More often than not, if you’re in a band, relying on a group of people to have your back should the audience behind the curtain turn into a pitchfork-wielding mob, is a real comfort. On stage too, being a part of an ensemble can make one feel as though they have protection against failing or a barrier in front fo their vulnerability. It means, to pursue a career as one half of a performing duo is a truly adventurous thing.
Sure, going solo may seem like the biggest jump; after all, you’re out there on your own. But the truth is, a solo performance can go whatever way the performer wants it to. Not bound by the ideas or feelings of another, a solo singer can change direction at the drop of a hat and take things wherever they want them to go. However, if you’re part of a duo, one must always be thinking about the other. Whether it’s performing on stage, recording in the studio or writing songs. Being one half of a duo is a difficult thing to master.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been plenty of musical duos that have shot to stardom and become behemoths in the industry. While usually, such a meteoric rise to fame will end with the duo being split into two different careers, it’s worth remembering for all the difficulty of being in a duo; they also hold an extraordinary place in our hearts.
No matter how much we try to fight it, we’re all pretty hopeless as humans. It is not in any grandiose, apocalyptic environmental way — though that’s probably true too — but in a sappy romantic way. There’s no greater feeling than witnessing a duet between two singers as they trade ranges, notes and trills to create a storyline we can really get behind. It pleases us on a primordial level.
Below, we’re proving that point and bringing you 20 of the greatest duos of all time. It makes for a pretty impressive list.
The greatest duos of all time:
20. Chas & Dave
There’s a good chance that you will never have heard of Chas & Dave. The group are a sensation in Britain and there’s a good chance that if you mention the duo’s name you will be met with a barrage of questionable noises. Don’t be afraid, these noises are just the songs the two men wrote.
Songs like ‘Rabbit’ and ‘Gertcha’ are now seen as cult-classics, perpetuating the cockney image the two pub-rock pioneers were keen to preserve. They delivered songs that were at one end novelty and the other a deeply held connection to the music halls of the past. We’re not expecting everybody to love Chas & Dave but if they don’t bring a smile to your face then something may well be wrong with you.
19. The Black Keys
Some duos were born to be together, others just happen. The Black Keys are most certainly the latter. The duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney came together after the rest of their proposed bandmates failed to turn up to their first rehearsal back in 2001. Soon enough, they would emerge from their own corner of Ohio as victorious bluesmen of the modern age.
Releasing Brothers and El Camino to wide acclaim and huge sales, The Black Keys have carved their name into the history books forevermore. There’s always a worry with a duo that the music can sound a bit thin, but for The Black Keys, things only got heftier with time. Certainly one of the best around.
18. Sonny & Cher
If there was ever a case for a song becoming bigger than the act, then Sonny & Cher’s classic ‘I Got You Babe’ may well be the one. Though the duop weren’t just singers, hosting an incredibly popular variety show in the sixties and seventies, their decision to sing and release the pop standard as a duo was genius.
It not only provided the perfect moment for their relationship to play out in pastel pop shimmers but also gave weight to the song’s content. Having met in a coffee shop, singing the hits of the day, it seems only fitting that we, largely, remember this duo for their timeless hit.
17. The Righteous Brothers
Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley were one duo that belied their name entirely. Neither were brothers and neither were righteous. Instead, they were a vocal harmony group capable of making your eyes water. Though their harmonies were tight, it would take the knowledge of infamous producer Phil Spector to get them truly purring.
Spector employed his famous ‘Wall of Sound’ on their 1965 hit ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ and although they grabbed a few more chart spots during their career, they never truly matched the heights that the blue-eyed soul duo seemed destined to reach. Of course, their most memorable song was ‘Unchained Melody’ which, in fairness, is still a pop classic.
It’s hard to ignore Eurythmics when considering conquering pop duos of the eighties. Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart may well have welcomed other members of the band here and there to join in their creations, but they were the group’s solid core.
Boy, did they have a lot of creations. As well as the song below, ‘There Must Be An Angel’ the group can also boast one of the outstanding pop anthems of modern memory in ‘Sweet Dreams’. With Lennox providing the vocal punch and Stewart handling the sonics, they were an unstoppable force, even after they split romantically.
15. The Carpenters
As the sixties drew to a close and the debauched beckoning of the seventies became ever clearer, it seems that America had one more set of sweethearts to unleash. Reluctantly, Karen Carpenter stepped out from behind the drum kit and grabbed the mic, ready to sing the songs of her brother Richard.
What ensued is one of the final kicks of musical innocence. Form the 1969 release of ‘(They Long to Be) Close to You’ to 1973’s ‘Top of the Worl’, The Carpenters were seemingly the golden duo of the music industry. Sadly, things would come to a tragic end as Karen Carpenter succumbed to her anorexia at the shocking age of 32.
14. Steely Dan
If you ever needed proof of just how crazy the seventies were, then look no further than Steely Dan. Two jazz-influenced blokes sitting in old itchy woollen sweaters, fretting over their long-winding literary songs about the trials and tribulations of being an adult stoner, is not your usual fodder. But, in the seventies, Steely Dan could do no wrong.
In fact, looking back with our revisionist glasses on, it’s easy to see how Donald Fagen and Walter Becker gained their fans. Unfussy and without reproach, the group have continued to churn out stoner jams and shows up until today, boasting a career that few of our duos can claim.
13. Brian Eno & David Byrne
Certainly one of the more unusual duos in our list, the friendship of Brian Eno and David Byrne led to the two enjoying a wonderful working relationship. Eno was obviously involved in Byrne’s work with Talking Heads, being the producer behind their album Remain In Light among others. But it was together as a twosome that they really bore the barmy fruits of their labour.
The pair began refining each other’s sound within the band but soon took it to a new level. By 1981, the pair released their own record My Life in the Bush of Ghosts to put even more emphasis on their chemically fruitful relationship. For that album alone, they deserve to be in this list and regarded as some of avant-garde pop’s best.
12. Lux Interior & Poison Ivy
Okay, so this is our first controversial pick. To suggest The Cramps were just an outfit comprised of Lux Interior and Poison Ivy would obviously be false. The Cramps have been peppered with different members ever since their conception. But the very fact that the psychobilly punks can boast so many different members surely means the husband-and-wife duo should be considered an outfit on their own.
Across an inspirational career and over three decades, Lux and Ivy created some of the most unique and uncompromising punk sounds we’ve ever heard. Though not as commercially minded as the majority of the entries on this list, the group are undoubtedly pioneers and deserve all the recognition they can get.
11. Lee Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra
If you were looking to the archetypal to and fro between a duo — the embodiment of all our high school dreams — then you needn’t look any further than Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra. The duo seem to connect on a different plain to most and Hazelwood’s deep baritone provides the perfect backdrop for Sinatra to really shine.
The most notable song the duo share credit son is ‘These Boots Are Made for Walin”, but they achieved so much more. Nancy & Lee from 1968 is a cracking album and the kind of LP that makes your elders all wistful. But, after just a few spins, we’ll bet that you’ll be cooing for the two to finally get together just as much as everyone else.
10. Pet Shop Boys
A synth-pop duo born in the underbelly of London’s nightclub scene, the Pet Shop Boys, became the face of queer culture for a time. Listed as the most successful duo in British history back in 1999, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are among the most highly decorated groups in Britain. The group can also boast some serious pop tunes as well as awards.
‘West End Girls,’ ‘It’s A Sin’ and ‘Always on My Mind’ saw the band become giants in the UK. Their sound became ubiquitous with the nightclub scene and their standing as one of Britain’s best has never truly waned. Rightly seen as pioneers of the electronic movement in London during the early eighties, Pet Shop Boys deserve their place on our list, at the very least.
9. Ike & Tina Turner
Sometimes, the most toxic arrangements can provide the most perfumed air around them. That was certainly the case with husband-and-wife duo Ike and Tina Turner. Ike’s long-standing abuse of Tina will forever mark their partnership with the horrific reality of Tina’s fear. However, to also ignore the art they created with one another would be to give Ike too much power.
The duo were truly a powerhouse too. Not only was Tina Turner one of the most gifted singers of her generation but, as a pair, they transcended genre and style to become two of the most influential musicians of their day. Tina has rightly seen fit to remove herself from anything to do with Ike, even giving up her spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but it will never diminish the great work they achieved as a unit.
If you think that Outkast are just another rap-pop group then you’d be way off the mark. The band are way more than ‘Hey Ya’ and if you needed proof then just search ‘Outkast reunion’ and see the countless posts, year on year, month on month and week on week from their fans, begging the duo to reconnect.
As of now, Andre 3000 and Big Boi seemed determined to remain an ethereal act. However, we can only hope that, soon enough, they will return with their renegade brand of soulful hip-hop. An avant-garde pop sound, the duo broke out of the hip-hop mould to become worldwide stars without borders. Six albums and a concept film have proven over the years that, quite simply, there is no hip-hop group greater. But there may be a duo we rank more highly.
7. Daft Punk
Few artists have garnered as much worldwide success on our list than Daft Punk. The French DJ duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have become gigantic megastars in the world of pop and EDM, and all without showing their faces.
The perpetually masked group are a much bigger act than you may imagine. Their hits have always grabbed the attention of the charts, and the duo are mainstays in the DJ capitals of the world. They’re also one of the most endlessly sampled artists around too. Whether it’s the perennial pop tune ‘Get Lucky’ or indeed their classic ‘Harder, Better Faster Stronger’ — Daft Punk are pioneers, whether you like it or not.
If the band Suicide appearing so highly on our list is offensive to you, then we kindly ask you to check the history books. Taking a look ourselves, we can only point to Suicide as one of the most influential post-punk bands of all time. The duo of Alan Vega and Martin Rev formed the band way back in 1970 but they became the foreword in the after-punk thought. The group were the vibrations that punk left behind. That genre was all about grabbing the attention and getting in your face, Suicide were more about introspective rhetoric and debate.
Suicide release din 1977 and Suicide: Alan Vega and Martin Rev from 1980 both showcase a style of songmanship that can never be replicated and never pulled off with the same effortless cool. If you wanted to find some more credence for the group’s high entry on our list, then look to the countless artists who regard Suicide as one of the most poignant groups of al time like Bruce Springsteen who once said: “If Elvis came back from the dead, I think he would sound like Alan Vega.”
That’s about as high praise as it gets.
5. The Everly Brothers
Perhaps it’s because they are actual brothers or perhaps because their harmonies were as tight as a drum, but The Everly Brothers are arguably the most influential group on our list. Not only can they count The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and the Bee Gees as huge fans, but their music has given inspiration to countless artists along the way. Their harmonic style took over the airwaves in the fifties, and the group became essential listening.
Songs like ‘Bye Bye Love,’ ‘Wake Up Little Susie,’ and ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ were the songs du jour during the decade and they sky-rocketed the group to the top of the pile. For many, The Everly Brothers represent one of the most peaceful times in modern memory.
The group are the sound of white picket fences, mowing lawns in the suburbs and the upward mobility that punctuated the fifties. They are a warm, golden sunrise and they deserve a daily visit too.
4. Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Another slightly controversial choice. Here we’ve, in our minds, rightly recognised Elton John and Bernie Taupin as the duo they are. Though Elton John gathers fans for his exuberant performances and incredible piano-playing, one would think that at least half the credit goes to Bernie Taupin for the lyrics he has provided Elton throughout his career.
“These are all lyrics and I just sift through them,” Elton once said when describing his writing process. He then nonchalantly adds: “There’s one here I did just the other day called ‘Tiny Dancer,’ which is about Bernie’s girlfriend. I looked through all them and this is the one I fancied doing, mainly because I knew Bernie would like me to do this one.”
This simplicity is the basis for one of music’s most potent and everlasting duos.
3. The White Stripes
White may now be as close as the rock world gets to a music mogul, with countless projects through music with The Raconteurs, and his solo work, not forgetting being the head of Third Man Records. But he started in rather more humble beginnings in the club circuit around his hometown of Detroit, standing on stage and delivering a plethora of grimy guitar jams as part of The White Stripes.
By providing swirling, crazed vocals and thrashing his guitar as nobody else had done before, the band were gaining traction as garage rock heroes. As the garage rock explosion happened across the pon in Britain, The White Stripes found their audience and began to grow at an alarming rate.
Hits like ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ and Seven Nation Army’ were accompanied by several seminal records and it’s rightly assumed that The White Stripes are the biggest band to ever come out of Detroit. Just don’t tell Iggy Pop.
2. Eric B & Rakim
There has never been a more perfect partnership than Eric B and Rakim. The rapping duo were the perfect meeting of man and machine as MC Rakim’s innate talent for rhyming met its match in Eric B’s dizzying DJ skills. It not only made for some killer records like Paid in Full and Follow The Leader but offered some inspiration for the finest rappers of the modern day.
Often regarded as the crown jewels of the golden generation, the group wouldn’t last long but their mark on hip-hop will be burned on the genre forever. If some duos rely on one half more than the other, Eric B and Rakim is certainly the most balanced act on our list.
Smooth as butter and twice as rich, Eric B and Rakim should offer every listener, either first time or seasoned, the kind of emulsifying hip-hop fats that only make speakers smile.
1. Simon & Garfunkel
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are two figures who will loom over music for some time. Whether it is Simon’s incredible pen — the kind which writes classic songs like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ — or Garfunkel’s superlative vocal, the duo have a chemistry that feels impossible to stop.
The duo provided America with the serenity of quiet during one of the most tumultuous decades in history. The sixties may have provided a generation of challenging and evocative rock acts but it was the folk revival which permeated New York City with the cleanest cut. It was on this rise that Simon & Garfunkel grabbed their first big hit in ‘Mrs Robinson’. The song not only signalled the sexual revolution but that the duo were the voice of a new generation.
Of course, the serenity of Simon & Garfunkel would only last so long and the duo split before they imploded.