Where to start? How do you begin a review of a song as seemingly universal as this one is? I could go on about what a massive success this song was in all the different versions that were recorded. But for now, I'll just talk about what a fine record this 1974 original is on its own merits.
Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of country music history knows that Parton wrote the song for her mentor Porter Wagoner, from whom she was separating professionally at the time. The song deals with feelings personal to Parton, but they are conveyed in a manner just vague enough that virtually any listener can connect the story with his or her own experiences.
But for all of Parton's formidable songwriting talent, what makes “I Will Always Love You” a great record goes beyond the lyric sheet. This original 1974 recording is simply one of the finest displays that can be found of the deep sincerity that Parton has always brought to her performances. Her vocal here is subtle and almost hushed, but she fills every crevice of the acoustic arrangement with her aching, nakedly honest delivery, while the melody of the song is just hauntingly beautiful.
There's not a trace of anger or animosity to be found – just honest, heavy-hearted resignation that the relationship could not be made to work, coupled with ongoing love, and hope for the loved one to find happiness. Best of all, Parton is such a fine vocal interpreter that you get the sense that if she were singing the song directly to Wagoner, and to no one else, that it would still have sounded exactly as it does on the record here.
Without a doubt, there are clear reasons why “I Will Always Love You” is a classic. Though this is only the beginning of the life that “I Will Always Love You” would take on over the years, this 1974 recording remains the definitive version of the song.
Written by Dolly Parton
Next: Please Don't Stop Loving Me (with Porter Wagoner)