“It takes two, baby,” as Marvin & Tammi once sang.
So here are my all-time favorite twosomes — musically, that is.
(13) “Cruisin’,” Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis, 2000
This cover version of the Smokey Robinson hit came from a rotten movie about karaoke, but it grabbed me, with Gwynnie’s creamy vocals going with Huey’s rasp in a way that really captivates.
Extra weirdness was added by the fact that Huey played Gwynnie’s father in the movie, which was directed by her real father! Weird!
(12) “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” Diana Ross & the Supremes with the Temptations, 1969
Motown’s blockbuster acts combined for a sultry, sexy, and playful number one. I wished they’d crammed even more Motown stars in there. Martha & the Vandellas would have rocked on backups.
(11) (tie) “Enough Is Enough (No More Tears),” “It’s Raining Men,” “Heaven Knows”
When disco duetted, it was fieeee-rce, not to mention really danceable. These three have become historic (yet fizzy) gay anthems. Thank you, Barbra, Donna, the Weather Girls, and the guy who sang “Heaven Knows” with Donna.
(10) “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, Bonnie Tyler and whoever sang, “Turn around bright eyes,” 1983
This elaborate Jim Steinman rock opera posing as a nervous breakdown pretending to be a song is basically a duet — and a winner. It’s so throbbing and over-the-top and ultimately resigned, and I’m always completely wasted by the end of it. Every now and then I fall apart.
(9) “Broken Strings,” Nelly Furtado and James Morrison, 2008
Great harmonies add up to a stirring emotional blend that really cooks. This should have been a bigger hit in the U.S. I’ve played it on YouTube so many times it’s starting to come on automatically.
(8) “Islands in the Stream,” Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, 1983
I had to include something country! Besides, two friends and I won a karaoke prize singing this to harmonic perfection.
(7) “Highly Prized Possession” by Brian and Brenda Russell, 1977
Anything this then-married R&B duo did together soared, but the deeply felt “Possession” was their peak tune, their honey-drenched vocals melding for a steamy and sincere casserole of sound. I’ve kept my old turntable mainly so I can play their LP!
(6) “Something Stupid,” Frank and Nancy Sinatra
A love song done by a real father and daughter duo was an even weirder idea than the fake Gwynnie/Huey mash-up years later. But these two legends let it rip with their simply and goofily affecting duet. Ask me someday about my dirty cover version.
(5) “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” Aretha Franklin and George Michael, 1987
Two divas having fun with a neo-Motown meshing that was pure solid gold. This was surely the new WHAM.
(4) “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth,” Bing Crosby and David Bowie, 1977
The all-time weirdo combination, this duet works due to the sheer sweetness of the performance that was mercifully done without any extra irony laid on. Bowie reportedly did it to make his career more accessible and to please his mum, whereas no one’s sure if Bing even knew who Bowie was. The unexpectedly touching result was seen on a TV special that’s seared into my brain forever.
(3) “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart,” Elton John and Kiki Dee, 1976
Even as a youngish thing, I knew Kiki Dee wasn’t going to break Elton’s heart. I had a very strong feeling that no romantic complications were imminent between them at all. But I simply adored the pert, bouncy interplay between them and have always found this record to be like cotton candy for the soul. There’s something so damned catchy and reassuring about it; it uplifts every time.
(2) “You’re All I Need to Get By,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, 1968
Or anything by these two. They clicked and commingled and rocked and elevated everything they touched. They were as pizzazzy and refreshing as the sweet morning dew. They were the Gable & Lombard of pop.
And my fave …
(1) “I Got You Babe”, Sonny and Cher, 1965
The flat-out, heart-on-the-sleeve honesty and openness of their delivery is heart-wrenching and timeless, and when Cher does her “And when I’m sad, you’re a clown” bit, I get goosebumps.
To me, they’re still — and always — a duet.