At Least I Have You - Mates of State (mp3)
Chances Are - Bob Seger & Martina McBride (mp3)
Boy-girl duets is nothing new, mind you. Helloooo, Sonny & Cher? Donny & Marie? The history of pop music is replete with duets, from Kiki joining Elton to Rihanna guesting with Eminem or Coldplay.
But the fact is this: You put a male and a female in a song, singing into one another, singing around one another, singing on top of one another, and I’ll give your song five times the chance of success.
The song doesn’t have to be overtly sexual, because the allure of male-female singing goes far deeper than mere genitalia. It follows a rule similar to Jules' explanation of foot massages in "Pulp Fiction." A male-female duet hits me in the same core as bagpipes or African drums; something primal in me is instantly drawn to it.
Trying to name all the current bands on my radar which exploit this weakness is virtually impossible. The Weepies, The Civil Wars, The Rescues, Mates of State, The Belle Brigade, The New Pornographers, Buddy & Julie Miller. Those are all bands who earn chronic rotation in my musical life.
Others include The Ting Tings, Lady Antebellum, Sugarland, Swell Season, Acid House Kings, Sleeper Agent, Black-Eyed Peas, COYOL. These are all without even looking at my iTunes collection. There’s no telling how many I’m missing.
Glee, the entire show, the cultural phenomenon, rocketed into instant success the minute they turned "Don't Stop Believin'" into a male-female duet.
The ‘70s and ‘80s seemed better about single-gender combinations, groups where multiple dudes shared singing duties or sang on top of one another. Hall & Oates, Tears for Fears, Wham, Alabama, The Eagles, Flock of Seagulls... the Beatles, even. Almost the only obvious exception that stands out is Fleetwood Mac.
But you sit me down and ask me to start rattling off all the songs from my life I’ve loved that harnessed the power of a male-female duet, and I might never find time to eat a meal again. Here’s what I came up with just on the way home from dinner tonight:
- “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” - Elton John & Kiki Dee
- “After All” - Peter Cetera & Cher
- “The Next Time I Fall” - Peter Cetera & Amy Grant
- “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” - Tom Petty & Stevie Nicks
- “Endless Love” - Lionel Richie & Diana Ross
- “Islands in the Stream” - Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton
- “Kid Fears” - Indigo Girls & Michael Stipe
- “I Knew You Were Waiting” - Aretha Franklin & George Michael
- “It’s Only Love” - Bryan Adams & Tina Turner
- “Up Where We Belong” - Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes
- “Chances Are” - Bob Seger & Martina McBride
- “U Got the Look” - Prince & Sheena Easton
- “Summer Nights” (and most of GREASE) - Olivia Newton John & John Travolta
- “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” - Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
- “Don’t Know Much” - Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville
- “Almost Paradise” - Mike Reno & Ann Wilson
Rap and Hip hop men have always sensed the value of a well-placed woman. We would never know Rob Base or DJ EZ Rock if they didn’t enlist the assistance of a woman to tell us exactly What Took Two. C&C Music Factory never sells 10,000 CDs without a woman belting out that chorus. This continues today with B.O.B.’s “Airplanes” and Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” just as examples.
I love all these songs far more than they probably deserve.
I wonder how much longer this trend will last? Or if maybe it’s a longer-term shift in music? Would Oasis even form in 2011 if Noel & Liam didn’t have a cute siren of a sister? Could Hall & Oates have even been born in the 21st Century? Surely they would have had to at least give themselves a different name that dodged emphasizing them as a couple.
Is it coincidence that, as our country and culture gets increasingly comfortable with homosexuality, we increasingly insist that our music resemble Adam & Eve more than Adam & Steve?
What about you, dear readers? Do you have a favorite duet, or a favorite band where the singing duties are shared across gender lines? Give me some names to feed this hunger of mine.