Kenny Rogers has earned dozens of country and pop hits during his storied career. But in the 1970s and '80s, the legend expanded his reach in a big way via a series of high-profile duets that topped the country charts and (in the case of one major hit with Dolly Parton) the pop charts as well.
In hindsight, it's easy to hear why Rogers made such a perfect duet partner: He boasts a genial, welcoming voice that blends well with other singers' vocals, and he didn't try to overpower the bold personalities with whom he was collaborating. Perhaps even more important, Rogers knew when to cede the spotlight to his partners -- and when taking center stage made artistic sense.
It all adds up to a bevy of memorable songs that are still beloved today. Below are The Boot's picks for Rogers' Top 5 duets.
"Don't Fall in Love With a Dreamer" (with Kim Carnes)From 1980's 'Gideon'
Pop star Carnes, who co-wrote this song with David Ellingson, gives a smoky, longing performance with Rogers on this gentle cautionary tale. "Don't Fall in Love With a Dreamer" describes a doomed (but irresistible) relationship, in which a woman and a man clearly want to be together but aren't quite ready to commit, since the man isn't brave enough to admit his true feelings. The song struck quite a chord and landed in the Top 5 of the adult contemporary, pop and country charts.
"We've Got Tonight" (with Sheena Easton)From 1983's 'We've Got Tonight'
One of Rogers' most unabashedly pop moments, this Bob Seger cover also doubled as Easton's first big U.S. hit. A successful plea for reconciliation with an ex -- "I know your plans don't include me / Still, here we are, both of us lonely / Longing for shelter from all that we see" -- the soulful No. 1 country ballad kicked off Rogers' 1983 on a high note.
"Every Time Two Fools Collide" (with Dottie West)From 1978's 'Every Time Two Fools Collide'
In the late 1970s, Rogers teamed up with country legend West for two well-received duets albums. The title track of the first record, 1978's Every Time Two Fools Collide, shot to No. 1 on the country charts. A familiar tale of polar opposites who clash like oil and water (but are trying to make things work), the Jan Dyer and Jeff Tweel co-write laments the discord: "You lay the blame on me," Rogers sings. "And I put the blame on you / But why do we keep finding faults / In everything we do?" The pair sounds wistful as they sing, clearly weary of disagreements and recognizing that their ridiculous behavior is all self-inflicted.
"Make No Mistake, She's Mine" (with Ronnie Milsap)
It's easy to hear why the Kim Carnes-written No. 1 country ballad "Make No Mistake, She's Mine" won Best Country Collaboration With Vocals at the Grammy Awards: Rogers and Milsap sound mesmerizing harmonizing on his song, which features a narrator who can't quite seem to acknowledge than an ex seemingly has moved on with her life -- without him. However, when the country legends sing lines such as "Don't get too close when you dance / 'Cause I don't want to hear from my friends / You were out on the town" together, the performance instead hints that the woman in question has perhaps decided to keep dating both men.
"Islands in the Stream" (with Dolly Parton)From 1983's 'Eyes That See in the Dark'
Both Rogers and Parton were at the top of their commercial game when they teamed up for "Islands in the Stream," and it showed: The song hit No. 1 on the U.S. country, adult contemporary and pop charts. Written by the Bee Gees, the song is a gushing declaration of love as a two-way street: Each partner is on equal footing in terms of respecting, helping and cherishing the other, and both are committed to weathering any storms together. Musically, the jaunty song highlights the pair's harmonies, which are a perfect blend of tenderness and affection.