Pop Goes The Country is an ongoing series where I explore country music’s biggest crossover hits.
When we last discussed both Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers on ‘Pop Goes The Country,’ we discussed their respective rises to country and pop superstardom. For Parton, her move toward pop music and acting was a way to expose country music to the masses; for Rogers, he’d been somewhere in the middle of the pop and country divide all throughout his career anyway. In the early 1980s, both artists were at the top of their game, commercially, so it stands to reason that a duet between them was inevitable.
The story of “Islands In The Stream,” however, begins neither with Parton or Rogers, but with the Bee Gees. With disco on its way out in the early ‘80s, the band found their style going out of fashion; therefore, they turned to writing for other genres and other artists. “Islands In The Stream” originally began as an R&B tune tailor-made for Marvin Gaye, but as history goes, the song found its way to Parton and Rogers.
The song was named after the novel of the same name by Ernest Hemingway, his first posthumous release. In an interview with People, Rogers said, “The story is the producer and the writer on the song was one of the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb.”
“And we had been singing this song in my studio in L.A. for four days. And I finally said, ‘Barry, I don’t even like this song anymore.’ And he said, ‘We need Dolly Parton.’ I said, ‘Well, why not, you know?’ And Ken Kragen, my manager, said, ‘I saw her downstairs.’ I said, ‘Well, go get her.’ And Dolly, in her imitable fashion, marched into the room and the song was never the same.”
Truthfully, the song hasn’t aged well since its release – the arrangement is tacky and the lyrics hardly make sense. Yet it worked well because of Parton and Rogers, both of whom sang with their full enthusiasm and possibly saved the song with their shimmering personalities. It’s two artists – two friends – simply having a great time singing an otherwise silly song. Join me next time for the final volume of ‘Pop Goes The Country,’ where we’ll close out 2019 by talking about – who else? – Billy Ray Cyrus and his
horse at the old town road achy breaky heart.