The duet is often maligned. What should be a simple yet effective songwriting tool has been ruined by years of cheesy celebrity cameos, lackluster songwriting and poor musical pairings. But there are also a few gleaming gems out there. Here are our favorite duets in history. Let use know about your favorites in the comments!
See also: The Ten Worst Duets in Pop History10. (She & Him) M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel: "Baby it's Cold Outside"
Despite the controversy, "Baby It's Cold Outside" is the epitome of a great duet. Written in 1944 by Frank Loesser (known for his little Broadway hit
), the song features a male and female vocalist, each trading lines, lending equal importance to the narrative progression of the song. That story arc -- between a man, who is trying to get a woman to stay the night instead of venturing into the cold, and the woman, who is trying to leave -- has uncomfortable overtones. She and Him challenged the implications of the song by switching their roles.9. Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Gillian Welch "Lua"
From his initial angst-ridden project, Commander Venus, to his tear-jerking mainstay, Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst has always been a sad bastard. The fact that he penned "Lua," from Bright Eyes' 2005 effort,I'm Wide Awake, it's Morning
, is a prime example of his inherent emo-ness. For the 2009 compilation albumDark Was the Night
, Oberst revamped the tune with a little help from the Americana legend Gillian Welch. Their version is so surprisingly carefree and sweet, Oberst sounds like a happy dude for once.
8. Dewey and Darlene Cox's "Let's Duet" Is a duet that makes fun of duets actually good? Well, if you fill it with sexual puns, it is. "Let's Duet," sung by John C. Reilly and Angela Correa, is a funny-but-awesome track from the 2007 comedy, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Written as a parody of the typical rock biopic (Ray, Walk the Line), the film centers around country singer Dewey Cox (Reilly) and his rise to stardom. When he meets his second wife, Darlene (Jenna Fischer), he definitely wants to "duet" with her, and duet they do.
7. Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's "The Lady is a Tramp" Compared to a few other cringeworthy duets off Tony Bennett's 2011 album, Duets II, his rendition of "The Lady is a Tramp" with Lady Gaga is spot on. Both Bennett and Gaga belt the 1937 Rodgers and Hart showtune, popularized by Frank Sinatra. Beyond hearing Bennett's signature croon and Gaga's great jazz chops, it's fun to listen to what a good time they're having. Gaga riffs on her trampy image, Bennett has a few laughs and they improvise a few verses about hanging out, doing trampy shit together.
6. Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran's "Everything has Changed" Unlike Taylor Swift's radi-cool new pop album, 1989, her 2012 effort, Red, leaned more toward country territory, but featured a few poppy guest stars, including the british heartthrob Ed Sheeran. Together, Swift and Sheeran's voices make the catchy little number about new love, "Everything has Changed," really shine.
5. Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder's "Ebony and Ivory" There are a couple reasons why "Ebony and Ivory" is considered a bad duet, but let's talk about why it's good. No matter what, the song's message is positive, it has a catchy hook and Paul McCartney singing alongside Stevie Wonder equals good times. Also, it should be pretty clear that when Wonder and McCartney wrote the song, they knew perfect racial harmony didn't exist in the world. Instead, they were imagining what it would be like if racial harmony were that simple.
4. Ray Charles and Willie Nelson's "Seven Spanish Angels" Although he was the king of soul, Ray Charles was also an amazing country singer. On Willie Nelson's 1985 duets album, Half Nelson, Charles helps Nelson do a smokey version of "Seven Spanish Angels." It's a grand ole song about two outlaws in love who get backed into a corner and have to fight to the death while seven Spanish angels wait patiently for them to die. Pretty brutal stuff, but as Charles and Nelson know, that's what country music is all about.
3. Sonny and Cher Bono's "I Got You Babe" After starting their careers as backup singers for Phil Spector, Sonny and Cher Bono broke out in 1965, rising to the top of the charts with "I Got You Babe." Written and composed by Sonny, the duet is the ultimate love song. It also summed up the growing hippie movement pretty nicely: who needs material possessions when you got your babe? Contrary to the ethos of their hit single, Sonny and Cher divorced in 1975. Cher went on to sell a ton of records and Sonny cut his hair to become a member of Congress. Weird.
2. Freddie Mercury (Queen) and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" If there's one thing to take away from Freddie Mercury and David Bowie's 1981 hit "Under Pressure," it's that vocal scatting makes everything better. In between Mercury's improvised vocables, though, are some truly endearing lyrics about trying to overcome the weight of the world and the "pressure" of it all. As Bowie belts during his refrains, "It's the terror of knowing what this world is about, watching some good friends screaming, 'Let me out!'" Both Mercury and Bowie drive the duet forward with their raw, expression-filled lines until the booming crescendo and that final, ever-so-memorable bass line.
1. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" Motown Records made some of the best music of the 20th century, period. Marvin Gaye's duet with Tammi Terrell, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," is no exception. Gaye kicks off the song by asking Terell to "listen, baby" in his velvet coo. She responds to Gaye's mountain-climbing, valley-trekking, river-crossing love call by letting him know that, no matter how far away he is, she'll be there for him. If that's not true love (and the best duet ever), I don't know what is.
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
- 50 Photos That Prove Red Rocks Is the Most Beautiful Venue on the Planet
- Photos: Musicians Buying (Legal) Weed in Denver
- The Ten Most Underrated Guitarists in the History of Rock
- 50 Ways to Support Your DIY Music Community
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!