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20 Greatest Duos of All Time

The two-live crews who perfected the pair

simon and garfunkel

Douglas R. Gilbert/Redferns

Less narcissistic than solo performers, more intimate than a mere "band," musical duos embody a special chemistry. Sometimes that announces itself in genetically enhanced voices; at other times through a subtle yin-yang of two halves creating a whole. These 20 duos have stood the test of time, even if their relationship was only temporary, and created sounds that are theirs alone. Because, as one memorable duo (Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston) and then another (Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock) stated on separate occasions: It takes two. By Richard Gehr and Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

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5. Eric B. & Rakim

Has there ever been a more clearly musical meeting of man and machinery than the blend of MC Rakim's smooth, authoritative, and jazz-influenced verbal facility with DJ Eric Barrier's sample-sizzling turntable prowess? The two Long Islanders took their talent from zero to infinity in the time it took them to cook up their benchmark 1986 single "Eric B. Is President," quickly record Paid in Full, and then nail it all down with 1988's fully fleshed-out Follow the Leader. "The man so smooth, the world so rough," boasts Rakim in Leader's title track, a righteous existential observation and sly Eagles lift. Two less successful albums later, though, it was splitsville for the golden era's most masterful twosome.

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4. The Louvin Brothers

Raised in the Baptist Sacred Harp tradition, hardscrabble harmonizers Ira and Charlie Louvin were the most gripping and influential of country music's many memorable brotherly pairings. During a career that took them from pool halls to the Grand Ole Opry, these Alabama sharecropper's sons epitomized country's Saturday-night, Sunday-morning dialectic on mid-Fifties hallmarks such as Tragic Songs of Life and Satan Is Real. But while they were capable of leaping octaves and swapping lead and harmony lines within a single word, they couldn't transcend volatile mandolinist Ira's earthly weakness for women, wine, and ass-whomping. So Charlie launched a solo career in 1963, while Ira died with his fourth wife in a head-on collision two years later at age 41.

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3. Simon & Garfunkel

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel lent quietude to a time in the U.S. that was defined by tumult – first the sexual revolution and social justice movements, then the quagmire of Vietnam. The quietly harmonizing Queens duo echoed New York's folk revival, and their first big hit, "Mrs. Robinson" (from The Graduate), signaled the coming wave of sexual liberation. But songs like 1969's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" echoed not just the war, but also interpersonal problems the duo was having, predicting years of artistic tension. It's all good, though – these dudes keep getting the band back together, and by now have played for over a half-century.

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2. Ike & Tina Turner

It's well-documented why these two were a toxic pairing – Ike's physical abuse was so extreme that when she finally broke it off in 1976, she hid out and bought a gun for protection, just in case. It's a horrific legacy that clouds their decades of collaboration, which happen to be some of the most indelible American music ever. Imagine "Proud Mary" without Tina's crackly whorl and Ike's baritone counter-melody? Hell, imagine the Rolling Stones' music if they had never toured with them? Ike & Tina's versatile interchange traversed genre like none before them – from folk and funk and country to deep soul, psych, and even musicals – while reinventing what a rock and roll performance could be via their onstage energy (and Tina's leg-power dances for days). Tina has understandably not wished to be associated with Ike for three decades, even forgoing their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (Phil Spector accepted the award in her stead). But their contributions to rock, both mutually and separately, will never be forgotten.

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1. The Everly Brothers

Actual brothers Don and Phil grew up harmonizing together in Iowa, and Tennessee, and once their harmonic style took over the airwaves in the Fifties, the influence of Appalachia infiltrated the burgeoning rock movement, spreading pretty vocals to legends like Buddy Holly. A little falsetto, a little alto, a little love song, and heartthrobs were born. But more importantly, it's nigh impossible to imagine the the decade without invoking their biggest hits: "Bye Bye Love," "Wake Up Little Susie," and "All I Have to Do is Dream" embodied the era's post-war calm, as the country settled into upward mobility, suburbs, and the vast possibility of American highways. They soundtracked a turning point, however brief; but their influence crossed generations: the Beatles, the Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel, the Bee Gees, Green Day, and beyond.