To say something is the greatest of all time is a pretty bold statement, especially when talking about the greatest love songs of all time.
But Dolly Parton‘s classic, “I Will Always Love You”, had such a massive commercial success and left such an indeliable cultural imprint across the world that I think it’s fair to give the song that accolade.
Ironically, the greatest country love song ever written isn’t about romantic love. Parton penned it about the end of her professional relationship with her longtime musical partner, Porter Wagoner. It was a rough split, but in the end, it was done out of love.
Parton released “I Will Always Love You” in 1974, and it became a No. 1 hit. She made millions in royalties from the song, and it ultimately cemented her legend in country music. Interestingly, Parton almost gave up the hit to another music legend, Elvis.
After the song was released in 1974, Elvis made a play to record it himself. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, approached Dolly with an offer that would have taken half of her songwriting rights. Parton was torn. Of course she wanted Elvis, one of her heroes, to cut the song, but she couldn’t bring herself to sign it over.
She recalled the difficult decision in an interview with CMT.
“I said, ‘I’m really sorry,’ and I cried all night. I mean, it was like the worst thing. You know, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God … Elvis Presley.’ And other people were saying, ‘You’re nuts. It’s Elvis Presley. I mean, hell, I’d give him all of it.’ I said, ‘I can’t do that. Something in my heart says, ‘Don’t do that.’ And I just didn’t do it, and they just didn’t do it. But I always wondered what it would sound like. I know he’d kill it. Don’t you? He would have killed it. But anyway, so he didn’t. Then when Whitney [Houston’s version] came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland.
Sometimes it’s best to go with your gut feeling.
In 1982, Parton rerecorded the song, and, again, it became a No. 1. “I Will Always Love You” remains the only country song to reach No. 1 in separate decades.
There’s some other weird trivia about “I Will Always Love You”, like the time Sadaam Hussein used it in his political campaign. Seriously.
Random trivia aside, the “I Will Always Love You” remains a poignant love song 40 years later. And Parton had nothing but love for its subject until the end. Shortly before Wagoner’s death in 2007, Parton gave him a personal performance of the song at the Grand Ole Opry. You can watch that performance in the video below.