On this day (October 29th) in 1983, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers reached the top of the Billboard 100 chart with their now-iconic duet, “Islands in the Stream.” Written by the Bee Gees (and later performed on their 1998 live album), the tune was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name and was meant to have a very different, more R&B sound. Co-writer Robin Gibb once told ABC News that he and his brothers originally wrote the song with Marvin Gaye in mind.
When Rogers got a shot at “Islands,” he went in to record it solo — with the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb producing — and just didn’t click with it, he has admitted in several interviews over the years. Parton just happened to be at the same recording studio, so the two musicians tracked her down and approached her about turning the song into a duet. Thus was born an award-winning musical partnership (and very special friendship) of more than three decades.
The year after “Islands in the Stream” was released, Rogers and Parton teamed for a Christmas album and TV special, followed by a duet on another chart-topper, “Real Love.” They have since recorded dozens of duets together, including one nominated at this year’s CMA Awards, “You Can’t Make Old Friends.”
“We were cutting this song, ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends,’ and it’s really our lives. We are in the middle of the song and she comes over and throws her arms around me and she says, ‘Kenny, I want you to know something: I could never sing at your funeral.’ I went, ‘We are assuming I am going first…. is that what you’re saying?'” Rogers tells Rolling Stone Country of the October 2013 recording session for their latest duet. “We realized in the studio that day that it had been 30 years to the day since ‘Islands in the Stream’ went Number One on the pop charts.”
“Islands in the Stream” was the only country song to reach Number One on the all-genre Billboard 100 until 2000, when Lonestar topped the chart with “Amazed.” It also reached the pinnacle of the country and adult contemporary charts and was CMT’s pick for the Number One greatest country duet of all time.