Rewinding the Charts: In 1983, Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers Sailed to No. 1
The country stars' duet "Islands in the Stream" almost didn't happen.
BY 1983, COUNTRY SUPERSTARS Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton were well acquainted with the pop charts. Rogers had landed six top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 (solo and with The First Edition), including the No. 1 "Lady," and Parton had scored two, including the chart-topping theme to the 1981 film 9 to 5 (co-starring Parton).
They would score their next No. 1s as a duo with a song not initially meant to be a duet. "Islands in the Stream" was written for Marvin Gaye by the Bee Gees (brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb), but Rogers chose to cut it – solo – for his 15th studio album, Eyes That See in the Dark, which Barry Gibb produced.
Rogers struggled with the song, however. "I had spent about four days trying to sing it," he recalls, "and I finally told him, 'Barry, I don't even like this song anymore.' "
Gibb's response: "'We need Dolly Parton,' " remembers Rogers, whose manager at the time, Ken Kragen, happened to be in the studio and knew that, coincidentally, Parton was recording there as well. "So he went downstairs and brought her up."
"When Dolly came in that room, the song took on a totally different flavor," says Rogers, "and it's [now] one of my favorite songs."
"Islands" became a mass-appeal smash, simultaneously topping the Hot 100 and Hot Country Songs charts for two weeks, beginning Oct. 29, 1983.
Rogers and Parton have continued to duet over the years. Rogers, 78, is in the midst of his retirement tour, which continues into 2017. Pure & Simple, the 43rd studio album for Parton, 70, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart dated Sept. 10, her first to reach the top spot in 25 years. She also reprised her classic "I Will Always Love You" as part of the all-star "Forever Country" medley, which topped Hot Country Songs for two weeks earlier this month.