Music legend Kenny Rogers died at his home at the age of 81. His family released a statement that said “The Rogers family is sad to announce that Kenny Rogers passed away last night at 10:25 p.m. at the age of 81. Rogers passed away peacefully at home from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by his family.”
The country singer had a long and successful music career that spanned decades. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013. He had a total of 39 studio albums and 80 singles, and 21 of those singles reached number one on the country music charts. Despite this impressive music resume, a few of his songs stand out from the others as top hits.
Here are Kenny Rogers’ top five hits over the years:
1. The Gambler
“The Gambler” was perhaps his most famous song. It was released in 1978 and hit number one on the country music charts and also made an appearance on pop charts, an uncommon occurrence at that time. The song was written by Don Schlitz, and it was covered by many different artists, but Rogers’ version would become perhaps the most well-known.
In an interview, Rogers shared the story behind his version of “The Gambler,” saying: “I think when I first recorded ‘The Gambler,’ there was something that I truly felt was unique about it. What bothered me, of course, is I think Johnny Cash had already recorded it — a couple of other people had recorded it already.”
He continued, “But I just loved what it said, I loved the way it said it, and I loved — it’s called the ‘cadence’ — the way the song was written, and the rhythm of the lyric and the rhythm of the song. It just painted this wonderful picture, I think.”
2. Islands in the Stream
“Islands in the Stream” was a famous duet written by the Bee Gees and sung by Rogers and Dolly Parton. The song was released in 1983. It reached number one on the pop and country charts in the U.S.
The partnership between Rogers and Dolly Parton became famous after the song was released and sparked a lifelong friendship between the two singers. Rogers spoke about his collaboration with Parton, saying: “I think when we did ‘Islands in the Stream,’ we connected musically.”
He also said “When she walked in that room, something really special happened. We are soul partners, we really are.” The two went on to record a dozen duets together.
“Lady” is a song that was written by Lionel Richie and recorded by Rogers. It was released in 1980 and it is listed on Billboard’s All Time Top 100. It reached number one on the country and pop charts in the U.S.
In an interview about getting Richie to write the song for him, he said “I called Lionel and I said, ‘I’d like for you to write a song for me.'” He continued, “Lionel doesn’t write songs. He writes ideas.”
He also recounted that when they were in the studio ready to record it, Lionel Richie only had the first verse prepared. Rogers said: “He only has the first verse, I’m in the studio with musicians singing the first verse. He literally goes to the bathroom and writes the second verse while I’m singing the first verse.”
4. Coward of the Country
Coward of the County is a song that was released in 1979 and became one of Rogers’ most famous songs. Written by Roger Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler, it tells a story about a boy named Tommy.
When Tommy is 10 years old, his father, who is in prison, tells his boy in his final words to stay out of trouble and “turn the other cheek” instead of fighting. Tommy follows his father’s advice, becoming known as the “Coward of the County.”
During the song, Tommy’s girlfriend Becky is sexually assaulted by three brothers. At this point, Tommy confronts the three in a bar and decides to fight them, getting revenge and learning that “sometimes you gotta fight to be a man.”
“Lucille” was written by Roger Bowling and Hal Bynum, and recorded by Rogers. The song was released in 1977 and was his first major song after his departure from the group The First Edition. The international hit reached number one on the country music charts in the U.S. and also the top of the U.K. charts.
In an interview about the release of his memoir, Luck or Something Like It, Rogers was asked about who Lucille was, the subject of his popular song. He said, “My mom, whose name is Lucille, got very upset because she thought (the song) was about her. So I told her it’s not about her, because she had eight kids. But she was so angry because she thought I was putting her business on the street. Roger Bowling wrote the song, and whether he knew Lucille or not is hard to tell. It’s a great story song, though.”