In 1973, after a half-dozen years performing alongside popular Nudie-clad country-music veteran, Porter Wagoner—both on The Porter Wagoner Show and on a streak of Top 10 singles—Dolly Parton decided to make a go of things as a solo artist, famously penning her ballad, “I Will Always Love You,” to soften the blow on her mentor (on the same day that she happened to write “Jolene,” no less). Released in 1974, the song went to the top of Billboard’s ‘Hot Country Songs’ chart and became one of the year’s best-selling singles.
But it’s what happened next that has gone down in music industry lore, because in June of that year, with “I Will Always Love You” in the top spot on the country chart, Elvis Presley let it be known that he wanted to record a cover of the song. Needless to say, Parton was over the moon. Until that is, Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, informed the young singer/songwriter that the standard operating procedure was that songwriters signed over half of the publishing rights for any song Elvis recorded. Now, of course, Parton wanted Elvis to sing her song. He was the King, for Pete’s sake, not to mention one of her heroes. But after much internal deliberation, she found that she couldn’t do it.
In an interview with CMT, Parton recalled: “I said, ‘I’m really sorry,’ and I cried all night. I mean, it was like the worst thing. You know, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God … Elvis Presley.’ And other people were saying, ‘You’re nuts. It’s Elvis Presley. I mean, hell, I’d give him all of it.’ I said, ‘I can’t do that. Something in my heart says, ‘Don’t do that.’ And I just didn’t do it, and they just didn’t do it. But I always wondered what it would sound like. I know he’d kill it. Don’t you? He would have killed it. But anyway, so he didn’t. Then when Whitney [Houston’s version] came out, I made enough money to buy Graceland.”
Now, I first heard this story on December 07, 2004, at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, when—in a very VH1 Storytellers kind of way—Parton regaled the audience of her “Hello, I’m Dolly” Tour, that night, with the story; and it stuck with me. The only downside has been that for nearly two decades I’ve wondered what it would’ve sounded like if Elvis had recorded it.
Fast forward to today, when—with all of the advancements in artificial intelligence—I pondered what it would take to have the A.I. “create” this recording that never happened. Turns out, I didn’t have to ponder very long. In fact, a quick Google search revealed that others had had the same idea, but none better than an “A.I. song creator” who goes by the handle NoPeakMeat on YouTube, who didn’t only produce the best version I could find, but also reimagined it as a duet between Parton and Presley, which you can (and should) check out, below.
Ain’t technology grand?
“I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton
RCA VICTOR (1973)
Get into it!