Monday, October 13, 2008

Still Thinkin' About Those Duets

Freedy Johnston and Syd Straw--"Down In Love" (mp3)
Pete Townshend and Eddie Vedder--"Heart To Hang On To (live)" (mp3)

Merriam-Webster bailed me out. I had got to thinking that maybe I wasn't talking about duets at all in that post last Friday. Maybe I was just talking about songs with two singers. Maybe there were some specific parameters as to what constitutes a "duet." But Merriam-Webster's definition says no problem, a duet is simply "a composition for two performers." That's it.

And that's good, because I like songs where both singers do the entire song in harmony, like Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs on "Green Pastures" and I like songs where one person sings the song for the most part but the other comes in at key moments, like the way Michael Stipe echoes lines on Syd Straw's "Future 40's" or how Linda Rondstadt sings the stunningly gorgeous descant on Warren Zevon's "Empty-Handed Heart."

So the rules are looser than I thought and the doorway is open and, if you are prone to comment, I'd like to hear some of your favorite duets.

I've listed two new ones here that both work a little bit differently. Freedy Johnston has Syd Straw sing all of the verses of his song, and then he sings what functions as a chorus while she repeats the title of the song. Pete Townshend has Eddie Vedder take the part that the late Ronnie Lane originally sang; they take turns with both verse and chorus. Eddie is kind of a duet/guest performer whore--he's the Michael Caine of popular music--since he'll show up and play with just about anybody at any time. But you know what, I kind of like that. I kind of like when Eddie's voice comes in on other people's songs more than I like many of his own entire songs. Huh. Maybe that makes him kind of a Bono-wannabe. But better?

One of my favorite pairs is Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks. I don't know much about Stevie's career post-about-25-years-ago, but I do know that she came back for Tom Petty's 30th anniversary concert down in Gainesville, Florida. And while he while he gives her one of his best songs, "I Need To Know," to sing and tells the crowd that this is the best version you'll ever hear, it isn't, in fact, it kind of sucks, but she redeems herself by dueting with him on "Insider" and even sings the female vocal part on "Don't Come Around Here No More." Some of it, especially "Insider," is spine-tingling. They do a great cover of "Needles and Pins" on Pack Up The Plantation, too.

I don't really know how long I'll keep working this duet thing, but it does have me searching through my stacks of cd's seeing what else I have. It also has me, as this post confirms, evaluating my duet philosophy. Is sampling a vocal track a duet? My only real rule on duets--I don't really do that "duets with dead people" thing, but, who knows, there will probably come a song where I think it works and I'll have to throw that rule out. But until Jim Morrison and Rhianna get together, I'm holding fast to that one.

"Down in Love" is off of Freedy Johnston's breakout cd, Can You Fly? The live Pete and Eddie track is from a benefit show performed in Chicago a few years ago. I think it was a limited cd and I think it's out of print. Shame.


Anonymous said...

"You Think Too Hard" with Syd Straw and Michael Stipe is awfully good; in fact, there was a time when REM was still relevant when Stipe seemed to be everywhere in duet land--B Five Two's, Natalie Merchant to name a few.

In more of a pop-country mode, Radney Foster does several good duets, my favorite being "Baby, I'm In" with Abra Moore.

Anonymous said...

eddie and cornell i;m going hungry

radams norah jones dear john

i heard m ward, jim james and oberst on austin cl one nite do o'brien's car (not sure the name of that song)--aboslutely amazing--can't find it on-line though

i'd like hear mccain and putin, i mean palin, sing all you fascists bound to lose

Anonymous said...

Duh...just realized that you referenced the Syd Straw (I wasn't thinking of the title correctly, a malady from which I often suffer). Either way, great song.