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Some of music’s greatest duets and collaborations


Times staff report

It’s a duet worthy of an encore.

Academy Award–winning actors Barbra Streisand and Jamie Foxx have a duet on Streisand’s forthcoming album “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” scheduled for release on Aug. 26, 2016. The duo, which teamed up for “The Sound of Music” classic “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” joins a long line of gifted singers who have collaborated on songs, some of which have become classics.

With that in mind, our staff compiled 25 tunes that combined some of music’s greatest talents and gave birth to some unforgettable songs. Ten were published in the Thursday, August 25, 2016 print edition of The Birmingham Times and the full list of 25 is available here. (Click the images to listen to music!)

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

“You’re All I Need to Get By,” “Your Precious Love,” et. al (1966–1969)

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

Where do you begin? This team is the platinum standard for duos, in our opinion. They’re about as close to a perfect music couple as you can get. The chemistry, the style, the voices. Most of their duets can be considered classics: “Your Precious Love,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” “If This World Were My Mine,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” There was no hit-and-miss between these two—they turned out hit after hit. During a 1967 concert, Terrell collapsed in Gaye’s arms. When she died three years later, he was never the same. This duo was the epitome of “precious love.”

Diana Ross & Lionel Richie

“Endless Love” (1981)


Richie penned the music and lyrics for the soundtrack from the movie of the same name (which starred a teenage Brooke Shields) and recruited Ross to accompany him on the song. Combining one of the greatest songwriters in music history, Richie, with one of music’s most talented voices, Ross, the song became a smash hit. “Endless Love” was the biggest hit for both artists. The song spent nine weeks at number one, remained on the charts for 27 weeks—an unheard of run for a single in 1981—and earned Academy Award and Grammy nominations. “Endless Love” almost returned to the top of Hot 100 chart nearly 13 years later, when Luther Vandross and Mariah Carey’s cover stalled at number two on Oct. 1, 1994.

Mariah Carey & Boys II Men

“One Sweet Day” (1995)

Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men
Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men

Ranked first in Rolling Stone magazine’s reader’s poll for the Best Collaboration of All Time, “One Sweet Day” spent 16 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, becoming the longest running number-one song on the chart. It also became the Billboard’s most successful song of the 1990s, topping the Hot 100 decade-end chart. The song speaks about death of a loved one, how the protagonist took their presence for granted and misses them, and finally about seeing the person in heaven.

Roberta Flack with Donny Hathaway

“Where Is the Love” (1973), “The Closer I Get to You” (1978)

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway
Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack

Both of these singers graduated from Howard University, although Flack’s attendance there predated Hathaway’s. Both were on the Atlantic Records roster. And both enjoyed critical acclaim. But it was legendary music producer Jerry Wexler who suggested a joint venture between the two to consolidate their popularity—and it worked. The 1972 Atlantic Records release “Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway” is a million-selling duet album that included “Where Is the Love,” which was released almost a year after the album itself and would go on to be the album’s smash hit. The duet won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group. Five years later, just before Hathaway’s untimely death, “The Closer I Get to You” was a number-two hit on the Hot 100.

Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.

“You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” (1976)

Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo

Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. were a duo before they were a duo. Not only had the pair been married for seven years when they recorded this 1976 R&B classic, but they’d already spent a decade making music together as part of the 1970s soul quintet the 5th Dimension. The chemistry paid off. The Grammy-winning track went to number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles chart. In the summer of 1977, the pair became the first African-American married couple to host a network television series, “The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. Show.”

 Ike & Tina Turner

“Proud Mary” (1971)

Ike and Tina Turner

“We never do nothing nice and easy.” That might sum up Ike and Tina both personally and professionally. That line came from the duo’s cover of “Proud Mary,” which begins with Tina introducing the song and warning the listener that she and the band will start off “nice and easy” but finish “nice and rough.” Without question, Ike and Tina Turner were one of the hottest and potentially most explosive of all R&B ensembles of their time; their live performances could be rivaled only by those of James Brown in terms of musical spectacle. The team’s early works—“A Fool in Love,” “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” “I Idolize You,” “River Deep–Mountain High,” and other hits—have been credited with the development of soul music. And their later works were noted for wildly interpretive rearrangements of rock songs like “I Want to Take You Higher” and, of course, “Proud Mary,” originally written and performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Ike and Tina were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald

On My Own” (1986)

Cover art for “On My Own”

These two together in a studio virtually guarantees a classic. But there was a catch—the singers hadn’t met until well after this song had been recorded and begun scaling the charts. The hit was put together on different coasts in different studios. As Fred Bronson notes in “Billboard Book of Number One Hits”: “As ‘On My Own’ went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, LaBelle and McDonald met for the first time at NBC Studios in Burbank (Calif.), where they performed the song on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.’” Here’s another factoid: Both artists had earned number-one Billboard Hot 100 singles as members of their respective groups, LaBelle and the Doobie Brothers, but neither had a solo topper until this 1986 duet.

Ashford & Simpson

“Solid” (1984)

Cover art for “Solid”

This husband-and-wife team could have had a lot more hits as a duo—but they spent most of their careers writing and producing hits for everyone else. Ashford and Simpson started their career in the mid-1960s, writing for artists like the 5th Dimension, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles. They joined Motown in 1966 and wrote and/or produced all but one of the late-1960s Marvin Gaye–and–Tammi Terrell singles. Plus, they wrote and produced almost all the songs on three 1970s albums for former Supreme Diana Ross, and worked with Gladys Knight and the Pips, as well as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. On “Solid,” the duo celebrates the fact that, through all the difficulties and problems their relationship had faced, they made their love stronger by learning how to forgive and trust each other. The couple’s marriage remained “solid as a rock” until Nickolas Ashford’s death in 2011.

Aerosmith & Run-D.M.C.

“Walk This Way” (1985)

Cover art for “Walk This Way”

Run-D.M.C.’s 1985 LP was almost complete when Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell spontaneously spun Aerosmith’s classic “Walk This Way” in the studio. Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels began rapping over the intro, giving producer Rick Rubin a great idea. “The album needed one more element,” Rubin told Rolling Stone magazine in 2009. “I thought there had to be a way to present this to rock fans so people would think, ‘This really isn’t that different from the kind of music I like.’” Rubin asked Run and D.M.C. to rap Aerosmith’s original lyrics. D.M.C. didn’t think that was a good idea, he shared in a Rolling Stone interview. Russell Simmons, Run’s older brother and co-founder of the hip-hop music label Def Jam Recordings, insisted. And Rubin increased the pressure by inviting Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry down to the studio. “We needed someone to play guitar and sing the chorus,” Rubin said. “Who better than the people who do it every day?” The song not only resurrected Aerosmith’s career but also introduced hip-hop to a white audience.

Jay-Z & Alicia Keys

“Empire State of Mind” (2009)

Cover art for “Empire State of Mind”

Of course, this can’t be compared to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” or Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” but it’s hard to find a more compelling ode to the Big Apple from a duo. Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Alicia Keys ruled the Hot 100 for five weeks with their modern Gotham theme, and a Keys solo piano version reached number 55 on the charts. The lyrics are worthy of note because two New York City kids—one from Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects and the other Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen—prove that the concrete jungle is where dreams are made.

Peaches & Herb

“Reunited” (1979)

Peaches and Herb
Peaches and Herb

Herb Fame has been the one constant of this franchise since its creation in 1966. The role of “Peaches,” however, has been filled by seven different women. The most successful of all the “Peaches” might have been Linda Greene, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and met Herb in the mid-1970s. Fame and Greene recorded seven albums altogether. The first, “Peaches & Herb,” generated only one charted hit. The second, “2 Hot,” went gold and produced the first single “Shake Your Groove Thing,” which also went gold and peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1979. The album’s follow-up single, “Reunited,” was the duo’s most enduring hit, earning a Grammy Award nomination for Song of the Year in 1980 and ultimately going triple-platinum. Fame and Greene released their seventh album in 1983. Scoring only one minor hit, the duo decided to make no more albums and retire their partnership, even though Herb would go on to record with three more “Peaches.”

Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z

“Crazy in Love” (2005)

Cover art for "Crazy in Love"
Cover art for “Crazy in Love”

On Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs of all-time, this duo and song are listed at 118. Here’s the kicker: They’re ahead of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (not on the list); Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie (not on the list); and even Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney (not on the list). The only duo to make it ahead of Beyoncé Knowles and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter are Ike and Tina Turner, at number 33 with “River Deep–Mountain High.” Here’s a snippet of Rolling Stone magazine’s take on “Crazy in Love”: “Those horns weren’t a hook; they were a herald: Pop’s new queen had arrived. Beyoncé’s debut solo smash, powered by a brass blast sampled from the Chi-lites ‘Are You My Woman (Tell Me So),’ announced her liberation from Destiny’s Child and firmly established her as Queen Bey.

Dr. Dre & 2Pac

“California Love” (1995)

Cover art for "California Love"
Cover art for “California Love”

The song was released as Tupac “2Pac” Shakur’s comeback single after his 1995 release from prison, when he was introduced as the first artist on Death Row Records. The story goes that 2Pac heard the song during a session at Andre “Dr. Dre” Young’s in-house studio and asked to be put on it. In just 15 minutes, 2Pac wrote his verse. The weekend after the song was completed, the video—inspired by the film “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” and directed by Harold “Hype” Williams—was recorded. Factoid: The idea for the video came from actress Jada Pinkett Smith, and the casting includes actor Chris Tucker, then known for his role as “Smokey” in the 1995 film “Friday.”

Patti Austin & James Ingram

“Baby Come to Me” (1982)

Cover art for "Baby Come to Me"
Cover art for “Baby Come to Me”

This should have been a hit from day one. With Austin and Ingram, two gifted solo artists, on lead; Michael McDonald contributing background vocals; and Quincy Jones as producer, there was no way this wasn’t going to rule the charts. When “Baby Come to Me” was first released as a single, however, it had minor chart success, peaking at number 73 on the Billboard Hot 100—but the song caught a break. Later that year, it gained new exposure as the romantic theme song for Luke Spencer, a leading character on the ABC soap opera “General Hospital.” The network received so many inquiries about the song that Warner Brothers decided to re-release it as a single in October. With newfound buzz, the tune spent seven more months on the charts, reaching number one on the Hot 100 for two weeks. It also hit number one Adult Contemporary charts in early 1983.

Usher & Alicia Keys

“My Boo” (2004)

Cover art for "My Boo"
Cover art for “My Boo”

Don’t confuse this with the 1996 song of the same name by Ghost Town DJs. This ode to the boyfriend or girlfriend that will always have your heart was tailor-made for success because of the talented group of writers behind it. The track not only mingles the chart-topping voices of Alicia Keys and Usher Raymond but also features the writing skills of both singers, as well as producer Jermaine Dupri with Manuel Seal and Adonis Shropshire. “My Boo” shot to number one on the charts and stayed there for six weeks.

Philip Bailey & Phil Collins

“Easy Lover” (1984)

Cover art for "Easy Lover"
Cover art for “Easy Lover”

Many know Philip Bailey as the longtime member of R&B supergroup Earth, Wind & Fire, but few remember or even know about his 1984 solo album “Chinese Wall”—which actually included a hit song. Former Genesis drummer Phil Collins, who was hired as the album’s producer, says Bailey approached him as the end of the sessions and asked that they write a song together. The result: “Easy Lover.” Collins said in a 2016 interview, “We just started having a jam one night, went ’round and ’round, and turned it into a verse and a chorus. We recorded it that night so we wouldn’t forget it. That song doesn’t sound like any particular era. It’s just fantastic.” The track was Bailey’s biggest hit by far.

Jennifer Lopez & Ja Rule

“I’m Real” (2001)

Cover art for “I’m Real”


Don’t sleep on Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins as a duet partner. From 1999 to 2005, the Hollis, Queens–bred rapper and actor was featured on a slew of hits: “Between Me and You” with Christina Milian; “I’m Real (Murder Remix)” and Ain’t It Funny” with Jennifer “J. Lo” Lopez, both of which topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100; “Always on Time” with Murder Inc. label-mate “Ashanti” Douglas, which hit number one on the charts and earned a Grammy nomination; “Mesmerize,” also with Ashanti; and “Wonderful” with Robert “R. Kelly” Kelly and Ashanti. All of those songs, not to mention others with J. Lo, spent time on the charts. Few rappers can boast a similar duet-track record.

Salt-n-Pepa & En Vogue

“Whatta Man” (1993)

Cover art for "Whatta Man"
Cover art for “Whatta Man”

Two of the hottest 1990s female hip-hop and R&B groups joined forces to produce a major hit for both. “Whatta Man” peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned certified platinum status. The duet was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group and the American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Single in 1994, and it ranked 23 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 1990s. The video was a hit, too. With Tupac “2Pac” Shakur and Anthony “Treach” Criss from Naughty by Nature making cameos, the “Whatta Man” video won three MTV Video Music Awards: Best Dance Video, Best R&B Video, and Best Choreography.

Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo

“Nothing Even Matters” (1998)

Cover art for "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"
Cover art for “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”

The two arrived on the music scene around the same time: The Fugees—Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Prakazrel “Pras” Michel—dropped their debut “Blunted on Reality” in 1994; and Michael “D’Angelo” Archer’s debut “Brown Sugar” was released in 1995. Hill reached out to D’Angelo to team up with her on a song for her classic “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” album. This song probably couldn’t be made today, as both artists have been dogged by personal issues and have earned reputations for keeping fans waiting years for new material. Hill became increasingly eccentric, showing up late performances, and did a stint in prison for tax evasion. And D’Angelo, who dropped the Grammy Award–winning “Black Messiah” in 2015, dealt with weight gain, drug and alcohol addiction, and run-ins with the police.

Prince & Shelia E

“The Glamorous Life” (1984), “A Love Bizarre” (1985)

Cover art for "The Glamorous Life"
Cover art for “The Glamorous Life”

“The Glamorous Life” became a breakthrough for Sheila “Sheila E.” Escovedo, who met “Prince” Rogers Nelson in 1978. This funk-laced track showcases Sheila E.’s incredible prowess on the drums and a wild sax solo by jazz man Larry Williams. In her 2014 memoir, “The Beat of My Own Drum,” Sheila E. wrote: “‘The Glamorous Life’ was the last song [Prince and I] worked on. In fact, we weren’t even going to include it on the album. It started out as an instrumental, and I couldn’t think of any lyrics for it at first. Once I got started, though, the words came quickly. … It was very percussive, and it had a catchy melody, incorporating all the black keys on the piano so that it almost sounded like a nursery rhyme.” “A Love Bizarre” was Sheila E.’s last major hit and her second biggest behind her debut single, “The Glamorous Life”—which, no surprise, was co-written by Prince.

Prince & Rosie Gaines

“Diamonds and Pearls” (1992), “Nothing Compares 2 U” (1993)

Cover art for "Diamonds and Pearls"
Cover art for “Diamonds and Pearls”

While Rosie Gaines was working on a demo for the Pointer Sisters in Minneapolis, Minn., “Prince” Rogers Nelson walked into the recording studio, was impressed by her abilities, and asked her to join his band, the New Power Generation. She was introduced in 1990 as the new vocalist and keyboard player on Prince’s Nude Tour. Her first appearance on a Prince album was on “Graffiti Bridge.” On the “Diamonds and Pearls” album, she teamed up with Prince on the title cut and also performed on and wrote several other pieces. She again teamed up with Prince on the live version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which is on his 1993 compilation album, “The Hits/The B-Sides.”

Rick James & Teena Marie

“Fire and Desire” (1981)

Teena Marie and Rick James (YouTube)
Teena Marie and Rick James (YouTube)

This is partly how Rolling Stone magazine describes this duet: “[Rick] James not only mentored [Teena] Marie, the two had a torrid affair during a debauched era when the star [James] bought a Hollywood mansion and an immense ranch near his Buffalo, [N.Y.], hometown, which became a crash pad for his band, backup singers, and anyone else who got sucked into their orbit. In other words, it was complicated. By 1981, the couple had broken up, but this seven-minute slow jam—meandering, rousing, awkwardly intimate, painfully honest—forever entwined the duo.”

Mary J Blige & Method Man

“I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By” (1995)

Cover art for "I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By"
Cover art for “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By”

This is a song that keeps on giving, particularly because of the talent associated with it. Of course, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell immortalized the 1960s hit “You’re All I Need to Get By,” but Wu-Tang Clan rapper Clifford “Method Man” Smith and “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” Mary J. Blige were able to win a Grammy for this 1990s version. The song is a remix of Method Man’s “All I Need,” with Mary J. Blige singing the choruses and backing vocals.

Dennis Edwards & Siedah Garrett

“Don’t Look Any Further” (1984)

Cover art for "Don't Look Any Further"
Cover art for “Don’t Look Any Further”

Former Temptations lead singer Dennis Edwards and songwriter Siedah Garrett collaborated on one of the strongest R&B songs of the 1980s. But the guitar, bass, and drum programming by jazz guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. helped give this tune legs. The song’s bass line is a popular sample that has been used on Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid in Full,” 2Pac’s “Hit ’Em Up,” TLC’s “Unpretty,” and Lil Wayne’s “Way of Life.”

Wyclef Jean & Mary J Blige

911 (2000)

Cover art for "911"
Cover art for “911”

Much can’t go wrong with Wyclef Jean and Mary J. Blige on the same track. The song depicted two star-crossed lovers in a web of drama with the male narrator running from police while the female narrator worries forlornly about him. The relationship is apparently under external pressures, as Jean sings, “messing around with you is gonna get (the man) life,” and later reflecting “it’s worth the sacrifice.” This song was a modest hit for the two singers in the U.S., reaching number 38 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it soared overseas, sitting at number one on the charts for almost two months in Sweden and Norway. “911” earned platinum status in Norway and also was a top-ten hit in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Finland. Go figure.


Sources: Bet.com; Wikipedia.org; RollingStone.com; Billboard.com


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