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The Greatest Oldies Duets

Songs about love and relationships by musical duos of the '50s-'70s


11. "Where Is The Love," Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway

How could a lingering, tortured breakup sound so sweet? Angelic, even? Well, first you need two of the greatest Seventies soulsters in the business, then you couch the song in a supermellow vibe, and there you have it -- a perfect breakup song for the most understanding and emotionally open of eras (whether or not you think this is a good thing). One of the more enigmatic songs on this list, if only for the fact that both the male and female leads share lines like "Oh, how I wish I'd never met you" and "Why did you have to lie?" Now that's he-said she-said.

12. "Some Velvet Morning," Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra

Said to have created a musical genre all by itself -- Cowboy Psychedelia, or what some dub the "Saccharine Underground" -- this 1968 quasi-hit would occupy a singularly weird place in history even if no one had picked up on it. How else can you explain a cowboy talking about his experiences with the goddess Phaedra while Sinatra's daughter, as Phaedra, tells him what he can learn from the flowers? Wow. As always, personality pulls it off: these two always had a chemistry in the studio. But Hazlewood named his granddaughter Phaedra, which, in Greek mythology, would make him Zeus. Your guess is as good as mine.

13. "You're The One That I Want," John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John

There are a lot of great duet moments in Grease, the musical that took a slightly skewed but reverent look back at Where The Boys Are and its ilk, but this is, after all, the moment that Danny and Sandy realize they're right for each other. (He's tried being a jock, and she's tried being a slut, so it's apparently the effort that counts.) John's not much of a singer, granted, but he treats it like an acting job, and Olivia, perhaps surprisingly, has no trouble propping him up. And it has a chorus that deserves the endless repetition.

14. "Reunited," Peaches and Herb

Perhaps the ultimate make-up song, this duet by Peaches and Herb (who, with a different "Peaches," scored a handful of R&B hits in the mid-Sixties) makes breaking up seem, by turns, necessary and educational ("Our quarrel was such a way of learning so much"). Perhaps that's why it sat at Number One for a solid month, selling three million copies in the process. Or maybe it was the interplay between Herb and his latest peach, who, like the five others (!) was never involved with him romantically. Hey, whatever works.

15. "Someday We'll Be Together," Diana Ross and the Supremes

Of course it's not really a duet, but doesn't it feel like one? Much like Lou Rawls did for Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me," relative unknown Johnny Bristol goads Diana, call-and-response style, through the song. Seems Bristol had co-written, developed, and produced the song as a vehicle for Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, but when Motown head Berry Gordy heard the nearly-finished track, he immediately turned it into the Supremes' last Diana-led single. (The backing female voices are not the Supremes at all.) Bristol guided Diana through the song with harmony and occasional encouragement, and accidentally recorded the results -- which, in the final wash, sounds like two lovers pledging their eternal fidelity.

16. "It Takes Two," Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston

Marvin had chemistry with absolutely everyone, which makes him either a consummate pro or a perv, depending on how you view his later, sexier cuts. He remains famous for his duets, though the ones he made with Kim Weston, Mary Wells and Diana Ross usually pale when placed next to his glorious Tammi Terrell singles. This one was a big hit, however, and deservedly so -- although it uses its two leads not to detail a specific romance so much as the idea of romance itself. Think of it as a commercial for not staying single. Sample line: "Two can make just any place seem just like bein' at home."

17. "Hey Paula," Paul and Paula

Paul and Paula were actually Ray and Jill -- that is, Ray Hildebrand, a Brownwood, TX student, and Jill Jackson, niece of the guy who ran Ray's boarding house. When the duo sang this song on their Sunday afternoon radio show, they soon had an instant hit on their hands. They only managed one follow up hit with "Young Lovers," but this sweetly innocent pledge of devotion -- as simple and effective as a Valentine -- remains a favorite. And it essentially inspired the rock duet craze of the mid-Sixties.

18. "I'm Leaving It All Up To You," Dale and Grace

Credited with being the first "swamp-pop" single to hit the national charts, this duet did indeed feature Cajun melodies in a rock waltz setting. Which makes sense, because these "Sweethearts of the Sixties" perfected their hit in Prairieville, LA, just up the road from New Orleans and not far from the heart of Acadiana. With both leads singing at once, more in the style of a country weeper, this one is rustic enough and effective enough to have been covered by Freddy Fender and Sonny and Cher. (Also Donny and Marie, who took a watered-down version to the Top Ten in the Seventies.)

19. "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)," Brook Benton and Dinah Washington

These two had one of the sexiest vocal combinations in pop music, with Brook's low growl bumping and grinding up against Dinah's high sass. But they also had the sparks going, too -- enough for them to make a vocal miscue somewhere in the last verse seem like the sly, half-serious bantering of newlyweds. "You're back in my spot again, honey," she purrs, to which Brook replies, "I like your spot." Little wonder that this duo racked up two Number One R&B hits in the same year.

20. "Something You Got," Chuck Jackson and Maxine Brown

Chuck's brand of "Uptown Soul" usually proved a little too slick for most hardcore R&B fans, but the "Any Day Now" singer proved he could handle the gutbucket stuff quite well with this 1965 Top Ten hit, which features him trading off with Maxine Brown (best known for her R&B hit "Oh! No Not My Baby"). Slowing Chris Kenner's original New Orleans smash down to a stealthy crawl, he and Maxine pack a ton and a half of raw sexual energy into the pointedly vague lyrics -- if Kenner sounded like he was in love, these two sounded like something darker (and maybe more fun) was going down.
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