Kenny Rogers: 10 best songs, from Lady to Lucille

If Kenny Rogers's best hits can't get us through the tedium of coronavirus quarantine, nothing can

A country legend: Kenny Rogers
A country legend: Kenny Rogers

The late Kenny Rogers, who passed away last night aged 81, sold more than 120 million albums worldwide, and had a top 10 chart record within each of the past seven decades. Here are the 10 essential Kenny Rogers songs by which to remember his legacy.

10: Morning Desire (1985)

A classy country song from 1985, which was written by Dave Loggins and produced by the esteemed George Martin. The track features a dazzling guitar solo from jazz musician Stanley Jordan.

9: Lady (1980)

A sweet and cheesy love song that was written and produced by Lionel Richie.  Rogers said: "The idea was that Lionel would come from R&B and I'd come from country, and we'd meet somewhere in pop."

8: Every Time Two Fools Collide (1978)

The first of two duets in this Top 10  list, Every Time Two Fools Collide was an impromptu collaboration with Dottie West, made when they were both using the same recording studio. The song, written by  Jan Dyer and Jeff Tweel, won two CMA Awards and sparked a friendship between the singers that lasted until West's death in 1991.

7: Love or Something Like It (1978)

Rogers co-wrote this catchy song with his band member Steven Glassmeyer. The song, full of Seventies bravado ("liquor and music/a good combination/if you've got love on the brain") was a No1 hit for Rogers.

6: Islands In the Stream (1983)

The was originally written by the Bee Gees for Marvin Gaye and takes its title from the Ernest Hemingway novel. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton crooning together is the height of karaoke doubles heaven.

5: The Coward of the Country (1979)

A song that inspired a 1981 television movie of the same name, The Coward of the County is a wonderfully daft tale of a coward called Tommy and what he did to the Gatlin Boys when "20 years of crawlin' that was bottled up inside him," exploded into revenge.

4: Sweet Music Man (1977)

Rogers wrote this song about Waylon Jennings and his troubled marriage. It's a moving and insightful tale of a musician's loves and troubles. The composition has been covered by Dolly Parton, Reba McEntyre and Tammy Wynette.

Kenny Rogers accepts his CMT lifetime achievement award in December 2015 Credit: Getty Images

3: Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town (1969)

There was controversy surrounding this No1 hit in 1969, which was written by Mel Tillis, because it was falsely assumed to be about a Vietnam War veteran. Rogers said in 1970: "We are there, primarily, to entertain. Now if we can entertain by providing thought-provoking songs, then that's all to the good. But the guys who said Ruby was about Vietnam were way off target – it was about Korea. But whatever the message, and however you interpret it, fact is that we wouldn't have looked at it if it hadn't been a good song."

2: Lucille (1977)

Lucille, written by Hal Bynum and Roger Bowling, was a No1 hit and it became one of Rogers’s signature tunes. It was about a heartbroken man ("You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille, with four hungry children and a crop in the field"). Rogers later revealed that his mother, Lucille, phoned him about the song when she heard it on the radio: "She said ‘Kenneth Ray, what are you doing?’ I knew when she said that I was in trouble. She thought I was putting her business out on the street. She said ‘How dare me tell people she had four hungry children.’ I told her ‘First of all, you have eight kids. Secondly, I didn’t write it, and thirdly, it’s not about you.' Then she tamed down a little bit.”

Kenny Rogers and his wife Wanda in the recording studio Credit:

1: The Gambler

Kenny Rogers's most enduring song was written by Don Schlitz (who also wrote When You Say Nothing at All) and adopted by the England rugby World Cup finalists in 2007 as their unofficial anthem. All together now:

'You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,

Know when to walk away, Know when to run.

You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table,

There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.'

Read more:

Kenny Rogers interview with Martin Chilton: Why I love a singalong

Kenny Rogers tribute: music was only one of the many strings to his bow