Name a more iconic duo than Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Over the years, Parton has collaborated with some pretty big names. But her collaboration with Rogers “Islands in the Stream” will always stand in a league of its own.
It’s been 37 years since Rogers and Parton were awarded a platinum single for their duet. Released on August 15, 1983, the song became an instant classic. Not only did it top the country charts, but it also gave both Rogers and Parton their second No. 1 pop hits of their career. Previously, Rogers had topped the pop charts with 1980’s “Lady” and Parton with 1981’s “9 to 5.”
Country music fans can thank Rogers for the duet’s existence. He realized that the song needed Parton’s touch if it was going to become successful.
The Bee Gees Wrote ‘Islands in the Stream’
“Islands in the Stream” almost had a very different sound. Imagine the smooth baritones of R&B singer Marvin Gaye instead of Rogers or Parton. That’s who the Bee Gees originally had in mind when they wrote the song. They also considered Diana Ross. But when Rogers approached them about a song, they turned it into a vehicle for the country star.
By that point in their careers, the Bee Gees were considered old fashioned by mainstream music. Realizing they needed to change with the times, the group turned to writing songs for other artists. “Islands” was written by brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb.
A legendary author can be thanked for the title and song’s hook. The Bee Gees felt inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name, which released in 1970 after his death.
Kenny Rogers Brought Dolly Parton Aboard
Rogers liked the song at first. But after multiple days of trying to crack the song, he realized something was missing. Barry Gibb suggested they bring Parton aboard to liven up the song.
“And we had been singing this song in my studio in L.A. for four days. I finally said, ‘Barry, I don’t even like this song anymore,’ Rogers told People Magazine. “And he said, ‘We need Dolly Parton.’ I said, ‘Well, why not, you know?’. And Ken Kragen, my manager said, ‘I saw her downstairs.’ I said, ‘Well, go get her.'”
By that point in their careers, Rogers and Parton were aware of each other. For instance, Rogers appeared on Parton’s TV show “Dolly” with his band. But, the country stars weren’t the friends they would later become. If “Islands” can be thanked for one thing, it’s creating a friendship between the duo that spanned decades. They remained friends until Rogers’ death earlier this year.
“So he brought her back in, and once she came in, that song was never the same,” Rogers said. “She lit it up and we became good friends from that point on.”