Dolly Parton scored her third chart-topper as a solo artist when her iconic single, “I Will Always Love You,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on June 8, 1974. Dolly caught lightening in a bottle—not once, not twice, not thrice—four times with “I Will Always Love You,” but it all started in 1974.
Well, it actually started in 1972, when Dolly penned the tune. Of course, at that time, Dolly had been teaming with Porter Wagoner, who was her manager and duet partner. However, after seven years together as part of Porter’s roadshow and TV program, the East Tennessee native took her show solo in 1974. The split was less than amicable. Porter sued Dolly for $3 million, alleging breach of contract. The pair eventually settled out of court.
Dolly penned “I Will Always Love You” about her friendship with Porter in 1972, despite the future years of animosity that lay ahead (Dolly and Porter eventually reconciled before Porter’s death in 2007).
“I Will Always Love You” reached No. 1 on June 8, 1974, following in the chart-topping footsteps of previous single, “Jolene.” Dolly recently revealed that she wrote both tunes on the same day.
Love Endures for Dolly
But 1974 would not be the last time that “I Will Always Love You” reached No. 1. But before we get to Dolly’s second recording of the song, it’s important to note that Elvis Presley was interested in recording the song in the 1970s. However, Elvis wanted 50 percent of the publishing rights, which Dolly refused to concede.
Dolly re-recorded the tune for her 1982 movie, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Once again, the tune topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Dolly became the first country artist to score a No. 1 single with the same song (Chubby Checkers topped the pop chart with “The Twist” in 1960 and 1962).
In 1992, Whitney Houston recorded a soaring version of the tune for the soundtrack to The Bodyguard. The single spent six weeks at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart. According to Forbes, Whitney’s cover made Dolly north of $10 million in royalties. And Dolly continues earning royalties today, because she owns the publishing rights to her tunes.
Three years later in 1995, Dolly teamed with Vince Gill to record the song as a duet. Their duet reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
“I recorded it twice myself, and it was the first time the same song has been number one by the same [country] artist,” said Dolly Parton to Country Weekly magazine in 1995. “The first time was in the early 1970s when I left Porter Wagoner’s show, which is basically why I wrote it. I wrote it for Porter as a goodbye song. Then I recorded it again on The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Of course, Whitney Houston had the worldwide major hit with it. She made us a few bucks on that so I could buy some more cheap wigs and jewelry [laughing]. Now it makes a perfect duet, two people parting ways and wishing each other well. Vince did such a beautiful job and I was so honored that he even wanted to sing it.”
“I Will Always Love You” reached No. 1 three different times, and earned Dolly more than $10 million. Now, that’s a successful song.