It’s undeniable that Dolly Parton has written a lifetime of legendary songs. Yet, of all of those, one will forever stand the test of time as one of music’s best songs. When Parton recorded “I Will Always Love You” on this day in 1973, she solidified herself not only as a country music songstress but also as a true musical stylist.
Although it was later made famous by Whitney Houston, Parton’s version hit No. 1 on the charts twice in her career. Once when she first released the song in 1974, and again when she re-recorded it for the 1982 movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
While the song is universally loved, its tender lyrics are beautifully simple. It’s a heartbreaking ballad that can resonate with anyone who has ever experienced a breakup.
“If I should stay
I would only be in your way
And so I’ll go, but I know
I’ll think of you each step of the way
And I will always love you
I will always love you”
Despite the lyrics, the song is actually not about a romantic relationship. After Parton released the song, she revealed that it referenced her relationship with her music partner, Porter Wagoner.
Dolly Parton Says Goodbye to Longtime Friend in ‘I Will Always Love You’
After several years of a successful partnership, the two began going their separate ways. Dolly Parton had starred on his TV show, “The Porter Wagoner Show,” for five years and but she was ready to pursue a solo career. Yet, Wagoner wasn’t quite prepared to say goodbye to his friend.
“There was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn’t listening to my reasoning for my going,” Parton told CMT about the breakup in 2011.
“I thought, ‘Well, why don’t you do what you do best? Why don’t you just write this song?’… so I went home and out of a very emotional place in me at that time, I wrote the song, ‘I Will Always Love You.'”
After writing the ballad, she asked Wagoner if he could hear the song, and he was immediately overcome with emotion. At that point, Parton left the show, yet she recruited his help with producing the track.
After its release, the song became the No. 1 hit. Later, Parton and Wagoner would even perform it together at the Grand Ole Opry show. “I Will Always Love You” was also the last song Wagoner reportedly heard. When Parton visited Wagoner at the hospital in 2007, she sang it for him one final time before he passed away.
“It’s saying, ‘Just because I’m going don’t mean I won’t love you,” she told CMT about the song’s true meaning. “I appreciate you and I hope you do great and I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I’m out of here.'”