by Jason Gubbels | May 30, 2014
Everybody likes male/female duets -- some of country music and R&B's most treasured moments stem from those occasions when tenor and alto (or bass and soprano) alternate verses. Think Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, or Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, maybe even Sonny and Cher. And female/female duets are usually pretty fun, too, in a diva-meets-diva kind of way: Beyoncé and Shakira pumping through "Beautiful Liar," Brandy and Monica lashing out at each other (all in fun, of course) on "The Boy Is Mine."
But male/male duets? Something intrinsic to the art form seems to bring out the worst qualities in many a singer, a fate afflicting even performers as unimpeachable as Willie Nelson (yes, we're thinking of that Julio Iglesias duet, "To All the Girls I've Loved Before"). Maybe the male ego is to blame, or the fact that songwriters rarely know what to do with bromance situations without getting maudlin. Whatever the case, male/male duets are a tradition whose reputation could use a little rehabilitation. Which is where this playlist comes in.
Sure, there are some uncomfortable moments, like when David Bowie and Mick Jagger foolishly take on "Dancin' in the Street," or when former buddies Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney pal around through "Say Say Say." But there's also John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison mumbling the blues together on "Don't Look Back," Youssou N'Dour and Peter Gabriel "Shaking the Tree," and George Jones and Keith Richards closing down the honky-tonks on "Say It's Not You." And at their very best, these tracks offer the kinds of thrills any good duet should, when unique vocal timbres pair off like smoke and whiskey: Johnny Cash's craggy depths against Bob Dylan's nasal whine, Bing Crosby's smooth bourbon mixed with Louis Armstrong's heavenly gravel. Even Willie Nelson redeems himself with a little help from fellow country outlaw Toby Keith. So let's hear it for the boys.