Artist: Whitney Houston
Original artist: Dolly Parton
The movies play a big part in this story. Whitney Houston produced her own special version of
the Dolly Parton song for the 1992 film, The Bodyguard. Dolly’s version was sung to Burt
Reynolds near the end of the film, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which had been
released a decade earlier.
However, the song was not specially written for the Whorehouse film. Parton wrote it in 1973
as a farewell to her mentor Porter Wagoner when she decided to stop appearing on his TV
show and pursue a solo career. But the sentiments expressed in the song seemed to fit well
with the plots of both movies.
Dolly enjoyed success in Billboard’s Hot Country Songs charts, hitting top spot twice – first in
1974 and again in 1982 after the Whorehouse film was released.
But her achievements with the song would pale into insignificance after Houston’s version was
released. Houston’s version sold 20 million copies, making it the then best-selling single of all
time by a female artist. It occupied No 1 slot in Billboard’s Hot 100 for a record-breaking 14
weeks. But the success was not confined to America. It topped charts all around the world.
If not the most successful cover version of all time, it must be right up there.
It seems daft to draw attention to it now… but I Will Always Love You was not the original first
choice for The Bodyguard film. Jimmy Ruffin’s What Becomes of the Brokenhearted was being
lined up. But fate intervened.
While The Bodyguard was being filmed a Paul Young version of Brokenhearted
released as part of the soundtrack to the film Fried Green Tomatoes. It would have looked like a
rip-off if also used on Bodyguard. A substitute was needed.
The Bodyguard’s music supervisor Maureen Crowe heard a remake of the Parton song by long-
time Dolly friend and collaborator Linda Ronstadt (much more on Linda on this site later).
Ronstadt’s version excluded the third verse.
Apart from Houston’s voice, other things contributed to the appeal of her version. Film co-star
(The Bodyguard himself) Kevin Costner is credited with suggesting that Houston sing the
opening a cappella. It proved a masterstroke although Crowe and others had concerns that it
might not work on radio and therefore not get much airtime.
The song was produced by David Foster, the man behind so many hits. For example, he
“discovered” Celine Dion and Michael Buble. Foster produced a version with the a capella intro
and another with backing instruments. He favoured the latter, but the legendary Clive Davis
(the Man with the Golden Ear) was Houston’s manager and his vote went to the a capella track.
It turned out to be a magical call.
Hearing it for the first time on the radio while driving to her Tennessee home had a big impact
on Parton. She later told Oprah Winfrey: “I had to pull off, because I was afraid that I would
wreck, so I pulled over quick so I could to listen to that whole song.”
Dolly did rather well financially out of Whitney’s remake earning a rumoured $10 million in
royalties. She used part of the income to build an office complex in Nashville mainly for use by
people of colour in honour of Houston.
That royalties figure might have been halved if Parton hadn’t been so business-savvy. At one
time Elvis wanted to record the song, but his advisers were pushing for 50% of the royalties and
Dolly – sensibly, in hindsight – declined.
Parton is renowned for her philanthropy, especially in her home state of Tennessee, and her
kind acts are too numerous to list here. But I would give one shout-out to her for donating $1
million to aid research into Covid-19.
Many people around the globe have good reason to “always love you”, Dolly.
Which is your favourite version? Whitney ? or Dolly ?