40 Years Ago: Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s ‘Islands in the Stream’ Tops Pop, Country Charts
For the two chart weeks dated Oct. 29 and Nov. 5, 1983, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton pulled off quite a feat: The duo held the No. 1 position on the Billboard pop, adult contemporary and country charts with their duet "Islands in the Stream."
Written by the Bee Gees, "Islands in the Stream" was the first single from Rogers' album Eyes That See in the Dark. The song is a gushing declaration of love as a two-way street: Each partner is on equal footing in terms of respecting, helping and cherishing the other, and both are committed to weathering any storms together. Musically, the jaunty song highlights the pair's harmonies, which are a perfect blend of tenderness and affection, and is an easygoing blend of country twang and sophisticated pop.
Incredibly, Rogers didn't necessarily consider "Islands in the Stream" a no-brainer song to record. In 2017, he told People that Bee Gees brother Barry Gibb "gave it to me to record — he was producing an album." But after "singing it for four days," Rogers still wasn't feeling it, he admitted. “I finally said, ‘Barry, I don’t even like this song anymore,’ and he said, ‘You know what we need? We need Dolly Parton,'" he says.
"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!'" Rogers remembered. "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."
"Islands in the Stream" spent four weeks overall atop the adult contemporary charts, and has taken on a life of its own over the years. Neko Case and My Morning Jacket memorably covered the song in 2011; Steve Carell and John Krasinski sang the song together in character on The Office; and the song has also appeared on Stranger Things.
Although neither artist was a stranger to topping the country charts, the pop chart dominance was a rarer occasion. Rogers' last hit No. 1 there was with 1980's "Lady," while Parton had major crossover success back in 1981 with "9 to 5."
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