This is not a love song in the conventional sense; Parton wrote it for a close friend. In 1967, she was invited by the country star Porter Wagoner to co-host his TV show, where they became famous for their duets. In time though, her enormous talent eclipsed that of her mentor, and she moved on to greener pastures. She wrote the song for him to show her appreciation for the time they had worked together.
Leaving Wagoner wasn't easy - he thought Parton was making a mistake and felt she was being disloyal. Parton played the song to Wagoner the morning after she wrote it as her way of letting him know that her mind was mad up and to express how she felt about him. Apparently, it got the message across: Parton said that Wagoner was in tears when she finished, and he called it "the prettiest song I ever heard."
This all went down in 1973, and the following year Parton and Wagoner formally announced their split after a 7-year partnership. (thanks, Alexander Baron - London, England)
This was the second of five consecutive #1 Country hits that Parton had after establishing herself as a solo artist.
Parton later recorded a second version of this song for the 1982 film The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, which she starred in along with Burt Reynolds. The second version not only became a #1 Country hit (like the first version), but also became a crossover hit, reaching #53 on the Hot 100.
After this song was released, Elvis Presley wanted to cover it. Parton was interested, but Presley's handlers insisted that he be given a share of the publishing rights if he recorded it - a common demand at the time. Parton held her ground, which was a very difficult decision, but one that worked out very well for her, since the publishing rights she would have relinquished turned out to be substantial. "My songs were what I was leaving for my family and I wouldn't give them up," she told Mojo in 2004. "People said I was stupid. I cried all night. I would have killed to hear him sing it. But, eventually, when Whitney recorded it, I was glad I held out."
In the 1974 film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the first version can be softly heard in the background of a scene where Ellen Burstyn's character Alice Hyatt meets a violent good-old boy named Ben Eberhart (played by Harvey Keitel). Despite this, the song is not featured on the film's soundtrack.
When this song was chosen for the 1992 film The Bodyguard
, it proved to be a huge benefit for both Parton and Whitney Houston. It helped revive Houston's career (which struggled somewhat beforehand) and as Houston's version
became a worldwide success in pop music, both artists have managed to receive a huge amount of royalties from it. While Parton's version was a country ballad, Houston's version attracted audiences of pop, soul, and adult contemporary. Houston's version managed to be a #1 pop hit in a variety of countries, including the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and Netherlands.
In 1995, Parton recorded a third version of this song with Vince Gill
as a duet. This version became a Top 20 Country hit and won the 1995 Country Music Association Award and received a Grammy nomination.
Other artists who have covered this song include Kenny Rogers, Linda Ronstadt, Sarah Washington, and Roger Whittaker. (thanks, Jerro - New Alexandria, PA, for above 3)
Parton had a variety show in 1976 called Dolly! that lasted one season. To close every episode, she would recite the opening lyrics to this song ("And I hope life treats you kind...") and sing it as the credits rolled.
This ballad came in at #1 in a 2011 Valentine's Day poll by CMT to find the best love song. It was followed in the CMT Greatest Love Song list by Willie Nelson's "Always On My Mind
" in second place and Faith Hill's "Breathe
" in third. We wonder how many people would be surprised to find out "Always Love You" is not a conventional love song, but was penned by Dolly for a close friend rather than a lover.
Parton performed this song to Porter Wagoner on May 19, 2007 during his Porter 50th Anniversary Celebration at the Grand Ole Opry. "This was my goodbye song to Porter," Parton said before singing to him. Wagoner was suffering from lung cancer at the time and died on October 28, 2007.