Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream”

“Islands in the Stream”

Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

Written by Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, and Robin Gibb

Radio & Records

#1 (3 weeks)

October 21 – November 4, 1983


#1 (2 weeks)

October 29, 1983 – November 5, 1983

“Islands in the Stream” is a nonsense song, and I can’t believe that it required the efforts of all three Bee Gees to get it down on paper.

“I set out to get you with a fine-toothed comb?”  Come on now.

I’ve known this song for the near forty years it’s been in existence, and I still can’t tell you what the hell its central metaphor is trying to say.

So why is this remarkably silly song getting an A?  

Because of the absolute frickin’ superstars that are singing it.

We already know that Kenny Rogers could sing a pop hook as well as anyone, with his everyman voice that could get entire stadiums singing along with him.  He sounds fantastic here, and you need look no further than his reading of that “fine-toothed comb” line right out of the gate.  He makes an out there lyric sound like a totally normal declaration of love.  This man suspends our disbelief before we even get to the chorus.

And then we get Dolly Parton. Legend has it that Parton was right up the road from the studio where Rogers was recording “Islands in the Stream” in its intended solo form. It just wasn’t coming together right.  A well-timed invitation to Parton, and suddenly we’ve got one of the biggest country crossover records in history.

Parton soars on “Islands in the Stream.”  As I’ve noted before, her songwriting talent often overshadows her remarkable gifts as a singer.  But you just try to picture anyone else singing, “No more will you cry. Baby, I will hurt you never,” and coming anywhere close to the sincerity she expresses in that line reading. 

It’s no wonder an entire generation of country music fans associate Dolly Parton with Kenny Rogers instead of with Porter Wagoner.  They sound so deeply in love here that we’re all out here in the streets in 2023 wanting to be islands in the stream with the love of our lives, and that makes no sense, y’all. 

“Islands in the Stream” gets an A

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

Previous: Charly McClain and Mickey Gilley, “Paradise Tonight” |

Next: Barbara Mandrell, “One of a Kind Pair of Fools”

Open in Spotify


  1. This song is so infectious. This is a song that people who don’t know anything about country music know (Prob cuz it’s not country at all) but who cares. It’s a great performance anyway. That hook stays in your head all day and I’m all smiles with it being there.

  2. Standards are the hardest to review in rewinds like this, I know. Kudos. You brought the reasons we all love these nonsense lyrics to the page. Thanks.

    Reviews like this make me remember why Kevin Coyne made me want to write about country music too. Thanks for that too.

  3. “I set out to get you,with a fine-tooth comb”
    Uhm, have you not seen American Graffiti& the guys are styling their slicked back hair,using a small comb……….Guys were always combing that hair before dates&during…….hope this makes sense

  4. It honestly makes no sense but it is still a great song and Kenny and Dolly sound so great together, though I have to admit I do prefer Real Love of their two big duets, likely because Real Love makes sense. Still, I listen to this often and also, Barry Gibb’s version makes just as little sense, so it is clearly the song.

  5. A elementary school classmate and I loved to sing this song together. It was a safe duet choice for a ten year old boy and girl to sing together because we also had no idea what we were singing. It was all enthusiasm and drama.

    The lines about no one coming between the two islands in the stream was so confusing to me as a metaphor of being together. Two islands in a stream is a haunting image of proximal isolation, no? Reminds me of Mr.Magoo’s Christmas Carol Christmas special. In it, Magoo’ character sings, “So many grains of sand in the world, why such a lonely beach. Where is a voice to answer mine back, where are two shows to click to my clack? I’m all alone in the world.”

    Thankfully, Kenny is click to Dolly’s clack.

    A few hits back, I celebrated the historical importance of lyrics to country music while commenting on Alabama’s “Lady Down on Love.”

    Here is the counterpoint.

    Even country music can sometimes simply be a joyous jam.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.