"I finally said, 'Barry [Gibb], I don’t even like this song anymore' and he said, 'You know what we need? We need Dolly Parton,'" Rogers told People in 2017. Incredibly enough, Parton happened to be downstairs from Rogers in the same studio complex, he recalled. "My manager Ken Kragen said, 'I just saw her!' and I said, 'Well, go get her!' He went downstairs and she came marching into the room, and once she came in and started singing the song was never the same. It took on a personality of its own." That spark was evident from the pair's first live performance of the song, which came on the CMA Awards telecast on October 10, 1983.
Yet making "Islands in the Stream" a duet was a go-to move for Rogers during this era. In 1978, he teamed up with country legend Dottie West for the duets album Every Time Two Fools Collide, whose title track topped the country charts. Rogers further expanded his sonic range (and earned pop crossover success) with the Kim Carnes collaboration "Don't Fall In Love With A Dreamer," a No. 4 Hot 100 hit in 1980. And in early 1983, Rogers and Sheena Easton teamed up for a cover of Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight" that peaked at No. 6 on the Hot 100.
A desire for new collaboration also led Rogers to enlist Barry Gibb to co-produce his 1983 album Eyes That See in the Dark, where "Islands" eventually found its LP home. At the time the country star came calling, Gibb and brothers Robin and Maurice had retreated from their own music and were focused on writing for other artists. The move was wildly successful: After dominating pop music during the late-'70s disco era with the Bee Gees, the trio continued to have a prominent chart presence in the early '80s -- only this time as songwriters, producers and guest stars.
In 1980, Barry co-produced Barbra Streisand's studio album Guilty and co-wrote (along with Robin) "Woman In Love," which spent three weeks atop the Hot 100 (before giving way to Rogers' "Lady"). The following year, Streisand added two more top 10 smashes from Guilty, both duets with Barry: the title track (No. 3) -- which was written by all three brothers—and "What Kind of Fool" (No. 10), another Barry co-write. Conway Twitty took a cover of the Bee Gees' 1978 b-side "Rest Your Love on Me" to No. 1 on the country charts in 1981. And in 1982, Dionne Warwick topped the adult contemporary chart and peaked at No. 10 on the Hot 100 with "Heartbreaker," another song by all three Gibb.
"Islands in the Stream" also had roots in R&B. Although widely cited as being written for Marvin Gaye, the Bee Gees actually had another Motown legend in mind as it came together. "We were writing a song for Diana Ross, but she never got [a]round to hearing it, and Kenny wanted a song and we came up with this one," Barry Gibb said in The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb. "It was written as an R&B song, so it just shows you the relationship between the two types of songs that it could, in fact, turn into a country song very easily."
Rogers prided himself on this malleable vocal nature, as he said in the liner notes of Kenny Rogers Through the Years: A Retrospective, although he never lost sight of his strengths. "I am a country singer with a tremendous amount of other influences. No matter what I do, it's always going to have a country influence to it. That's just where my heart is." That assessment proved prescient, as Rogers continued to enjoy major country success for the rest of the '80s, but "Islands in the Stream" would mark the end of his upper-echelon pop success. He only reached the Hot 100's top 40 three times after this, with the high point being "What About Me?" with Kim Carnes and James Ingram, which hit No. 15 in 1984.