Books & Music 50 best duets ever

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  1. Last Updated: 12:01am BST 08/11/2003

    I've added the Youtube videos and I indicated my favorites. - caitlin1214

    It takes two to make it outta sight, Lyn Collins once observed. The duet, it seems, is having a renaissance. One of the biggest-selling songs of the year has been Blu Cantrell and Sean Paul's Breathe, a brilliantly sung conversation on the age-old theme of breaking up. Indeed, no rap single these days is complete without a female voice to balance the macho rhyming. That has been the spark for this special Arts+Books, in which our critics attempt to pick the greatest of all time. Does a duet have to be a dialogue? No, we decided – just two voices, one song. That opened up the field to hundreds of possibilities, of which these are the 50 best.


    50 Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
    Islands in the Stream, 1983

    One of the best-selling country singles of all time was written by the Bee Gees for Kenny Rogers, who recorded it with Dolly Parton for his Eyes That See in the Dark album; its huge success was probably due to the fact that it's not really a country song at all, but a country-pop-soul crossover tune.
    The voices are a good match, the harmonies perfect; it's simple, cuddly, and reassuringly warm. The chorus also formed the basis for the hit single by rapper Pras: Ghetto Superstar (That Is What You Are). Respect to Kenny and Dolly.

    Key moment: The two hanging piano chords that precede the grand entrance of the vocal.
  2. 44 Ron Sexsmith and Chris Martin
    Gold in Them Hills, 2002
    Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith is pitifully neglected in the wider world, but admired within the songwriting fraternity. Among his fans is Coldplay's Chris Martin, who guested on this exquisite track on Sexsmith's Cobblestone Runway album.
    The mood is one of wistful yearning mingled with dreamy optimism; the theme is simple – that, amid the darkness of despair, one should cling to the promise of better times ahead. Over a haunting keyboard motif and a stately beat, the two singers take a verse each, before their beautifully matched voices harmonise closely on the final verse and chorus. Gorgeous.

    Key moment: The a cappella intro, guaranteed to lift the spirits.
  3. 39 Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart
    Debra Kadabra, 1975
    Two of rock's most inventive oddballs happened to grow up together in the small town of Lancaster in the Californian desert. Though their career paths criss-crossed, they sang together on record only once, on the album Bongo Fury.
    The best track, Debra Kadabra, pitched Beefheart's swampy growl into a frantic suite of his old pal's song fragments, in which Zappa revisited their childhood in enigmatic imagery and TV commercial voices. These two guys were too strange to fit inside one song, but it worked here because they were recounting shared experiences, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
    Key moment: The lines where Beefheart recounts covering himself with his Avon Lady mum's cologne and provoking a severe skin rash.

    38 Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox
    Sisters Are Doin' it for Themselves, 1985
    It's 18 years to the week since this Franklin-Eurythmics collaboration hit the charts, but no pop song since has fused two finer female voices.
    The combination of Franklin's smokey richness and Lennox's glassy purity was so potent that no one paused to wonder precisely what such couplets as "Now this is a song to celebrate/The conscious liberation of the female state" actually meant. The message was clear, the tune a blinder, and a new catchphrase born. It remains a definitive feminist anthem.

    Key moment: "But then you! You!! You!!! You came my waaaaay (but then you came my waaay-ayyy)."
  4. 34 Beyoncé and Jay-Z
    Crazy in Love, 2003
    There had been rumours of a relationship, even an engagement, after Beyoncé's appearance on Jay-Z's 2003 Bonnie & Clyde, but this irresistibly spunky single set the record straight. In a blaze of trumpeting horns, lustily insistent vocals and with her main man rapping at her side, Beyoncé was exultant.
    Watching her scantily-clad gyrations in the video was enough to reduce grown men to tears, a pleasure only slightly tarnished by the intrusion of an understandably self-satisfied Jay-Z and his crowing rap interlude. OK, she's crazy in love – but with this guy?

    Key moment: When Kris croaks in for the first chorus – the perfect match with the mellifluous Coolidge.
  5. 29 Otis Redding and Carla Thomas
    Tramp, 1967
    A duet can make a perfect forum for a flaming row, and here Otis trades verbals with a mouthy dame who thinks he's a country bumpkin, and nowhere near good enough for her.
    Aside from the energy of the insults - allegedly improvised – and the snappy bass and horn riffs that echo them, the song's original appeal lay in its truth to life. Carla Thomas, daughter of DJ and singer Rufus, was a city slicker; Redding had been a dirt poor son of an invalid preacher. But he, along with everybody else, knew that wasn't the end of the story.

    Key moment: "Ha!" (Breathe.) "Push it! Push it real good!"
  6. 24 Sonny and Cher
    I Got You Babe, 1965
    As Phil Spector's gofer and sorcerer's apprentice, Sonny Bono was often called upon to answer the question that Spector would habitually pose about all his recordings: is it "dumb" enough? Dumb not as in "stupid", but in terms of sublime innocence, and simplicity.
    With I Got You Babe, Bono almost outstripped the master, grafting the wall of sound onto the jingle-jangle of folk-rock to create a soaring and dreamy anthem of adolescent love. Cher's opening line, "They say we're young and we don't know…" summarises the eternal plaint of young love and adult disapproval from Romeo and Juliet to the Beach Boys' Wouldn't It Be Nice.

    Key moment: The sublime elongation of the "I" in the chorus – "You, you and I/Back together again, got the world in a spin."
  7. 19 Neil Tennant and Dusty Springfield
    What Have I Done to Deserve This?, 1987
    Funny to think that, upon hearing of their plans to coax the late Dusty Springfield out of Californian exile, the Pet Shop Boys' label EMI tried to persuade the duo to use Tina Turner instead.
    Quite how they thought it would have worked is open to question, because this deceptively bouncy song of lovelorn misery was clearly written for two of the most idiosyncratic voices in pop. Neil Tennant raps a lugubrious verse about spilt drinks and wilting flowers, before Dusty floats in with a raspy whisper stained by life's disappointments.
    This is the Pet Shop Boys' version. I couldn't find Neil Tennant.- caitlin1214

    Key moment: When the clang of what sounds like overheating industrial equipment gives way to a change of key and Dusty's soaring "Since you went away…"

    18 James Brown and Lyn Collins
    This Guy's/Girl's In Love With You, 1972
    Not obviously a recipe for success, this one: the self-proclaimed godfather of soul tackles Bacharach and David's lounge classic, his mammoth ego having to squeeze in alongside his latest young protégée.
    At this point in his career, Brown was firing out scores of tunes per annum, but although This Guy hasn't exactly gone down in the annals, it's a lovely record. As the JB's strike up a funky little shuffle, Brown tries to talk the nubile Collins into the idea of being in love, and suddenly they're off trading verses. Yes, the earth's moving.

    Key moment: "Lyn!" shouts JB finally, in the second chorus, "I want your love!" Phew.

    17 Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash
    Girl From The North Country, 1969
    In 1965, Dylan ditched folk for electric rock'n'roll. After a near-fatal bike accident, he became a recluse, but was soon back on the self-reinvention trail, this time as a country and western singer. And, what better way to validate his new direction than to duet with the Man in Black? As it happened, Dylan and Cash stumbled around each other quite hilariously on this funereal track from Nashville Skyline, neither exactly knowing how to share airspace with another singer. What's more, Bob's voice sounded even odder than usual: apparently, he'd given up smoking.

    Key moment: The lyric turns just a little more serious, and touching. "If we should part that would break my heart." So they call the calling off, off.
  8. 14 Deborah Harry and Iggy Pop
    Well Did You Evah!, 1991
    It was probably inevitable that the two great US underground survivors would record together. They finally came together on the 1991 Red Hot & Blue album of Cole Porter covers for Aids charities, making the exuberant Crosby/Sinatra number from High Society all their own. Over chugging metal guitars, they played out the sardonic but "Swelegant" dialogue with a scuzzy charm that appeals to any couple who have ever punkily play-acted posh while drinking cheap booze.

    Key moment: The scribbling felt-tip pen sound which heralds the emergence of Eminem’s urgent, needy voice from Dido’s serene, melancholic wash.
  9. 9 King Louis and Baloo the Bear
    Wanna Be Like You, 1967
    The Jungle Book, the last movie to be produced by Disney himself, has always been as popular with grown-ups as with kids. And Wanna Be Like You, together with The Bear Necessities, is among its most enchanting tunes.
    Louis Prima is the voice behind King Louis, “The king of the swingers/The jungle VIP”, who scats and cook-a-choos like a hep cat straight outta 1920s Harlem. Totally loopy and infectious, it’s meant to be the soundtrack to an abduction scene in which co-balladeer Baloo the bear (Phil Harris) rescues Mowgli. Lost in melody, he almost forgets his mission. Who can blame him?

    Key moment: “Hey!” when Baloo crashes in.

    8 Althea & Donna
    Uptown Top Ranking, 1978
    In February 1978, after 3,000 weeks at Number One, Wings dirge Mull of Kintyre was knocked off its perch by the infectious patois boasting of Althea Forrest and Donna Reid. Not that anyone knew what the two schoolgirls were singing about.
    The joy of the first Jamaican record to top the charts, besides its killer horn breaks and Sly and Robbie rhythm section, was interpreting the lyrics. This being the heyday of Porridge on TV, it was with some confidence that some sang the line “Nah pop no style, I strictly roots” as “Naff off, Mackay – ice trickling rule.”

    Key moment: The sporadic high-pitched “Ooow”s that Althea (or is it Donna?) emits at the end of a line.

    7 Blu Cantrell and Sean Paul
    Breathe (Rap version), 2003

    Deprived of a place on the radio playlists, Breathe wound its way into people’s minds with the power of its melody, and became the fifth biggest selling single of the year.
    Its claim to greatness comes from the way Paul’s bouncy dancehall rap of justification – “Sean Paul give you the good loving, daily” – is set against Cantrell’s timeless, soaring vocal of aching betrayal: “When love hurts, it won’t work.”
    The unusually slow tempo and the big-band brass emanate the same haunting mix of modern and old-fashioned. The result is a modern classic.

    Key moment: When Cantrell’s “You’re never there for me” is followed by a “yeah” a “mmm” and the unexplained sound of a car crash.

    6 Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl
    Fairytale of New York, 1987
    This duet had it all: vivid characters (MacGowan’s slurring wino and MacColl’s hard-bitten bag lady), dramatic tension (they blame each other for their lost dreams), and rip-roaring black humour (“Merry Christmas your arse, I pray God it’s our last!”).
    The tolling notes of the chorus evoke the mass jollity of festive New York – but the tramps are adrift, full of regrets, with only each other for comfort. Funny, twisted and poignant, it is pop’s perfect Christmas carol.

    Key moment: The riotous celtic pipes fade and MacGowan offers a yearning growl: “I could have been someone,” only to be slapped back by MacColl’s “Well, so could anyone.”

    5. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
    You’re the One that I Want, 1978
    Will they, won’t they, get it on? This is the moment in Grease when the lovebirds finally decide to stop skirting around and declare themselves. The result is this classic 1950s pastiche duet.
    Travolta yelps, Newton-John simpers; they’re not great singers, but their voices are well matched, and the song breezes along at a cracking pace (and, apparently, the entire film sequence was made in just one afternoon). A karaoke gem.

    Key moment: Travolta and his echo singing, “It’s electrifying (it’s electrifying).”
  10. 4 Marvin Gaye and Tammi TeRrell
    Ain’t nothing like the real thing, 1968
    Detroit’s favourite musical sweethearts recorded a series of duets that defined Motown at its most sublime and unabashedly romantic. While Gaye and Terrell were never actually an item themselves, their musical conversations were pure pillow talk. Here the two lovers are separated, reflecting on a relationship that lives on only in letters, pictures and phone calls.
    The sense of yearning and loss is palpable, but so too is the possibility of reconciliation. Aretha Franklin later honoured the song with a wonderful version. Elton John and Barry Manilow both massacred it. Truly, there ain’t nothing like the real thing.

    Key moment: The tremble in Bush’s pleading voice in that final heartbreaking chorus, filled with hopeless compassion.

    2 Mary J Blige and Method Man
    You’re All I Need to Get By, 1995
    The extraordinary achievement of this interpretation of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s 1968 Motown hit is to take a sugary, upbeat love song, re-mould it as something dark and brooding and intense, and yet make it hugely more uplifting. Against every hip-hop cliché, Wu-Tang rapper Method Man pledges his love to Blige and confirms his determination to be a good father to their children.
    Blige, perhaps the greatest duettist of recent times, invests the song with wisdom, patience and a sense of fierce loyalty to her man. A mighty close call for the number one spot.
  11. i have heard of only 15 of those songs and i have never heard of the number 1 duet :confused1: I think the grease one should have been first :P
  12. Hi everybody, I'm looking for a 70-80's hit, don't know the name of the song, all that I know is she is American, he is Italian and he sings both in Italian and English. Some of the words are "Cannot tell how much I love you", "Never know how much I missed you", "I love you so"...
    Could you please help?
  13. I am so disappointed with this list. I cannot believe Proud Mary is not on the list. It was one of the best duets ever made, although Ike was a total psycho S.O.B.

    Heck, I'll make my own list and post the videos to prove it :P

    Bohemian Rhapsody: Elton John and Axel Rose
    Best moment, Axel's entrance!!

    and I could go on... these are only my top three :nuts:
  14. Whoever came up with that list needs psychotropic medication.....quickly....
  15. I'm not seeing any photos???

    Nothing from Robert Plant and Allison Kraus? The entire album is golden.

    Elton John and George Michael, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"

    k.d. lang and anybody.

    Maybe it doesn't belong on the greatest list, but I never get tired of hearing Rod Stewart and Ron Isley, "This Old Heart of Mine". Love the 60's vibe of the video.