The Best Songs About Redheads
by Alex Leo
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’
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.