Country Music Throwback: Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers’ ‘Islands in the Stream’ Topped Charts 37 Years Ago Today

by Jennifer Shea
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It was 37 years ago this week that one of country music’s all-time famous duets made it to the top of charts.

For two weeks in 1983, the Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton duet “Islands in the Stream” topped the Billboard adult contemporary, pop and country music charts. The song was the second No. 1 hit for both Rogers and Parton.

Country Music History

As The Boot points out, “Islands in the Stream” has taken its place in pop culture history. It has appeared on “Stranger Things,” in “The Office” and in a Neko Case and My Morning Jacket performance. 

According to Billboard, the song knocked Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” out of the top spot on the Hot 100 chart. It also topped the Adult Contemporary and country music charts the same week. That was quite a feat, especially considering that the song lacked an MTV video, which hit songs at the time usually had. 

The Bee Gees wrote the song, and the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb gave it to Rogers to record. The name of the song derives from an Ernest Hemingway novel, according to Smooth Radio. The novel was published posthumously in 1970 after Hemingway’s widow found the manuscript among Hemingway’s things.

A Fateful Idea 

But the song’s path to the top of the charts was anything but smooth. Rogers spent four days singing it and didn’t like it. He was about ready to give up when Gibb made a fateful suggestion.

“I finally said, ‘Barry, I don’t even like this song anymore’ and he said, ‘You know what we need? We need Dolly Parton,’” Rogers told People magazine in 2017. “I had a recording studio at the time and she was downstairs and 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.” 

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