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 411mania » Music » Columns

The 411 Music Top Five 4.03.14: The Top 5 Duets
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.03.2014


Criteria: Duets are a time-honored staple of popular music. From the two-part songs of the early blues era all the way through the rap collaborations of Kanye West and Jay Z, there have always been artists combining forces to create great pieces of music. This week we're looking at the best examples of that.


Honorable Mentions: Queen and David Bowie - "Under Pressure," Eve and Gwen Stefani - "Let Me Blow Your Mind," Peter Gabriel and Kate Push - "Don't Give Up," Pink and Nate Reuss - "Just Give Me a Reason," Rihanna and Ne-Yo - "Hate That I Love You," Michael and Janet Jackson - "Scream."

5. Taylor Swift and Gary Lightbody - "The Last Time"

This is the most recent inclusion on my list, taken from Taylor Swift's tremendous 2012 album Red. OK so admittedly, I've probably named a few Honorable Mentions that are more deserving of a place on the list, but not for the first time, my Taylor Swift crush wins out. In fact, this is actually a very good song featuring the bloke from Snow Patrol. I'm not typically a Snow Patrol fan, but Lightbody sounds motivated here, as would any red-blooded male sharing a mic stand with Miss Swift.

4. Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney - "The Girl is Mine"

Words like "iconic" and "legendary" get thrown around far too often for people that simply don' deserve, but Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson are undeniably two iconic legends, or legendary iconic, whichever you prefer. Of their two duets, I would imagine most people would prefer "Say Say Say" but I just absolutely love the cheesiness of these two fighting over a girl. It's kind of hard to believe that this was actually the lead single from Thriller, but it's unquestionably a fun track and one I will listen to every now and then with a smile. And speaking of cheese...

3. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John - "Summer Nights"/"You're the One that I Want"

I get the feeling that my credibility is shot at this stage, but fuck it. It takes a real man to admit they enjoy Grease, and I enjoy Grease a lot so that makes me really manly. I couldn't separate these two and I wouldn't want them taking up two spots on the list so I've lumped them in together. Both songs provide iconic scenes in movie history, perhaps "You're the One that I Want" more so than "Summer Nights" but the film would never have achieved such successes if the songs weren't so good. And if you haven't had one drink too many and attempted to nail Travolta's notes on "Summer Nights" then you haven't lived.

2. Kelly Rowland and Nelly - "Dilemma"

OK this is just a good song. It's the reason Kelly Rowland has a career to this day. Of all the girl's in Destiny's Child it was pretty clear that Miss Rowland had the weakest voice so if she was going to have any sort of success post Destiny's Child then her first single needed to be a big hit. Enter Nelly. This is just an absolute anthem with the right amount of cheese to give it a wider appeal without losing its credibility. Every time this comes on in a bar or a club it still gets couples up on the dance floor. Even the lonely motherfuckers in the corner get up and have a boogie as long as they've had a few. I should know. And speaking of career-saving songs...

1. Aerosmith and RUN-DMC - "Walk This Way"

Aerosmith was dead in the water in 1986. Their previous album had been a flop and members of the band were dealing with a lot of personal problems surrounding drink and drug addiction. Enter Run DMC. They took Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" and changed music forever. The influence of this song cannot be underestimated. It was the first time that popular music really embraced the sounds of hip hop with any sort of legitimate success. It laid the groundwork for countless rap rock projects, some of which turned out to be amazing, some of which turned out to be God awful. As is evidenced by my previous selections, a lot of duets tend to be really cringeworthy, full of cheese and lacking credibility. The most successful ones were in the 70s and 80s for a reason. But this collaboration was an absolute game-changer the likes of which will probably never be replicated, no matter how much Girls Aloud and Sugababes tried.


Honorable Mention: Sonny & Cher - "I Got You Babe," Brandy & Monica - "The Boy Is Mine," Christina Aguilera & Lady Gaga - "Do What U Want," Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson - "Scream," Temple of the Dog (Chris Cornell & Eddie Vedder) - "Hunger Strike"

5. Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney - "The Girl Is Mine"

Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney were a potent combo, and they produced two songs that could have been on this list. "Say, Say, Say" is perhaps the best known thanks to its music video, but like Daniel "The Girl Is Mine" is my favorite by a smidgen. It's the fun back-and-forth banter in the song that really seals this one for me; Jackson had found his creative voice and McCartney sounded more inspired that he had been in a little while and the results make for a wonderful little pop two-for.

4. Lita Ford & Ozzy Osbourne - "Close My Eyes Forever"

Okay, look past Ozzy's feathered hair if you can because this is metal duet heaven, right here. Ozzy Osbourne is no stranger to songs that are allegedly about suicide, and this one earned itself a bit of controversy after it became a hit much like "Suicide Solution" did. Ozzy and Lita said it wasn't specifically about suicide but about the love portion of the story. The two singers match each other perfectly; they co-wrote the song when Ford, who was being managed by Sharon Osbourne, was hanging out with Ozzy in the studio and they started messing around. Some of the best songs come out of that sort of situation, and it all came together beautifully.

3. Jay Z & Alicia Keys - "Empire State of Mind"

Okay, let's forget for a moment that this is one of the most overplayed songs in films and commercials of the past umpteen years. The song is a wonderful ode to the city that Jay grew up in. This one is a bit borderline in terms of whether Keys is a collaborative artist or a featured one, but the song credits her fully equal to Jay so I'm going with that. Jay has done several looks at the hard life in New York so it isn't surprising that he wanted to, at some point, look at the bright side too. It's ridiculously catchy and the whole thing comes together quite nicely between Jay's raps and Keys' sublime voice.

2. Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty - "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"

Stevie Nicks was the first person I thought of when I thought of potential duets. She's done so many great ones, and this is my favorite. Nicks and Tom Petty have that same weathered-but-ageless quality to their voices and it made sense that they would be golden on a song together. This is classic early 1980s blues rock, with the lazy tempo and Petty matching up well vocally with Nicks, both on their separate lines and together. It's just a great, classic number that you really can't help but appreciate.

1. Freddy Mercury & David Bowie - "Under Pressure"

This is an easy #1 for me. Freddy Mercury and David Bowie are two of the great frontmen in the history of rock music. So when Bowie teamed up with Queen, you knew it was going to be something truly special. And it was; "Under Pressure" is one of the best songs in either act's resume. Some might consider this song sullied by the fact that Vanilla Ice ripped it off for "Ice Ice Baby" (yes, Mr. Van Winkle, you added one tone. Doesn't count), but for my money even that doesn't hedge the greatness of this number. It's one of the most well-known songs of the 1980s and has appeared in countless films and shows for very good reason. Try not to get chills when the music swells around the 1:45 spot. I dare you. 'cause it'll happen. A truly amazing piece of music.

As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We're merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here's what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week's topic on the comment section using the following format:

5. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
4. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
3. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
2. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
1. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it


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