Can you even imagine The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll recording the queen of country music’s most iconic song?
Well, it almost happened…
In 1974, Dolly Parton had a phone call with Elvis’ the infamous manager, Colonel Parker, the day before Elvis was supposed to go into the studio to cut “I Will Always Love You” to discuss the deal.
She said she had already agreed to let him record it, although nothing had been signed or made official in ink yet. It was during this call that he told her that they needed all the publishing rights, or at least 50%, for Elvis to record a song.
In a 2018 cover story with the British magazine EventDolly gave a bit more information on how it all happened:
“His manager, Colonel Parker, called me the day before he was to record the song and said, ‘Now you know Elvis has to have the publishing rights or at least half the rights to publication of any song he records.'”
And that’s when she realized there was no way she could go on:
“It was my biggest copyright at the time. If it had been a new song, I might have considered it.
She released a standalone single in 1974, when it peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart later that year, then re-released it in October 1982, with a re-recording for The best little brothel in Texas soundtrack.
Unlike nearly every other artist in the music industry, or many of them at least, Dolly has always retained full ownership of her publishing rights, except for a very small handful of its catalog that it does not fully possess.
It’s a brilliant move from a business perspective, and she started the company (Owe-Par) in 1966 at the age of 20, with her late Uncle Bill. She estimated royalty income ranges between $6-8 million for iconic songs like the one we’re talking about today, “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene,” among many others.
As she mentioned before, she might have considered giving Elvis the rights if it was a different song he wanted to record, but she just couldn’t give up on that one, knowing how badly it was. was a special and important song.
I mean, she was thrilled that Elvis wanted to sing her song, and told everyone she knew he was going to sing it. But in the end, she had to follow her instincts and couldn’t pass up this one if she didn’t uphold the rights:
“I desperately needed Elvis to sing my song and I told everyone he was going to sing it, but I couldn’t let that happen.
This is my song, my publishing rights. It broke my heart, but I had to refuse.
I can’t even imagine being in that position (or ultimately rejecting Elvis), and I think most people would have caved in and let him. But Dolly wanted to give full rights to her catalog to her family one day, and couldn’t venture into that, no matter how badly she wanted him to sing it.
Hell, Dolly Parton could have been the one and only woman on planet earth to ever turn down Elvis for anything…
And she doubled down on feeling, even decades later, that it’s still one of the hardest things she’s ever done:
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do because I loved Elvis.”
It just makes you wonder what might have been had he ever gotten his hands on it…
And Dolly always does too, saying:
“He would have sung it very well. Can you imagine Elvis singing ‘I Will Always Love You’?”
I can, and it would have been nothing short of spectacular, I’m sure.
Of course, Whitney Houston finally covered the track for the iconic 1992 film The bodyguardand it spent 14 weeks at number one 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.
Luckily she didn’t give up those publishing rights…the Whitney version paid for her.
And while you’re here, be sure to watch one of my favorite performances of Dolly singing her dazzling, timeless song when it comes out: