If I should stay, I would only be in your way
A lyric we’ve all heard a hundred times – and one that sends me scrambling for the skip button, if I’m honest – but like most great lyrics, follow it back to the source and you find the real story.
That story is Dolly parting ways with manager and former duet partner Porter Wagoner around June 1973. The song wasn’t released until a year later: imagine having to reconnect with that emotion in performances a year after the fact, again and again, as the song grew more and more popular. At the song’s heart is strength masking vulnerability; in the Whitney Houston version, it totally overpowers it.
The song is full of difficult admissions – We both know that I’m not what you need, that (perhaps ill-advised) spoken word section – all stemming from that first realisation: that two people are stronger apart than together.
Interesting story: Elvis wanted to record a cover once the song became popular, but Dolly Parton refused to sign over half the publishing royalties in return. Not many people would say no to Elvis, but then, as this song shows, not many people are as strong as Dolly Parton.