Love and Marriage: Marriages on record – the greatest duets
As part of this month’s theme of Love and Marriage, it seemed appropriate to take a look at some of the greatest marriages in music, vocally not Biblically speaking. I am, of course, talking about the wonder of duets. While not always a recipe for success, more often than not the pairing of two talented artists leads to a magical treat for the ears. Over the years there have been some exceptional combinations, so let’s take this opportunity to celebrate, remind and highlight some of the best efforts.
‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ by Dinah Shore & Buddy Clark (1949)
From the early years of the commercial music charts, the unifying of voices on record has created timeless classics, with ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ being a prime example. Often associated with Christmas these days, it actually first achieved chart success during May of 1949. It originates from the MGM musical romantic comedy film Neptune’s Daughter, but was subsequently lifted and recorded by artists, then being released as a stand alone song. It’s first commercial release brought together the talents of television and film star Dinah Shore and popular singer Buddy Clark. Over the years, this classic has been rehashed and redone many times with varying degrees of success, however to my mind the original commercial release remaining the best. The charming flirtation of Clark plays perfectly against the deliberately coy Shore in the lyrical ‘wolf’ and ‘mouse’ roles, respectively.
Honorable mentions: Dean Martin & Helen O’Connell – ‘How D’ya Like Your Eggs in the Morning’, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – ‘A Fine Romance’
‘Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)’ by Dinah Washington & Brook Benton (1960)
While undoubtedly better known for her solo material, such as ‘Mad About the Boy’ and ‘What a Diff’rence a Day Makes’, Dinah Washington is at her most fun and personable on her duets with fellow American singer Brook Benton. Together, they added charm and charisma to their performances, taking their work together beyond being just a great vocal. The highlight of this added personality being as they apparently sing across each other towards the closing moments of the song, Dinah quips, ‘You’re in my spot again, honey’, to which Brook flirtatiously replies, ‘I like your spot!’
Honourable mentions: Mickey & Sylvia – ‘Love Is Strange’, Dinah Washington & Brook Benton – ‘A Rockin’ Good Way (to Mess Around and Fall in Love)’
‘You’re All I Need to Get By’ by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (1968)
Beyond the playful dramatics of other duets, sometimes a simply beautiful song is all it takes. Soul duo Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell recorded just one studio album together, which was sadly down to the latter suffering from a brain tumour that killed her six weeks before her 25th birthday. Nevertheless, the pair recorded this timeless ballad which, while a Motown recording, is pure and wonderful soul music. Perhaps what helps it resonate with audiences is that it was written by a real life couple, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who also wrote ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘I’m Every Woman’, among many others.
Honourable mentions: Sonny & Cher – ‘I Got You Babe’
‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’ by Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer (1979)
Quite possibly one the very best (and gayest) duets ever recorded. The melding of two irrefutable vocal mega talents, Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand performances are sublime as they sing the words penned by Bruce Roberts and Paul Jabara, the latter also co-writing ‘It’s Raining Men’. So much gay. Opening with a sparse piano accompaniment as Barbra and Donna sing their exchanges, the song suddenly bursts into high energy disco brilliance at around the 1 minute 45 second mark. It was an international hit, and each singer had a slightly different version for their respective albums of the time, however Barbra’s version, the Columbia 7″ edit, has arguably aged better. Oddly enough, even given its success, the pair never performed the song together again following its initial recording. More’s the pity.
Honorable mentions: Billy Preston & Syreeta Wright – ‘With You I’m Born Again’
‘Islands in the Stream’ by Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton (1983)
A bit of country here, y’all. Originally written by the Bee Gees for Marvin Gaye, ‘Islands in the Stream’ was subsequently taken on by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton to become the international hit that so many now know and love. Fabulous hair from both parties no doubt help the greatness of this track, not to mention their wonderful two-part harmony.
Honourable mentions: Roberta Flack & Peabo Bryson – ‘Tonight, I Celebrate My Love’
‘Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves’ by Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin (1985)
Before the worldwide phenomenon of the late 90s that was the Spice Girls and their ‘girl power’, this stunning 80s duet is en enjoyable feminist anthem between Eurythmics/Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin. Filled with 80s drum machines and electronic blips and bleeps. ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ is as fun as it is no doubt empowering, combining big vocals with personality. Even the extended album version that runs at close to six minutes never outstays its welcome and feels like it could cheerfully run on for longer still.
Honourable mentions: Meatloaf & Cher – ‘Dead Ringer for Love’, Aretha Franklin and George Michael – ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’
‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’ by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes (1987)
An iconic song from an iconic film, ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’ was the icing on the Dirty Dancing cake, managing to win an Academy Award, Grammy and Golden Globe; and rightly so. The enthusiastic and joyful performances from Medley and Warnes are uplifting, and you can’t help but be put in a good mood when hearing this track. With the success of songs like this, recording original material for film soundtracks has become a highly desirable thing to do for artists.
Honourable mentions: John Travolta & Olivia Newton – ‘Summer Nights’, Nicole Kidman & Ewan McGregor – ‘Come What May’
‘Scream’ by Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson (1995)
What’s better than one Jackson? Two Jacksons, obviously. It’s an awesome BOGOF duet. Written as a retaliatory barb against the tabloids and their coverage of the child abuse allegations made against Michael during this period, it didn’t stop the song, and its $7 million music video, from being well received by critics and becoming a worldwide smash hit. Due to its subject matter and angry tone, ‘Scream’ is an unusual duet, as they most frequently concern love and relationships.
Honourable mentions: Neneh Cherry & Youssou N’Dour – ‘7 Seconds’, Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men – ‘One Sweet Day’
‘The Boy Is Mine’ by Brandy & Monica (1998)
For all concerned, ‘The Boy Is Mine’ was a great success. Brandy and Monica become internationally known stars, thanks in part to the rumoured rivalry that only served to increase the appeal of the song, but also thanks to the rising talent that was the co-writer and producer, one Rodney Jerkins, better known by his stage name, Darkchild. Serving as a kind of answer song to Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s 1982 duet, ‘The Girl Is Mine’, ‘The Boy Is Mine’ found the two young singers arguing over who was the real object of affection of an unnamed boy.
Honourable mentions: George Michael & Mary J Blige – ‘As’, Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey – ‘When You Believe’
‘Kids’ by Robbie Williams & Kylie Minogue (2000)
No music list on So So Gay would be complete without a little bit of Kylie Minogue. While her latest venture, ‘Skirt’, is rather a misfire, let’s remember one of her many brilliant efforts from her back catalogue. ‘Kids’ found the pocket pop princess teaming up with cheeky ex-Take That-er Robbie Williams. With loud guitars and soaring vocals, this was a stomping pop-rock number that deservedly hit the top spot in October of 2000.
Honourable mentions: Tom Jones & The Cardigans – ‘Burning Down the House’, Whitney Houston & Enrique Iglesias – ‘Could I Have This Kiss Forever’, Bryan Adams & Melanie C – ‘When You’re Gone’
‘Telephone’ by Lady Gaga & Beyoncé (2010)
The aforementioned Darkchild reappears here as writer and producer for this monster song from two modern-day superstars, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. While Lady Gaga also had the misfortune of appearing on Beyoncé’s lacklustre ‘Video Phone’, the pair really shone on this frantic pop hit, which came with an appropriately bonkers and eye-popping nine minute long music video. With fantastic vocals and a fun tone, this is probably the duet that is the complete package, thanks to it having the best/most ridiculous video from the entire selection listed here.
Honourable mentions: Nick Carter & Jennifer Paige – ‘Beautiful Lie’, Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown – ‘No Air’, Bryan Rice & Julie – ‘Curtain Call’
As an added bonus, here’s a little Spotify playlist for you, should you wish to give these all a spin. It even includes all the honourable mentions, though sadly not ‘Beautiful Lie’ which is currently unavailable on Spotify: