To say something is the greatest of all time is a pretty bold statement, especially when talking about the greatest love song and singles of all time. But Dolly Parton's classic, "I Will Always Love You", had such a massive commercial success and left such an indelible cultural imprint across the world that I think it's fair to give the song that accolade.
But did you know the song was almost recorded by 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. Ultimately, the country queen turned down the King, but it wasn't an easy decision.
Why Dolly Parton Didn't Let Elvis Record 'I Will Always Love You'
"It didn't have anything to do with Elvis. I loved Elvis," Parton said during an appearance on Reba McEntire's Living & Learning With Reba McEntire. "The night before the session, Colonel Tom called me and said, 'You know, we don't record anything with Elvis unless we have the publishing, or at least half the publishing'...I said, 'Well, that throws a new light on this. Because I can't give you half the publishing. I'm gonna leave that to my family.' I said, 'I can't do that.' And he said, 'Well, then we can't do it.' And I cried all night. 'Cause I thought, 'Oh, I just pictured Elvis, like, singing it.' And I know that Elvis loved it. And I know it wasn't him, but it's true. I said 'no.'"
This isn't the first time Parton has spoken about what could've been.
"I was desperate for Elvis to sing my song and I'd told everyone he was going to sing it, but I couldn't let that happen," Parton revealed in an interview with Event magazine. "It's my song, my publishing rights. It broke my heart but I had to turn him down."
Of course, years later Whitney Houston would record the tune for the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, which Houston starred in with Kevin Costner. Houston's version ended up spending 14 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. And it made Parton millions.
"When Whitney [Houston's version] came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland," Parton told CMT.
Sometimes it's best to go with your gut feeling.
Ironically, this great love song isn't about romantic love. Parton penned it about the end of her professional relationship with her longtime musical partner and mentor Porter Wagoner. It was a rough split, but in the end, it was done out of love and she gifted him the prettiest song out there.
Parton released "I Will Always Love You" in 1974 on the album Jolene, and it became a number one hit on the Billboard chart. She originally recorded the song at RCA's Studio B in Nashville. It was even featured in her film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, in which she starred opposite Burt Reynolds. She made millions in royalties from the song, and it ultimately cemented her legend in country music.
In 1982, Parton re-recorded the song, and, again, it hit number one. Parton was the first artist to reach number one on the country charts in separate decades for the same song. Parton recorded yet another version with Vince Gill in 1995 for the album Something Special and the two singers were awarded "Vocal Event of the Year" at the 1996 CMAs. Did we mention she's also performed duet with Carrie Underwood?
"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 his 50th anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
This post was originally published on February 12, 2016. It was updated on Oct. 6, 2020 to include Parton's most recent quotes.
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