Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing rock albums for Puluche.com, a fantastic, newly launched music site that explores the world of Rock music from an educational perspective. My most recent review was David Byrne and St. Vincent‘s excellent new collaborative album, Love This Giant (Read review here). I thought it was one of the best male/female musical collaborations in ages and got me thinking about other great cross-gender partnerships. Here are four other fantastic duet partners to round out my top 5.
Otis Redding & Carla Thomas
In 1967 Otis Redding, aka the King of Soul, and his sassy Stax label mate Carla Thomas, got together for the span of an album, aptly titled King & Queen. Producer and Stax co-founder Jim Stewart thought Redding′s “rawness” and Thomas′s “sophistication” would work well together. He was bang-on! Their undeniable musical chemistry and background juxtaposition is perfectly displayed on the hit track “Tramp”. That song is unquestionably one of the funnest, catchiest, funkiest tunes in the history of southern soul. (Feast your ears here). The rest of the album, which was recorded in six days, features soul classics such as “Knock on Wood” and “Bring It On Home to Me” as well as an Otis Redding co-composition called “Ooh Carla, Ooh Otis.” With these two trading vocals off each other and the Stax house band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s taking care of the beats, it is almost impossible to find a better soul duet LP. On a sad note, this record was the final studio album released by Redding before his untimely death on December 10, 1967. RIP Otis.
My love for country music is well documented in this blog. One of my favourite female singers, country or not, is Miss Dolly Parton. I think she has the most angelic voice and unbeatable songwriting chops. Her big break came in 1967 when she became Grand Ole Opry star Porter Wagoner′s duet partner on his weekly syndicated hit TV show. They went on to record seven albums together. (Click here to see them perform their #1 hit “Just Someone I Used to Know”.) Although Wagoner was the bigger star at the time, Parton became increasingly successful and her fame soon began to eclipse Wagoner’s. She left The Porter Wagoner Show in 1975 with “I Will Always Love You,” her personal farewell to the singer. Her departure from the show wasn’t amicable and led to angry legal action, but the two eventually resolved their differences. Dolly′s career continued to flourish exponentially. Porter did well too; he was a mainstay at the Opry until his death and was honoured in May 2007— five months before his passing— for his 50 years as a member.
Gram Parsons is perhaps one of the most important figures in country music and the granddaddy of its country-rock sub-genre. In late 1971 Parsons heard about a young singer named Emmylou Harris through former Flying Burrito Brothers bandmate and future Byrds member Chris Hillman. (Click here to hear an interview with Gram Parsons describing how he met Emmylou.) Harris and Parsons clicked instantly and recorded two excellent albums together: GP and Grievous Angel. Together they sang some of the most beautiful duets in the history of music. “A Song For You,” “Return Of The Grievous Angel“and “Love Hurts” are perfect example of the pair′s exquisitely blended vocals. Parsons died in 1973 of an unfortunate overdose. Since then, Harris has made it a point to perform songs by Parsons and to talk about his legacy. For anyone interested in finding out a little more about this true music legend, I highly recommend you check out the documentary “Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel“.
It is true that Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty never recorded a full-length album together, but their duets on Tom′s Hard Promises and Stevie′s Bella Donna are simply too amazing to ignore. Stevie has openly claimed she would′ve left Fleetwood Mac to join Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. She eventually left Fleetwood Mac and although she couldn’t join The Heartbreakers, she did get Tom to write her a song for her debut solo album Bella Donna. The track in question was the incredibly beautiful ballad “Insider,” but Tom was so attached to the song and couldn’t bear to give it away. Stevie sang beautiful harmony on it and the duet became one of the highlights on Hard Promises. Her harmonies can also be heard on “You Can Still Change Your Mind,” the album′s closing track. Petty felt sorry about taking “Insider” back and gave her another track he recorded for Hard Promises, but hadn’t gotten around to finishing. That song was “Stop Draggin′ My Heart Around,” which would become a chart-topping hit for Stevie Nicks. Petty and his Heartbreakers played on the song and even appeared in the music video. A non-Stevie version of the song appears on Petty′s fabulous boxed set Playback. Tom and Stevie have performed together on several occasions throughout the years. She may not have joined The Heartbreakers, but she came darn close!
Photos: Jean-François Hayeur