Last month a slowed-down video of Dolly Parton’s classic song “Jolene” made the rounds on the Internet. The premise was that if you played that single not at the correct 45-rpm speed but at the 33-rpm speed, a reduction of about 25%, the resultant version was quite startling, as if “a soulful male ballad singer” (The New Yorker) were covering it (and, incidentally, fucking with the gender dynamics of the song). Many, many listeners expressed astonishment that Dolly’s phrasing and even vibrato were so finely expressed that hardly any flaws showed up, even at such a slow speed. The main YouTube video, originally uploaded by YouTube user “goodlittlebuddy” in April 2012, has now been viewed 1.75 million times.
Not a lot of people discussing “Slow Ass Jolene” took the opportunity to credit John Oswald for the insight about “Jolene”—but Oswald realized the exact same thing as early as 1988 (to be fair, a sprinkling of YouTube users did make the connection). It’s unclear whether “goodlittlebuddy” knew this or not, but either way Oswald deserves some of the credit here.
Oswald was a self-proclaimed “Plunderphonic” who argued for the necessity of (basically) fucking with famous pieces of music. In 1989 he distributed the Plunderphonics EP with four tracks to media outlets and radio stations. (Oswald generally avoided charging money for his reconstituted works in the hopes of avoiding copyright infringement suits, but also withdrew and destroyed existing stock in the face of legal challenges.)
The Plunderphonics EP has four tracks, each of which aggressively reworks a famous bit of music. Tracks 1, 3, and 4 mess with Igor Stravinsky, Count Basie, and Elvis Presley, respectively. Track 2 of the Plunderphonics EP is “Pretender,” in which Dolly Parton’s rendition of “The Great Pretender” is manipulated to sound more like a man’s voice. Sound familiar? Read on!
This is from Oswald’s liner notes on the Plunderphonics EP:
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.
Pretender takes a leisurely tour of the intermediate areas of Ms. Parton’s masculinity. This decelerando reveals, complete with suggestive lyrics, an unaltered transition between the ‘Dolly Parton’ the public usually hears and the normally hidden voice, pitched a fourth lower. To many ears this supposed trick effect reveals the mellifluous male voice to be the more natural sounding of the two. Astute star gazers have perceived the physical transformation, via plastic surgery, hair transplants and such, that make many of today’s media figures into narrow/bosomy, blemish-free caricatures and super-real ideals. Is it possible that Ms. Parton’s remarkable voice is actually the Alvinized* result of some unsung virile ghost lieder crooning these songs at elegiac tempos which are then gender polarized to fit the tits? Speed and sex are again revealed as components intrinsic to the business of music.
Here’s John Oswald’s “Pretender”:
Here’s Dolly’s original “The Great Pretender”:
And Dolly’s classic “Jolene” at the right speed: