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20 Best Dramatic Duets of All Time

From breakups to make-ups, here are 20 guy/girl pairings that make beautiful harmonies

Don Henley Stevie Nicks Dramatic Duets

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So many co-sung tunes are a man and a woman trading bars about love and heartbreak, but only a handful of them have enough tone, intent, content, and chemistry to resonate. Here are 20 of the most memorable. By Maura Johnston and Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

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9. Barbra Striesand & Neil Diamond – “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”

One of the greatest duets in history was actually a fluke: Each cut was a take of this Neil Diamond song individually. But in 1978, a scorned, just-divorced radio jockey from Louisville, Kentucky, spliced them together as a spiteful missive to his ex-wife. Thus an apparently messy end sparked a beautiful beginning: The makeshift duet was so popular that Diamond and Streisand were compelled by their label to record an actual duet, which brought the pain of a break-up to a whole new level — and shot to Number One on the Billboard charts.

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8. Patti Austin & James Ingram – “Baby Come to Me”

This staple of early-'80s smooth jazz playlists is one of two pairings between the precocious Austin (her first Apollo appearance came when she was four years old) and the Ohio-born Ingram, who was just getting his performer bearings when he laid down the track for Austin's 1981 album Every Home Should Have One.  "James did not consider himself a singer," Austin told the Palm Beach Post in 2005. "He was a writer and a musician, and he had no stage chops. Here I had been in the music business for 30 years, and he hadn't been doing it five minutes!" Their chemistry, however seemingly mismatched, proved undeniable, and they paired up again for the Oscar-nominated 1983 track "How Do You Keep The Music Playing?"

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7. Ashford & Simpson – “Solid”

The key to this song is not the bombastic chorus, nor its triumphant disco synths. It's in the subtle curlicues: Simpson's breathless counter-harmonies on Ashford's verse; the half-key ascension on the pre-chorus; and, especially, when the duo sings "ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-hot!" It's a study in composition and chemistry, and an example of what takes a song from being great to being a lasting pop hit. Granted, songwriting powerhouses and real-life spouses Ashford and Simpson together could do no wrong, but this is a high point, a song perfect for weddings and the roller rink (and, if you're adventurous, both at the same time).

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6. Peaches & Herb – “Reunited”

It's currently all over the airwaves thanks to a cheeky tax-preparation ad, but back at the turn of the Eighties this duet between Herb Fame and Linda Greene (the second woman to fill the "Peaches" role on record) was even more ubiquitous, its tale of two lovers drawn back together after too much time spent apart serving as a wedding staple, a massive radio hit and even as a seduction accompaniment for people who were just getting to know one another. "I always hear people saying that their child was made off of that song," Fame told The Washington Post in 2009. 

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5. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – “I’m Your Puppet”

One of R&B's great singing duos, there's a sweet restraint on Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's hit "I'm Your Puppet" – both singers have extremely powerful voices but they're trodding along this song almost gingerly, the "I'll do anything for you" sentiment conveyed by their tenderness. It also showcases why these two were such a great pair: They have similar vocal tone, but they could vary them just enough to hit a sweet spot in their harmonies, implying total surrender to the music.

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4. Cherrelle feat. Alexander O’Neal – “Saturday Love”

This wistful remembrance of a romance that first bloomed over a weekend is a showcase for the production talents of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, with shimmering keyboards, towering 808s and guarded-yet-giving interplay between the two singers. It gets a little bit of added backstory on Cherrelle's High Priority — O'Neal spots his ex-flame at a bar and agonizes over seeing her, leading up to Cherrelle's shy "It's been a long time, I didn't think I was going to see you again" opening gambit. 

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3. Stevie Nicks & Don Henley – “Leather & Lace”

The grizzly-voiced leaders of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, respectively, were practically born to sing together about difficult love: Their voices cracked in complimentary places and, on this 1981 hit, both sounded like they'd been caravan-ing on motorcycles across the open highway for a long time. A relationship conversation in real time, they devote the song to singing how true they promise to be to one another, but in a lonely minor key so you get the feeling they both know they're lying to themselves. But here in the moonlight, they need each other today – and for now, it's all that matters.

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2. Diana Ross & Lionel Ritchie – “Endless Love”

This Lionel Richie-penned track topped the Billboard Hot 100 for a solid two months in 1981, and it's easy to hear why; the lush production and restrained yet powerhouse performances by Richie and his duet partner Diana Ross made it the type of song that any human with even an inkling of romantic feeling could relate to. The reaction startled Richie, who at that point was still with the soul outfit the Commodores: "Things got unbelievable," Richie said in a 1982 interview with the Chicago Tribune. "It was 'Endless Love,' endless award shows, endless everything." Endless variations on that song's theme, too — it's since been covered by Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross, a slew of American Idol hopefuls, and Richie himself (with Shania Twain as his foil). 

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1. Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton – “Islands in the Stream”

The Bee Gees — Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb — worked with Kenny Rogers on his 1983 country chart-topper Eyes That See In the Dark. The fact that they wrote this fidelity-minded smash surprised people —although their handiwork is made plain by the exquisite harmonies on its chorus. (That chorus returned to the pop charts 15 years later, when Mya and Pras appropriated it for the briefly ubiquitous "Ghetto Superstar.") The blindingly obvious chemistry between Rogers and Parton turbocharged this track's popularity, and it became the Number One song of 1983 and the second crossover hit for both of the Nashville superstars. 

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