Can you even imagine the The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll recording the Queen of Country Music’s most iconic song?
Well, it almost happened…
Back in 1974, Dolly Parton had a phone call with Elvis’ infamous manager, Colonel Parker, the day before Elvis was supposed to go into the studio to actually cut “I Will Always Love You” to discuss the deal.
She said she had already agreed to let him record it, though nothing had been signed off on or made official in ink yet. It was during this call that he told her they required all of the publishing rights, or at least 50%, in order for Elvis to record a song.
In a 2018 cover story with the UK magazine EventDolly gave a bit more insight into how everything went down:
“His manager Colonel Parker called me up the day before he was due to record the song and said, ‘Now you know Elvis has to have the publishing rights or at least half the publishing rights of any song he records.’”
And that’s when it hit her that there was no way she could go through with it:
“That was my most important copyright at the time. If it had been a new song, I might have considered it.”
She released it a stand alone single in 1974, when it peaked at #1 on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart later that year, and then re-released it October 1982, with a re-recording for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack.
Unlike almost every other artist in the music industry, or a lot of them at least, Dolly has always maintained full ownership of her publishing rights, with the exception of a very small handful in her catalog that she doesn’t fully own.
It’s a brilliant move from a business standpoint, and she started the company (Owe-Par) in 1966 at the age of 20, along with her late Uncle Bill. Her estimated royalty income is between $6 million and $8 million for iconic songs like the one we’re talking about today, “I Will Always Love You,” and “Jolene,” among plenty of others.
Like she mentioned before, she might’ve considered giving Elvis the rights if it was a different song he wanted to record, but she just couldn’t give that one up, knowing what a special and important song it was.
I mean, she was over the moon to have Elvis want to sing her song, and told everyone she knew he was going to sing it. But at the end of the day, she had to follow her gut and couldn’t let that one go if she wouldn’t be maintaining the rights:
“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.
It’s my song, my publishing rights. It broke my heart but I had to turn him down.”
I can’t even imagine being in that position (or ultimately turning Elvis down), and I think most people would’ve caved to him and just let him have it. But Dolly wanted to give all the rights to her catalog to her family one day, and couldn’t venture from that no matter how bad she wanted him to sing it.
Hell, Dolly Parton might’ve been the one and only woman on planet earth that ever turned Elvis down for anything…
And she doubled down on the sentiment, even decades later, that it’s still one of the hardest things she’s ever done:
“That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do because I loved Elvis.”
It just makes you wonder what could’ve been if he ever got his hands on it…
And Dolly still does, too, saying:
“He would have sung it great. Can you imagine Elvis singing ‘I Will Always Love You’?”
I can, and it would’ve been nothing short of spectacular, I’m sure.
Of course, Whitney Houston eventually covered the track for the iconic 1992 film The Bodyguardand it spent 14 weeks at #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, setting a new record at the time, when it became one of the best-selling singles of all time and the best-selling single by a woman.
Good thing she didn’t give up those publishing rights… the Whitney version got her PAID.
And while you’re here, make sure you check out one of my favorite lives performance of Dolly singing her dazzling and timeless song back when it first came out: