From Willie Nelson to Miley Cyrus, these are the all-time greatest duets that the Queen of Country Dolly Parton has done to date
The inimitable Dolly Parton has always possessed a collaborative spirit as strong as her Tennessee twang. She began her career performing with Nashville entertainer Porter Wagoner on his hugely successful syndicated TV show, went on to record full-length albums with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, and Kenny Rogers and more recently has worked with everyone from late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon to EDM trio Cheat Codes.
"The inimitable Dolly Parton has always possessed a collaborative spirit as strong as her Tennessee twang"
Furthermore, this month (November 17), she releases Rockstar, which, as its title suggests, is a venture into rock music boasting a whopping 41 different guest artists. To celebrate, here’s a look at seven of her all-time greatest duets.
“Islands in the Stream” with Kenny Rogers
Named after Ernest Hemingway’s posthumous 1970 novel, “Islands in the Stream” sits alongside “I Will Always Love You,” “9 to 5” and “Jolene” in the realm of Parton’s signature hits. It was originally written by The Bee Gees with Diana Ross in mind before being retooled from an R&B solo to a country-tinged duet. And Kenny Rogers’ booming voice proved to be the perfect foil for Parton’s sweetly-sung tones, resulting in a transatlantic number one.
It’s since returned to the upper reaches of the charts via very different motley crews (Pras, Mya, ODB/Tom Jones, Robin Gibb, Gavin & Stacey’s Bryn and Nessa). But the 1981 original undeniably remains the definitive.
“Just Someone I Used to Know” with Porter Wagoner
Parton recorded a remarkable 13 albums with the man who guided her early career including 1970’s Porter Wayne and Dolly Rebecca. “Just Someone I Used to Know” was undoubtedly its standout, an emotive tale of two souls who drifted apart which gave the Dollywood owner the first of her incredible 53 Grammy Award nominations.
It also proved to be the most prophetic track they put their famous names to. Four years later, the strictly professional dream team split in less-than-amicable circumstances, inspiring Parton to write “I Will Always Love You” in the process. Thankfully, the pair managed to kiss and make up before Wagoner’s 2007 death.
“Everything’s Beautiful in Its Own Way” with Willie Nelson
“Everything’s Beautiful in Its Own Way” is one of two spliced-together Parton/Nelson duets to feature on The Winning Hand, a 1982 Monument Records compilation which rescued various unreleased tracks from the label’s most iconic artists.
"It's a life-affirming, toe-tapping number which manages to find joy in everything from a green field of clover to a cold winter’s day"
The pair, alongside Brenda Lee and Kris Kristofferson, later performed its highlights on a TV special organised by none other than Johnny Cash. And they stole the show with a denim-clad performance of the life-affirming, toe-tapping number which manages to find joy in everything from a green field of clover to a cold winter’s day.
“Wildflowers” with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris
Plagued by conflicting schedules and behind-the-scenes machinations, Parton, Ronstadt and Harris had spent the best part of a decade trying to release an album together. But the wait proved to be worth it. 1987’s Trio sold a million copies, topped the country charts and even picked up an Album of the Year nod at the Grammys.
Designed to replicate the traditional folk songs of the Appalachian Mountains, the metaphorical “Wildflowers” (“I grew up fast and wild/And I never felt right/In a garden so different from me”) is the ideal showcase for both the three-piece's beautifully expressive harmonies and Parton’s masterful way with words.
“Silver Threads and Golden Needles” with Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn
Not content with recording two full-length albums with Ronstadt and Harris, Parton then joined forces with another pair of bona fide country legends on 1993’s Honky Tonk Angels.
The self-proclaimed “Backwoods Barbie” had already tackled “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” the tale of a deeply unhappy woman wed to a cheating husband first recorded by Wanda Jackson, on her mid-1970s variety show Dolly! But this Grammy-nominated version with Lynn and Wynette, the latter of whom had gone through five marriages in-between releasing the ultimate D.I.V.O.R.C.E. anthem, brought an extra resonance.
“Rainbowland” with Miley Cyrus
Parton has boosted her cross-generational appeal in recent years on collabs with Kelly Clarkson, Sia and Bebe Rexha. But her duet with Miley Cyrus has undoubtedly been the most organic. After all, the former Hannah Montana is only her real-life goddaughter.
"Parton's duet with Miley Cyrus has undoubtedly been the most organic"
That explains the sparkling chemistry they share on “Rainbowland,” the highlight from Cyrus’ full-throttle exploration of all things Nashville, 2017’s Younger Now. And it’s also why Parton is able to get away with some gentle teasing (“You probably wrote this about some boy you loved”) on a voicemail that wraps this Southern stomper up in affectionate style.
“From Here to the Moon and Back” with Jeremy Jordan and Kris Kristofferson
Parton added the likes of Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan to her extensive list of collaborators in the 2012 gospel dramedy Joyful Noise. But it was a more familiar face that got everyone reaching for the tissues.
Parton’s church leader GG begins singing the plaintive ballad alongside her grandson before she envisages enjoying one last dance with her late husband Bernard, played by her former Monument labelmate Kristofferson. Its tear-jerking qualities are only heightened when you learn that the multi-talent penned the track about her real-life other half Carl Dean.
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter
Loading up next...