Did you know that Dolly Parton wrote one of Elvis Presley’s favorite songs? The King wanted to record a famous Parton hit real bad, but she refused. Here’s why she did it.
‘I Will Always Love You’
Partons career launched in 1967 when Porter Wagoner offered her a spot on his eponymous television show. She and Wagoner had a very productive 60s, with their duets routinely hitting the top 10. As the years wore on, however, she transitioned to a solo career. “Jolene” in 1974 gave her the confidence she needed to leave Wagoner’s organization and focus on herself.
As her professional association was coming to a close, Parton wrote about the split. “I Will Always Love You” is a once-in-a-generation song. Parton’s veriosn reached number one in 1974, then again in 1982. Whitney Houston’s iconic cover for 1992’s The Bodyguard soundtrack became a touchstone in her discography as well and one of the biggest hits of all time. Many artists have covered it over the years, but one very famous name did not.
Presley Wanted In
By the mid-70s, Presley’s life was beginning to deteriorate. His marriage with Priscilla Presley had come to an end, and he was growing increasingly reliant on painkillers. Despite this, he was still touring more than ever before, and his albums were still routinely landing in the top five. He was still an icon almost unparalleled in the world of music.
Parton says she was approached by Presley’s manager. Col. Robert Parker. He told her that Presley wanted to do a cover of the song, and the custom was to give Presley’s people 50% of the publishing rights. Parton told W Magazine, “I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t give you the publishing.’ I wanted to hear Elvis sing it, and it broke my heart—I cried all night.” It took some serious confidence to say no to Parker, but Parton stuck to her guns.
It was more important to Parton to hold onto the copyright than to hear a Presley cover: “You have to take care of your business! Everybody’s going to use you if they can. These are my songs – they’re like my children. And I expect them to support me when I’m old!” She learned that Presley sang the song to Priscilla when the divorce was finalized.
The decision was a wise one, as the rights to that song have earned Parton millions. The song is now played often at funerals, including at Houston’s. Parton was touched: “After that, I thought, I bet they’ll play the same song when I go.” Here’s hoping that’s not for a very, very long time.