The Story of... 'Islands in the Stream' by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers

4 September 2019, 16:11

Dolly and Kenny
Dolly and Kenny. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

It's one of the most classic duets of all time, bringing together two of country's most iconic stars.

Throw in the Bee Gees and you have a solid gold timeless tune on your hands.

But how did 'Islands in the Stream' come about and what inspired the lyrics? Here's all the fascinating info you need about Dolly and Kenny's cracker:

  1. Who wrote 'Islands in the Stream'?

    The Bee Gees
    The Bee Gees. Picture: Getty

    With disco on the way out by the early 1980s, the Bee Gees found their style going out of fashion.

    Instead, they turned to writing for other genres and particularly other artists.

    Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb decided to write this song as an R&B tune for Marvin Gaye, but it later transformed into a country-pop crossover.

  2. What inspired the song?

    Ernest Hemingway
    Ernest Hemingway. Picture: Getty

    The love song was named after the novel of the same name by Ernest Hemingway.

    The 1970 novel was the first posthumous release by the legendary author, after his wife Mary discovered them after his death.

  3. Kenny wasn't a fan of the song... until Dolly was spotted in the building

    "The story is the producer and the writer on the song was one of the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb," Kenny told People magazine.

    "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 inimitable fashion, marched into the room and the song was never the same."

    Amazing.

  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    In the US, it knocked Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' off the number one spot in 1983. It was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over two million physical copies.

    After it became available for download, it has also sold a further 834,000 digital copies as of January 2019.

    In the UK, it only peaked at number 7, but has since sold 287,200 downloads as of 2017 and 4.83 million streams.

  5. Who has covered it?

    - Barry Manilow for his 2007 album The Greatest Songs of the Eighties, sung with Reba McEntire.

    - The chorus of the 1998 hip-hop track 'Ghetto Supastar' by Nas samples the chorus of the song.

    - Ronan Keating with The McClymonts for his album Duet.

    - Kylie Minogue and Jake Shears performed this song together on several occasions.

    - In 2017, Jimmy Fallon and Miley Cyrus performed the song on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon as Kenny and Miley as her godmother Dolly.

    - Blake Shelton and Emily Ann Roberts covered the song on the season 9 finale of The Voice.

    - Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus covered this song during the Musicares Person of the Year.

  6. It finally reached UK number one in 2009

    ...but not as we knew it.

    Welsh actors Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon, in character as Vanessa Jenkins and Bryn West from Gavin & Stacey, released a version of the song as a single for Comic Relief.

    Sir Tom Jones also features on the song, performing the final verse and chorus, while Bee Gees' Robin Gibb as a backing singer.

    Re-titled '(Barry) Islands in the Stream', it topped the UK chart in March 2009, meaning that the Gibb Brothers had achieved number one songs in five successive decades.

  7. The Bee Gees also recorded their own version

    The Bee Gees performed their version live at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 1997.

    A studio version was then recorded for their 2001 Their Greatest Hits: The Record release.

  8. What are the lyrics?

    Baby, when I met you there was peace unknown
    I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb
    I was soft inside
    There was something going on

    You do something to me that I can't explain
    Hold me closer and I feel no pain
    Every beat of my heart
    We got something going on

    Tender love is blind
    It requires a dedication
    All this love we feel needs no conversation
    We ride it together, ah ha
    Making love with each other, ah ha

    Islands in the stream
    That is what we are
    No one in between
    How can we be wrong
    Sail away with me
    To another world
    And we rely on each other, ah ha
    From one lover to another, ah ha

    I can't live without you if the love was gone
    Everything is nothing if you got no one
    And you did walk in the night
    Slowly losing sight of the real thing

    But that won't happen to us and we got no doubt
    Too deep in love and we got no way out
    And the message is clear
    This could be the year for the real thing

    No more will you cry
    Baby, I will hurt you never
    We start and end as one
    In love forever
    We can ride it together, ah ha
    Making love with each other, ah ha

    Islands in the stream
    That is what we are
    No one in between
    How can we be wrong
    Sail away with me
    To another world
    And we rely on each other, ah ha
    From one lover to another, ah ha