Destination Jam: Top 5 songs by late Kenny Rogers that celebrate the legend's stellar contribution to music
Need something to keep you entertained while at work or play? Our daily Destination Jam playlist has been fine-tuned with some great Kenny Rogers selections
The late great American music icon Kenny Rogers would have turned 82 on August 21 this year, but he sadly passed away after a celebrated career and plethora of No.1 hits in March this year. As a musician and a person, Kenny was a rare gem, a genre-defying superstar with a signature storytelling voice who racked up success in the worlds of doo-wop, pop, country, and R&B, which was an unprecedented achievement for his time. During the course of his long and illustrious career, he garnered 24 number one hits and fostered multiple successful collaborations and friendships with artists at the top of their game like Lionel Richie and Dolly Parton. Besides this, Kenny had also earned a reputation as a caring, kind-hearted Southern gentleman, and the star-studded hit 'We Are The World' was actually recorded at his Lion Share Recording Studio after Kenny opened his doors to the supergroup USA for Africa in 1985. So in honor of this legendary music icon, let's take a look at some of his numerous smash hits.
Destination Jam - Kenny Rogers Edition
'Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)'
This was the first monumental success for Kenny Rogers, who first burst into mainstream popularity in the 1960s with his band The First Edition. Handling both bass and vocal duties on this track which released in October 1967, his effortless tone managed to strike a chord with the counterculture generation. In stark contrast to The First Edition's usual output of typical folk melodies, 'Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)' was laced in trippy psychedelia and seemingly described the LSD experience, although Rogers himself stayed away from mind-altering drugs. Thanks to the infectious hook and the song's iconic tremolo-drenched intro, the song jumped to No. 5 on the Billboard charts, earning The First Edition their first national TV appearance on 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.' Kenny would go on to make a successful solo career for himself using his newfound fame as a springboard.
'Lucille' was released in January 1977 as the second single from his second studio album, titled 'Kenny Rogers'. This heartbreaking track about a sorrowful mother of four named Lucille would prove to be the making of Kenny Rogers, as it was his first certified hit as a solo artist after leaving The First Edition. At the time, he was still struggling to make it big in the entertainment industry and this new single was considered "too country" by his label executives. His manager, Ken Kragen, reportedly started laughing when he first heard the song, and stated, “This will either be written off as a novelty song, or it’s going to be the biggest song in the country.” Thankfully for Kenny, the poignant song struck a chord with Americans and the Grammy-winning track went on to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart and No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.
Of course, this is one of the biggest hits of Kenny's career and the Grammy award-winning track became synonymous with the great man himself. Although the legendary Johny Cash had already recorded a version of this song previously, Kenny made the definitive version of 'The Gambler' when he released it in 1978 as the title track from his album 'The Gambler'. Besides hitting No.1 on Billboard's country music chart, the track also hit No. 3 on the Easy Listening pop chart, making it a huge crossover hit. His rich and soulful voice and charismatic appearance made the song's narrative of a gambling man believable, along with the immortal lines "You've got to know when to hold 'em / Know when to fold 'em / Know when to walk away / And know when to run." The song managed to take on a life of its own, eventually spawning a movie called 'The Gambler' with Kenny in the lead role and it made him a household name. He would go on to perform packed stadiums for the rest of his life as a music superstar.
Kenny famously collaborated with the R&B/soul crooner Lionel Richie on this track, which was released in 1980 on the compilation album 'Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits'. By this point, Kenny had already garnered over 9 No.1 hit singles on the country charts and Lionel was mainly famous for his work with the funk and soul group Commodores and was yet to make it big as a singer-songwriter himself. This groundbreaking crossover collaboration went on to hit No.1 on three different Billboard charts, namely the Country, Hot 100, and Top Soul Singles and it would also help launch Lionel's career as a solo artist in the 1980s. As Kenny later exclaimed, "The idea was that Lionel would come from R&B and I'd come from country, and we'd meet somewhere in pop!" This also marked a long-lasting friendship between the unlikely pairing, and Lionel was later invited to stay at Kenny's house as a permanent guest. Lionel's monster hit 'Hello' was actually written while he was staying at Kenny's guesthouse!
'Islands in the Stream'
This legendary duet from 1983 marked the first time that Kenny would work with the superstar Dolly Parton. This love song was originally written by the Bee Gees, and their singer Barry Gibb was trying to make the song work as a Kenny arrangement, after previously failing to make it work for Marvin Gaye in an R&B style. However, something wasn't quite right about the song and Gibb and Rogers were struggling to make the track click while working on it in their studio in Los Angeles. Then Gibb got a brainwave and called in his friend, the feisty and spunky Dolly Parton of '9 to 5' fame. Her initial vocal take was spectacular and both Gibb and Kenny knew that they had a sure-fire hit on their hands now that Dolly Parton was on board. It went on to hit No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and their charming collaboration sparked a deep and loving friendship, which would continue well into Kenny's retirement. As Parton later reminisced about the song that started it all, she said "These two voices were meant to be together."
Destination Jam is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained and grooving up top in lieu of feeling drained and losing the plot. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day!