It’s hard to imagine now, but “Islands in the Stream” was originally intended as a solo single for Kenny Rogers — and he certainly wasn’t happy about recording the song.
“I hated that song,” Rogers recently told CMT.com. “I had been doing it for three days. And it was Barry Gibb producing it with the Bee Gees, and I sounded like one of the Bee Gees. I just said, ’Barry, I don’t even like this song anymore.’ He said, ’You know what we need? We need Dolly Parton.'”
Rogers had recently met Parton while he was a guest on her television variety show, but he did not know her well at the time. However, his manager had her phone number, and after a phone call, she showed up at the studio within an hour, Rogers remembers.
“From the moment she walked in the room, it was a totally different song,” Rogers says. “It just had a lilt to it. It had fun. It had energy. It was playful — all of the things it wasn’t when I did it by myself.
“When she came in, it had a different purpose. It was people singing together. It was like communication, as opposed to me just singing about something. And it was immediate — the minute she came in and sang her verse.”
The single ultimately climbed to No. 1 on both the pop and country charts in 1983, making it a perfect fit for Rogers’ latest album, 21 Number Ones. The collection also includes “The Gambler,” “Through the Years,” “Lady,” “Lucille” and “Coward of the County.”
Rogers is also one of country music’s most prolific duet partners. Over the course of three decades, he has recorded with Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton, Ronnie Milsap and Dottie West. “Buy Me a Rose,” his comeback single from 1999, featured Billy Dean and Alison Krauss. On his forthcoming album, due in March, he sings with Don Henley.
“You always sing better in a duet than you think you are capable of,” Rogers says. “It’s like running the 100 yard dash. If someone says, ’Run the 100 yard dash,’ you’ll run it as fast as you think you can. But if you put someone beside you who is just a little bit faster, you will run it faster. It’s the same thing with music.”
Lindsey Roznovsky contributed to this report.