January 11, 2009
“Islands in the Stream” is a ridiculous song. The arrangement is tacky. The lyrics make absolutely no sense. It’s basically a big ol’ hunk of cheese, aged since 1983.
So why did it work so well, and become such a memorable record that it was even named the greatest country duet of all-time by CMT? Simple. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton sang it with enthusiasm, and the sheer force of their personalities saved the day. It’s still a fun record to listen to. Rogers is on top of his game, and Parton, always the perfect saleswoman, belts out the admittedly solid melody with gusto. It’s two stars at their zenith having a darn good time.
Hence the problem with the recent remake by Barry Manilow and Reba McEntire. It’s a joyless affair, as they painstakingly recreate the original, never deviating from the source material. They treat it like a sacred scripture that they dare not alter. Manilow and McEntire are both larger-than-life legends in their own right, and it’s something of shock that these two could collaborate without either of their overwhelming musical personalities showing in the result. It’s like they forgot they were just singing a Bee Gees number.
Parton, on the other hand, is fully aware that the she’s just singing a Fine Young Cannibals number, so she has no trouble at all injecting her own personality into “Drive Me Crazy.” She shamelessly slaps smoking fiddles on top of the original guitar-driven arrangement. She alternates between singing in a girlish whisper and in a country come-hither drawl. And after sticking faithfully to the original’s pacing and lyrics, she chucks them both out the window, and the song becomes a Hee Haw hoedown. The pace quickens, back porch instruments kick in, and Parton does a jazz-like riff on the original, ad-libbing madly with lines like “You drive me crazy like a rock in my shoe. I can’t keep my mind off a’ you.”
It’s cheesy, bewildering, and completely entertaining. Just like “Islands in the Stream.”
“Islands in the Stream” written by Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb and Robin Gibb
“Drives Me Crazy” written by Roland Gift and David Steele
Islands in the Stream: C-
Drives Me Crazy: B+
Listen: Islands in the Stream
Listen: Drives Me Crazy