Monday, April 30, 2012


The Best Songs About Redheads

As a redhead, I'm biased, but these are some fabulous songs, ranked from top down.

1) "Jolene," Dolly Parton

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don't take him just because you can
Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green

“Jolene” has spawned dozens of covers, was listed by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time, and was even made into a movie, but the best part (besides the auburn hair) is that it’s about two women fighting over a man who apparently has no agency whatsoever. Dolly's begging Jolene not to take her man, but doesn’t seem to consider that he might have any choice in the matter. This is the kind of reverse-sexism the '70s were begging for, and that lady-country music is chock full of. Dolly’s deep, woeful voice combined with the haunting melody and hilarious lack of male involvement make for the best redhead ballad of all time. 

2) “Red Headed Stranger," Willie Nelson

The red-headed stranger had eyes like the thunder,
And his lips, they were sad and tight.
His little lost love lay asleep on the hillside,
And his heart was heavy as night.

Another song made into a movie (this one starring Nelson), “Red Headed Stranger” became synonymous with the singer himself. It so reminds me of some narrative poems I used to read, especially ones by Tennyson and Robert Browning about war and vengeance and loss. It’s as haunting as "Jolene," but is mellowed by Nelson’s raspy, loving voice.

3) “The Band Played On,” lyrics by John Palmer, music by Charles Ward

Casey would waltz with a strawberry blonde
And the band played on,
He'd glide 'cross the floor with the girl he adored
And the band played on,
But his brain was so loaded it nearly exploded
The poor girl would shake with alarm,
He'd ne'er leave the girl with the strawberry curls
And the band played on.

This is one of those songs that you know but you don’t know how you know — it’s just in the ether. It’s a strange one about a man named Matt Casey who can’t stop dancing with his favorite girl (although he has many). He seems to get overwhelmed by the joy of it all (perhaps there’s some booze involved?), but whatever the cause, it creates some sort of seizure-esque reaction while dancing, and his strawberry blonde must rescue him. The 19th-century song is soothing, but it does have a touch of creepiness that makes it even better.

4) “Fell in Love With a Girl,” The White Stripes

Red hair with a curl
mellow roll for the flavor
and the eyes for peeping
can't keep away from the girl
these two sides of my brain
need to have a meeting

I have to be honest, I have no idea what “Mellow roll for the flavor and the eyes for peeping” means. Are they rolling cigarettes? Are they near a doll museum? It’s all very strange, but the important part is that the girl is a redhead and the song is amazing — it so perfectly captures the insanity of infatuation. The song was later covered by Joss Stone as “Fell in Love with a Boy,” which is arguably even better than the original.

5) “Redhead Walking,” REM

Don’t get close
She’ll warn you with her growl
She’s a bud cuttin’, star studded, leather chested girl
Out there a redhead walkin’
Redhead walkin’
The redhead walkin’
Better listen keep your distance from the crimson

REM created the most dangerous of all musical redheads: one who'll “cut your heart like diamonds” but who's so alluring that kissing her is a must. Of course, the final line about keeping away from redheads is crap.

Alex Leo is the director of news product for Thomson Reuters Digital. Before that she was a senior editor at The Huffington Post and an associate producer at ABC News.

62 Comments / Post A Comment

Patrick M

What about "Red" by Jordan Catalano? Did I misinterpret that or something?


@Patrick M didn't that song turn out to be written about his car?


Dolly open doors in country when country didnt want too and even hard rocker Led Zeppelin said of Dolly..''I dont like country but Dolly when she sings you hear her heart and sings so beautiful and stop to hear Dolly singing''..LOVE DOLLY!~!@k


Jolee-ee-ee-ee-ene! That song is the greatest. I don't even have red hair and I love all these songs.

Nicole Cliffe

True story: I saw the title and was all ready to FREAK OUT if "Jolene" wasn't included. Me of little faith!


@SarahP Rushed down here to share my favorite cover of "Jolene": Reba's version.


@wee_ramekin And, since she's a redhead, that's pretty meta.


@SarahP as far as I am concerned "Jolene" is the only song about Redheads, but this list is definitely well done.


@SarahP Yep. I don't care how messed up the sexual politics are, THIS SONG! I love it so much, especially considering that the lyrics and premise have never had any relevance to my own life, like, at all.


@wee_ramekin I really like the White Stripes version. I can't link to it because I am on my phone, but it's awesome and y'all should check it out!


Autostraddle made a playlist of ALL Jolene a couple of weeks ago: http://8tracks.com/autostraddle/jolene

I don't love Dolly (I grew up near Dollywood, Dolly Parton overload), but I LOVE JOLENE.


@wee_ramekin I really, really love this super-slowed-down version of "Jolene" that someone re-recorded and put online last year. It's still Dolly's voice, "as if you were playing an old 45 at 33rpm," so that it sounds almost as low as … say, Nico's voice. There's also a similar version of "9 to 5" on that webpage, "slowed down to a bluesy lament," and side-by-side comparisons with both original recordings.


@che The White Stripes version really emphasizes that gorgeous guitar bit, doesn't it? (Alas, I don't know any musical terms; there's surely a better way to say "guitar bit." Anyone?)


@wee_ramekin Good lord, I'd managed to forget how good Reba's cover is! Everyone go listen!


@pterodactgirl yep, Jack White just makes it sound just so damn angry. I remember I went through a stage a year or so ago where I was obsessed with singing 'Jolene' (terribly, while driving)


Love this so much!!


The Boss also paid the ultimate redhead homage: "It takes a red-headed woman to get a dirty job done."


@Slapfight Plus, he's married to one.


@Ophelia I figured that's how he knew. ;)


Well listen up stud
Your life's been wasted
Til you've got down on your knees and tasted
A red headed woman

My guess is the man knows what the hell he's talking about to speak with such conviction.


@stinapag THE BOSSSSS the boss the bossssss

I KNEW I've been redheaded-by-choice for seven years FOR A REASON.



By osmosis, every song released by Geri Haliwell during her illustrious solo career, especially the gloriously crap "Bag it Up".


@Decca "Bag It Up" is so ridiculous.


"two women fighting over a man who apparently has no agency whatsoever"

also the plot of many a daytime talk show - the women get angry at each other but hardly ever at the cheating scumbag between them.

I liked when Coach Bieste did "Jolene" on Glee, with jane Lynch as the temptress.


I hate that. Yeah if the other girl knows about you and chases your dude, it's pretty messed up. BUT. She's not the one who committed to you. I've only been cheated on by one guy that I actually cared about, and I remember boxing up every gift he'd ever given me, driving to his house, and chucking the box at his head. I was a dramatic little high school senior.


@The Kendragon When my high school senior boyfriend cheated on me (with a freshman (!!) he met during band camp (!!)) I told everyone I didn't care because he couldn't keep it up anyway. Not untrue, but pretty dirty pool. Not my finest hour.


Haha oh high school. I am so glad I didn't go to college in my home town. I prefer to leave my bad decisions and relocate, rather than trying unsuccessfully to change people's minds about who I am.


what about "Valerie"?!

Reginal T. Squirge

@bisou Yes, I was going to say this. RIP Amy.


REM didn't create "Redhead Walking." It's a cover of a Beat Happening song from the album "Dreamy"


In fact, the video you posted features the Beat Happening version. That's Calvin Johnson singing.

Reginal T. Squirge

Daniel Johnston - "Tuna Ketchup"

screwball cate

"One of the purdiest, sanginest, songwritinest little blondes in country music." Nice.


Dolly has really upped the game on her wigs over the years. This one looks it could be blown clear off her head as the result of a slight breeze.
But that jumpsuit is a '70s delight.


The links in the Jolene description don't work!


@Dancercise Yes, the movie is on Netflix instant. It's just called "Jolene."

all the bacon and eggs

"Jolene" is fantastic, and that reminds me...what about "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town"? Hmm, maybe she's not explicitly a redhead, but she's got "tinted hair" and her name is Ruby, so I always imagined a redhead. Also, this comparison might be influenced by my limited familiarity with country music.

Nicole Cliffe

I looooove Ruby.


Okay, so there are no specific references to red hair in the lyrics of this song, BUT -

"Flaming Red" by Patty Griffin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEOBPaULLps - hang on for the freakout at 1:30.


@MmeLibrarian I love Patty! (This song is on my running playlist.)


p.s. - "Redhead Walking" isn't an REM song. It's a Beat Happening song that REM covered. That isn't REM in the video.

edit - Late pass. Sorry mpb.


Thanks for reigniting my red hair envy! Arrgghhh.


So, Rhiannon, by Fleetwood Mac is also not about a redhead (or any specific hair color), but since I'm a readhead, and it's my name, I've always pictured her as a redhead in my own (red)head.


Said Red Molly to James that's a fine motorbike
A girl could feel special on any such like
Said James to Red Molly, well my hat's off to you
It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952
And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme
And he pulled her on behind
And down to Box Hill they did ride


@ThatAndrea Agreed, I was going to add this one, too! I like the Del McCoury version.

Barry Grant

@PinkHouses Never heard the DM version but I've heard Richard Thompson (the songwriter) play it several times and it never fails to enthrall the audience.

Plus, I'm pretty sure they ride down to Vauxhall.


I have a total girl-crush on La Dolly.

She's just all kinds of amazing.

oh, disaster

Dolly is number one, all is well in the world.


Must show my country roots and add Garth Brooks' "Ain't Going Down Til the Sun Comes Up" :

Six o'clock on Friday evening
Momma doesn' t know she's leaving
'Til she hears the screen door slamming
Rubber squealin', gears a-jamming
Local country station just a blaring on the radio
Pick him up at seven and they're headin' to the rodeo
Momma's on the front porch screamin' out her warning
Girl you better get your red head
Back in bed before the morning


@Impasto Yes! This song sparked red head envy in my little 16-year-old heart way back when.

fondue with cheddar

Yay! My dad (who sang in a barbershop quartet in college) had a book of old songs that he taught them to my brother and me when we were little. I completely forgot about "The Band Played On"! I used to know it by heart. I still remember "The Sidewalks of New York" and "If You Knew Suzie".


Nooo, "Fell In Love With A Boy" is awful, as are Joss Stone's songs in general. (Does being a redhead give me extra authority?)


I trust Willie Nelson to know whats up about 1. Redheads and 2. Whiskey. Being a redhead who drinks whiskey we are clearly soul mates in an Agape/brotherly love kind of way

Barry Grant

@Burly-Q "Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other"


"And the Band Played On" is especially creepy if you've seen "Strangers on a Train"


This just makes me and my red hair so happy. Glad someone else mentioned "Valerie", which was originally by the Zutons- but Amy's slow version of it is my very favorite. It's on the deluxe version of "Back to Black."

Also, I always pictured Lucy (the one in the sky with diamonds) being a redhead. Maybe a blonde, but probably a redhead.

Hannah Debus@facebook

As a redhead AND a White Stripes nut, I take great moral offence to the idea that Joss Stone's version of 'Fell in Love with a Girl' was superior.

Not cool, Hairpin.


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