are tragic, or simply nonsense. Rosanna, Roxanne, Victoria. One thing is for sure though- Maggie Mae, Peggy Sue, Sweet Caroline– many of them make us wonder who those names actually belonged to.
Perhaps most known because of Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse’s collaborative cover, Valerie saw The Zutons receive their breakthrough as the track hit number six back in 2006. The cover, which was released a year later, was much more successful, peaking at number two and gaining the accolade of being the ninth best-selling single of 2007.
The song is a pretty straightforward one. It concerns a woman who, much like in many other tracks released before and after it, the narrator is longing for; “I’ve missed your ginger hair and the way you like to dress. Won’t you come on over, stop making a fool out of me”. Valerie isn’t a shrinking violet though- “Did you have to go to jail. Put your house on up for sale. Did you get a good lawyer?”-, there’s more to her than meets the eye (or ear).
The real Valerie was an American friend of The Zutons frontman, Dave McCabe. According to their drummer, Sean Payne, Valerie was “in trouble for drink driving. She was a friend Dave met over in the US. It’s his musical postcard to her, saying he’s having a hard time and can she come over and see him. He didn’t mean it, it just made a good song.”
Let’s hope he gave her a share of the royalties.
This one isn’t hard to find an answer to, and is a subject Parton has talked about more than once. In 2008 she told NPR: “One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl – she was probably 8 years old at the time. And she had this beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, these beautiful green eyes, and she was looking up at me, holding, you know, for an autograph. I said, ‘Well, you’re the prettiest little thing I ever saw. So what is your name?’ And she said, ‘Jolene.’ And I said, ‘Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene.’ I said, ‘That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.'”
That’s where it ends for that Jolene. After all, she was definitely not trying to take Dolly Parton’s man. The track was in fact about a real woman who had eyes for her husband, Carl Dean. In 2014 Parton told a packed Glastonbury, “Now, some of you may or may not know that that song was loosely based on a little bit of truth. I wrote that years ago when my husband… was spending a little more time with Jolene than I thought he should be. I put a stop to that. I got rid of that redhead woman in a hurry… I want you folks to know, though, that something good can come from anything. Had it not been for that woman I would never have written Jolene and I wouldn’t have made all that money, so thank you, Jolene.”
When you learn the truth things get a little more innocent. Parton told NPR that her husband “just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention. It was kinda like a running joke between us – when I was saying, ‘Hell, you’re spending a lot of time at the bank. I don’t believe we’ve got that kind of money.’ So it’s really an innocent song all around, but sounds like a dreadful one.”
Read more on the next page.