Reviews: Barry Manilow & Reba McEntire, “Islands in the Stream” and Dolly Parton, “Drives Me Crazy”

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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

Grades:

Islands in the Stream:  C-

Drives Me Crazy:  B+

Listen: Islands in the Stream


Listen: Drives Me Crazy


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  1. CFNo Gravatar says:

    I just listened to both right now for the very first time.

    I was surprised. I don’t think the duet is that bad. I like Reba’s vocals on it, but nothing can touch Dolly and Kenny’s.

    With regards to Dolly’s, I used to think it was a horrible remake, but I was basing that off of a 30-sec clip I heard when the album came out. I don’t really care for the song itself, even the original, but Dolly makes it kinda fun and not as corny or dumb as I originally thought it was. I kinda like it :).

  2. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    No comment on the duet, because it just lays there like roadkill. As for Dolly, I think that if someone is going to remake a record, it shouldn’t be a novelty record that captured a certain place and time, and “Crazy” is such a record. Anything she does to it short of completely changing the tone of the record is going to seem like a shadow of the original. She’s done much better covers, especially “Stairway to Heaven”.

  3. Soul Miners DaughterNo Gravatar says:

    At least Dolly & Kenny gave the listener an impression of some kind of “believability”.
    Reba & Barry Manilow? Are they serious? Who put those two together, the SNL writers? Just say “no”.
    I actually prefer the Bee Gees version… I love me some Bee Gees.

    Dolly could sing the phonebook and make it entertaining.

  4. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    Eh. I wish Dolly had done the whole song in the hoedown style, even if it might’ve been a potential trainwreck. I just don’t care much for the original, and most of her cover doesn’t really depart much from it besides dem fiddles.

    But I do think this review is ballin’.

  5. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Great review(s)!

    I pretty much agree on both accounts. The duet is a lifeless, loungy affair. I’m surprised Reba chose to do it that way, though I’m not surprised about Manilow. Obviously, she had to follow his lead. And you know how I feel about the original.:)

    As for the Dolly song, it’s fun. It’s wierd that she did it, but it’s fun nonetheless.

  6. Matt C.No Gravatar says:

    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?

    I certainly question your assertion that it worked “so well,” or became memorable for any reason other than its absolute awfulness. CMT named “Islands in the Stream” the greatest duet of all-time because Kenny and Dolly were able and willing to perform it on their Greatest Duets special, whereas most of the other duets were merely covered by contemporary artists. The choice was merely about theatrics, not criticism (though if CMT were motivated by the latter, that’s a very good reason to question their staff’s critical judgment, as if we needed another reason).

  7. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar says:

    I’m going to say great call on the Reba/Mainlow duet. I certainly expected better of Reba, covering a Dolly song.

  8. SheldonNo Gravatar says:

    I have seen both Kenny and Dolly live in concert in the past year – (not together…) Both sang the song and both times the audience went wild.
    Dolly has said in the past that she never gets tired singing that song.
    Dolly actually did “Drives Me Crazy” in her show, and said that her husband liked the original version of the song, and when she said she planned to cover it for “Backwoods Barbie” he said “Don’t go and screw up my song!!” funny guy!

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