Kenny Rogers certainly needed no one’s help to have a hit record, but many of his greatest and most memorable tunes were his duets.
Rogers’ gruff vocals played the perfect partner to some of country music’s sweetest voices, including Dottie West, Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss, as well as pop stars Sheena Easton and Kim Carnes. They brought out a tenderness — and often raw sexiness — to his performances.
Below, listed chronologically, are some of Rogers’ top duets and the position they reached on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
“Every Time Two Fools Collide,” Rogers & Dottie West – No. 1, 1978
The first single and title track from Rogers’ and West’s first duets album went straight to the top. According to lore, West was recording the song for a solo project, but it turned into a duet — and subsequent duets album — after the two ran into each other in the studio. One of country music’s all-time great partnerships was born with this string-heavy ballad about two “fools” who can’t stay out of each other’s way.
“Anyone Who Isn’t Me Tonight,” Rogers & Dottie West – No. 2, 1978
The spicy single following “Every Time Two Fools Collide” showed the upside of, ummm, “love” with lines such as West’s “When you made love to me tonight, I find and felt as if I’d gone to heaven” and Rogers’ “You’ve got the kind of body that was made to give a man a lot of pleasure.” This live clip from one of the duo’s tours together is pure delight, given that West’s husband is the drummer in the band and, in a bit of foreshadowing, Robert accidentally cals West “Dolly.”
“Til I Can Make It on My Own,” Rogers & Dottie West – No. 3, 1979
This remake of a song was first recorded and taken to No. 1 in 1976 by Tammy Wynette, and written by Wynette, George Richey (i.e. her soon-to-be-husband George Jones) and Billy Sherrill. Rogers and West tear into the heartbreak from note one, adding a twist as a duet as the protagonist pleads with his/her former lover “’Til I get used to losing you/Let me keep on using you/’til I can make it on my own.”
“All I Ever Need Is You,” Rogers & Dottie West – No. 1 (1 week), 1979
Like “’Til I Can Make It On My Own,” “All I Ever Need is You” appeared on Classics, an album of cover songs by Rogers and West released in 1979. First popularized by Sonny & Cher, the song in Rogers and West’s hands is a sweet, toe-tapping ditty.
“Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer,” Rogers and Kim Carnes – No. 3, 1980
Written by Carnes and David Ellington, the tune finds the raspy-voiced vocalists wrapping their voices around each other in this aching track about falling in love with a dreamer who will always, always “break your heart.” The song, which the pair recorded live in the studio, also reached No. 4 on the Hot 100 and No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
“What Are We Doin’ in Love,” Dottie West with Rogers – No. 1, 1981
Rogers’ and West’s third and final No. 1 appeared on West’s 1981 album, Wild West. The two returned to the topic they cover best in this sweet ballad: mismatched lovers who shouldn’t be together, but have found themselves inexplicably (and, in this case, somewhat delightedly) drawn to each other.
“Islands in the Stream,” Rogers with Dolly Parton – No. 1, 1983
Simply one of the best — and biggest — duets ever recorded, the peppy “Islands in the Stream,” written by the Bee Gees, benefitted greatly from Rogers’ and Parton’s undeniable chemistry, which was so great that for years, the two had to deny that they, like the characters in the song, were actual lovers.
“We’ve Got Tonight,” Rogers & Sheena Easton – No. 1, 1983
On paper, there is no reason this duet between the country titan and Scottish pop star should have worked, but it did magnificently. Their remake of the Bob Seger hit about two lovers enjoying one last night together topped the country charts and also reached No. 6 on the Hot 100, as well as No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
“Real Love,” Dolly Parton with Rogers – No. 1, 1985
Parton and Rogers paired together again, this time for the second single and title track from Parton’s 1985 album, Real Love. The mid-tempo tune is a sweet ode to fealty, but fails to ignite any of the sparkle of “Islands in the Stream.” The video, a montage of Parton and Rogers in the studio and onstage, is a pure delight.
“Make No Mistake, She’s Mine,” Rogers & Ronnie Milsap – No. 1 (1 week), 1987
Rogers paired with Carnes again, in a way, on this duet. Carnes penned the track (originally titled “Make No Mistake, He’s Mine), which she and Barbra Streisand recorded in 1984. The swelling song about two men fighting over the same love features one of Rogers’ best vocals.
“Buy Me a Rose,” Rogers with Alison Krauss & Billy Dean – No. 1 (1 week), 2000
When this song — which features Krauss and Dean on backing vocals — hit No. 1, it made Rogers, at 61, the oldest country singer to have a chart-topper. Dean comes in more at the end, but the leather-and-lace sweetness of Krauss and Rogers on the choruses is simply gorgeous.
“You Can’t Make Old Friends,” with Dolly Parton – No. 57, 2013
Released 30 years after “Islands in the Stream,” the song’s opening line, “What will I do when you’re gone?” and “When Saint Peter opens the gate and you come walking in, I’ll be there waiting for you” take on a bittersweet wistfulness now, following Rogers’ passing. Co-written by Don Schlitz, who wrote Rogers’ megabit, “The Gambler.” Grab a tissue before watching the official video.