Bruce Springsteen's recent guest appearance with the Rolling Stones got us thinking about great duets. They've been a staple of the charts since the beginning of pop music, and even today a huge percentage of tracks on the Hot 100 feature two or more artists. We asked our readers to select their favorite duets of all time. (In a funny coincidence, the top three songs all came from 1981.) Click through to see the results.
Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash met at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and soon formed a tight friendship, culminating in February of 1969 when they spent a few days recording together at Columbia's Studio A in Nashville, Tennessee. They played everything from "Ring of Fire" to "One Too Many Mornings" to "You Are My Sunshine," but the only thing that wound up getting officially released was "Girl From the North Country." It's clearly a little unrehearsed and they even screw up some of the words, but it doesn't matter. It was the perfect way to kick off Nashville Skyline. Hopefully they get around to releasing the entire session on a future edition of Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series.
Less than a year after Bob Dylan released his caustic "It Ain't Me Babe," Sonny Bono decided to write what's essentially a response song. He'd recently fallen madly in love with Cher and Dylan's words just didn't speak to him. The song was an enormous smash, hitting Number One in the summer of 1965. It kicked off a long run of hits that eventually lead to a variety series, though they divorced in 1975. Still, the song had an extremely long afterlife. They sang it on Late Night With David Letterman on a famous 1987 episode and in the 1993 classic Groundhog Day, Phil Connors wakes up every single morning to the song. On Cher's ongoing tour, she sings the song as a virtual duet with Sonny Bono.
Pearl Jam's early history is so convoluted that it's difficult to properly explain without a powerpoint presentation or at least a series of flowcharts and a laser pointer. Simply stated, some of the members played in the Seattle group Mother Love Bone until their frontman Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose in 1990. They recruited a young singer named Eddie Vedder and renamed themselves Pearl Jam, and around this exact same time Chris Cornell wrote a series of songs dedicated to Wood. He cut them with Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and members of Pearl Jam under the name Temple of the Dog. "Hunger Strike" turned into a duet between Cornell and Vedder, though it didn't receive much attention until Pearl Jam blew up a couple years later. Temple of the Dog has reunited at a few Pearl Jam shows, and "Hunger Strike" always gets a huge reaction. It's basically become the grunge "National Anthem."
The Bees Gees were just about the least cool group in the planet by 1983. Disco was most assuredly dead and they seemed like fossils from another era. This posed a problem when the group wrote a sure-fire hit like "Islands in the Stream." They could either release it on their own and watch it sink like a stone, or they could give it to two huge stars like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. The gambit worked and the song became a monster hit. Not many people even realized it was a Bee Gees song, but that didn't stop the money from flowing in to the brothers Gibb.
Real-life couple Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson knew they had something special on their hands when they wrote "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in 1966. They even declined an offer from Dusty Springfield to record the track since they thought it was get them access to the hallowed halls of Motown. The plan worked and it became the first of many duets recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. The duo had a brief run of amazing hits, but Terrell was sidelined by a brain cancer diagnosis that took her life in 1970. She was only 24.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin were working on their 1976 LP Blue Moves when they decided to write a duet like the great Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell songs of Sixties. They recruited English pop singer Kiki Dee to sing the song with Elton and it shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Elton has since gone on to sing the song with everyone from Miss Piggy to RuPaul.
1986 was a really, really good time to be a member of Genesis, past or present. Phil Collins was still coasting off the huge success of No Jacket Required, Mike Rutherford's side project Mike and the Mechanics dropped "All I Need Is a Miracle," Steve Hackett's prog supergroup GTR scored a supremely unlikely radio hit with "When the Heart Rules The Mind," Genesis themselves reached a commercial peak with Invisible Touch and Peter Gabriel finally broke through to the mainstream with So. The track list nearly reads like a greatest hits collection ("In Your Eyes," "Sledgehammer," "Red Rain," "Big Time"), and the fifth single was "Don't Give Up," a beautiful and inspiring duet with Kate Bush. In recent years it's been covered by Alicia Keys with Bono and Willie Nelson with Sinead O'Connor.
They've never talked much about it, but Don Henley and Stevie Nicks dated for a couple of years in the 1970s. They remained friends even after the breakup, and when Nicks cut her debut solo LP in 1981, Henley agreed to duet with her on "Leather and Lace," a track she originally wrote for Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. The country pair named their 1981 album Leather and Lace, but inexplicably cut the song from their disc. It was their loss since Henley and Nicks brought it to Number Six on the Hot 100, proving they didn't need the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac to land songs on the radio.
Stevie Nicks wasn't going to take any chances on Bella Donna, her first solo album. Not only did she recruit Don Henley for "Leather and Lace," but managed to get her hands on "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," a song Tom Petty and Mike Campbell wrote and slated for a Heartbreakers album. Stevie worked some of her magic (with a little help from Jimmy Iovine) and the song moved to her album. It hit Number Three on the Hot 100. They've sung it together a number of times over the years, most notably on Petty's 2006 tour, which featured Nicks on many of the dates.
In July 1981, David Bowie headed over to Montreux's Mountain Studio to record a track with Queen. He originally planned on singing on "Cool Cat," but the session didn't gel. Luckily, the four members of Queen and Bowie started jamming on a new piece that soon morphed into "Under Pressure." The whole thing came together within a matter of hours, though there's a dispute to this day over who exactly came up with the iconic bass line. The song became a worldwide hit, though the never performed it together live — even though Bowie's set immediately followed Queen's at Live Aid.