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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

He Said/She Said: 20 Boy-Girl Duets for the Ages

By Douglas Newman
November 4th, 2008

There’s something special about duets with male and female voices. The contrast of sounds is pleasing to my ears. I especially like the ones where the vocalists are having a conversation through song - a musical he said/she said.

Below are 20 of my favorite boy/girl duets, listed in chronological order. Well, at least they’re my favorites as of today. What are some of your favorites?

1) “Tramp” by Otis Redding & Carla Thomas (1967)

Otis Redding

A soulful romp between Carla Thomas and Otis Redding finds her lamenting how he’s too poor and just not sophisticated enough to be her man. “Look here/You ain’t got no money/I got everything/You can’t buy me all those minks and sables and all that stuff I want.”

2) “Coração Vagabundo” by Gal Costa & Caetano Veloso (1967)

Gal Costa

You can’t get much smoother than this bossa nova gem with Tropacalia masters Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa. No matter where you listen to this track, it’s sunny and sultry.

3) “Some Velvet Morning” by Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra (1968)

Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra

Universally hailed as one the best duets, “Some Velvet Morning” is a sultry psychedlic masterpiece delivered stunningly delivered by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. The lyrics consist of the male part describing a mysterious, powerful woman named Phaedra, who educated the speaker in the ways of love. The male part alternates with the female part, who identifies herself as Phaedra and speaks over ethereal, twinkling music about beautiful nature imagery — “flowers growing on a hill / dragonflies and daffodils” — and about the secrets held by an unknown collective “we.”

4) “Jackson” by Johnny Cash & June Carter (1968)

Johnny Cash

The quintessential collaboration between Johnny Cash and June Carter, “Jackson” tells the tale of a married couple who find that the “fire” has gone out of their relationship. The song relates the desire of both partners to travel to a city named Jackson (possibly Jackson, Mississippi or Jackson, Tennessee) where they each expect to be welcomed as someone far better suited to the city’s lively night life than the other is.

5) “Je t’aime… moi non plus” by Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin (1969)

Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin

Erotic to the core, this duet was originally sung by Gainsbourg and his ex, Brigitte Bardot, but she pleaded with him not to release it fearing repercussions by her then husband, Gunther Sachs. A year later, Gainsbourg re-recorded the song with his new lover, English actress Jane Birkin. The song was controversial for its suggestive lyrics (”I come and I go, in between your loins”) and simulated orgasm sounds. It was banned from radio play in Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the UK, and denounced by the Vatican in a public statement.

6) “Don’t Believe Nothing” by Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm with Tina Turner (1973)

Ike & Tina

This is a somewhat rare Ike and Tina track from the early seventies when Ike was starting to experiment with more funky arrangements and advanced recording techniques. He was a fairly early adopter of the ARP and drum machine, taking a cue from Herbie Hancock and other cosmic funksters. I first heard this song quite recently on the wonderful compilation, More Dirty Laundry: The Soul Of Black Country. Pure genius!

7) “In My Hour of Darkness” by Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris (1974)

Gram Parsons

I never tire of this track, one in a long line of brilliant collaborations between Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Their voices seem to have been made for each other. Listen to this song and you’ll know what I mean.

8) “I Never Talk to Strangers” by Tom Waits & Bette Midler (1977)

Tom Waits

Taken from Tom Waits’ boozy, bluesy album Foreign Affairs, “I Never Talk to Strangers” is a humorous romp with the pre-cheesy torch singer, Bette Midler. It’s basically a dialogue between two lonely singles at a bar, delivered with the gruff resignation of Tom Waits and the zippy jazz vocals of Midler.

9) “Los Angeles” by X (Exene Cervenka & John Doe) (1980)


X’s Los Angeles is one of the great recordings of the punk era, thanks in part to the perfect vocal team of John Doe & Exene Cervenka. Add to that the ace rockabilly guitar work of Billy Zoom and Doe’s poetic lyrics and you got one of the decade’s most exciting, and underrated, bands.

10) “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel with Kate Bush (1986)

Peter Gabriel

Taken from Gabriel’s hit album, So, “Don’t Give Up” describes the despair of a man who feels that the economic system has no place for him, and the support and wise counsel sung in the refrain by Bush. It’s a beautiful ballad with an ultimately uplifiting message that serves, over 20 years later, as a great anthem of our current economic times.

11) “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl (1987)

The Pogues

Without question one of the best duets in rock and roll, Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan play the roles, in a classic call and response, of two Irish immigrants, lovers or ex-lovers, their youthful hopes crushed by alcoholism and drug addiction, reminiscing and bickering on Christmas Eve in New York City.

12) “Shaking Hands (Soldier’s Joy)” by Michelle Shocked with Uncle Tupelo (1991)

Michelle Shocked

Uncle Tupelo were at the height of their powers when they were recruited by Michelle Shocked to record this duet for her Arkansas Traveler album in 1991. A raucous alt-country classic, the song features Jay Farrar as a wounded Confederate soldier who becomes addicted to morphine during his recovery. “Shaking hands — I took the bitter pill/Tell the story on my grave, my soul they could not save/What the bullet could not kill, the needle will.”

13) “Sometimes Always” by The Jesus & Mary Chain with Hope Sandoval (1994)

The Jesus & Mary Chain

This song by The Jesus and Mary Chain with Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval is pure cool and a great example of the he said/she said style of I referred to in the introduction. An amazing song from a vastly underrated album. I dare you to listen and not be hooked.

14) “Interlude” by Morrissey & Siouxsie Sioux (1994)

Morrissey & Siouxsie Sioux

Two eighties new wave giants hooked up for this string-drenched ballad, a song first featured in the 1968 film of the same name and sung by Timi Yuro. It’s definitely got that 1960s decadence sound and Morrissey and Siouxsie perfectly capture that era with their dramatic vocal performances.

15) “Where the Wild Roses Grow” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds with Kylie Minogue (1996)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

A truly eerie song sung by a murderer and his victim from beyond the grave. Cave’s character is entranced by Elisa Day’s (Minogue’s character) beauty and hates the idea of it fading, so he kills her in order to preserve the memory of her beauty forever.

16) “Marriage Made in Heaven” by Tindersticks with Isabella Rossellini (1997)


Tindersticks have become masters at the duet form, with Stuart Staples’ sonorous baritone nicely contrasted with various female vocalists, including Ann Magnuson from Bongwater and Carla Torgeson from The Walkabouts. But my favorite is a lighthearted collaboration with Italian actress Isabella Rossellini. Listen to her giggling at the end of the track and you know that her glee is genuine.

17) “I’ve Seen it All” by Bjork with Thom Yorke (1997)


A meeting of the king and queen of experimental pop music, this stunning duet was featured on Bjork’s Selmasongs, the quasi-soundtrack album for the film Dancer in the Dark. Those two idiosyncratic voices are magic alone and absolutely sublime together. The two recently hooked up again for Bjork’s latest single, “Nattura,” which benefits Náttúra Campaign, the Icelandic environmental movement co-founded by the pixie songstress.

18) “The Way You Dream” by Michael Stipe & Asha Bhosle (2002)

1 Giant Leap

Recorded for the 1 Giant Leap project, this duet finds R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe singing with Indian superstar, Asha Bhosle. Jungle beats, furious hand-drumming, putorino (a New Zealand flute) and kora blend with the voices to make a spellbinding multi-kulti gem.

19) “Portland Oregon” by Loretta Lynn with Jack White (2004)

Loretta Lynn

An inspired collaboration between country legend, Loretta Lynn, and indie rock god, Jack White. Lynn’s comeback album was produced by White and features a more raw crunch than her previous efforts. This song capitalizes on each artist’s strength and is a classic.

20) “Death to Los Campesinos!” by Los Campesinos! (Aleksandra & Gareth) (2008)

Los Campesinos

This song is just pure fun and rabid energy with humor to boot from one of my favorite bands of 2008.


Diego Fagundes November 6, 2008 at 5:27 PM  

loved your selection!

"coração vagabundo" and "jackson" are fantastic tracks.

let me ask you something, where did you get the code for this tiny flash mp3 player you used?

by the way, nice blog!!

gjblass November 7, 2008 at 9:44 AM  

i found it on a website.