Popular Oldies Duets

Songs About Love and Relationships from 1950 to 1979

Duets have always been perfectly suited to oldies music and love songs, mainly because rock and roll began as a combination of popular styles. Oldies duets largely focused on romantic relationships, and for many, the greatest love songs are those featuring two great 50s, 60s, and 70s artists singing directly to each other — the more believable the chemistry, the better! The following list features the most memorable romantic duets from 1950 through the 1970s. 

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell are probably rock's best-known romantic duo of all time, a twosome that would have made history even if Marvin hadn't already kicked up so much dust on his own. Tammi definitely brought out the more romantic side of Gaye — who could be misogynistic and fixated — and this soaring duet may be their greatest, a paean to the very nature of devotion.

When Gaye sings "Dare anybody to try and move me," arcing into a falsetto on the "try" — well, you know the feeling is real. This gospel-influenced number was recorded by both singers separately, mainly because Tammi was already suffering from the brain tumor that would shortly take her life. More »

Even before Dirty Dancing gave this song a permanent home in the hearts of females everywhere, this 1957 single — written by Bo Diddley, which probably accounts for the Latin tinges — was already one sexy little duet, set off by Mickey's unforgettable guitar break and the duo's ultra-seductive crooning: "How do you call your loverboy?" 

Of course, with a song like this, it's not about the lyrics at all — there are only eight couplets here — rather the intonation and passion of the pair's delivery.  When Sylvia sings "Oh, BAY-bee," words are beside the point. Sylvia, perhaps unsurprisingly, went on to make the Seventies "orgasm record" known as "Pillow Talk," released under her stage name Sylvia Robinson. 

"Love Is Strange" incidentally was later quoted as the inspiration for Buddy Holly's less-randy "Words Of Love." More »

"Let the Good Times Roll" is a party record, right? Well, it would be, except that this prime slice of Fifties New Orleans R&B is a dialogue on increasing America's sexual culture —lines like "C'mon baby, let me thrill your soul" brought the raw sexuality of the genre right into the nation's living rooms, which is exactly what the moral authorities despised about rock and roll.

Even with the innocent (and insanely addictive) push-and-pull anchoring every verse, the invitation to "close the door" and "rock some more" was clearly not about dancing. (Ironically, Shirley went on to have a disco-era hit with a song entitled "Shame, Shame, Shame.") More »

Not all duets have to be romantic. The hilarious original, "Tramp," was released by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas in 1967. This classic duet dis is a staple of hip-hop history with samplings of it making its way into Salt N Pepa's 1994 smash hit "Shoop" — a song devoted o the good points of the singer's love interest. 

In the track, Otis, known as the Lexicographer of Soul, is reduced to defending his poverty as Carla calls him out (by name!). He may be a lover, indeed, the "only son of a gun this side of the sun," whatever that means, but he enjoys putting her on as well: "You probably haven't even got twenty-five cents," she declares, followed by Otis defending himself by singing "I got six Cadillacs, five Lincolns, four Fords, six Mercurys, three T-Birds, a Mustang," and that his momma and daddy were, too. 

The track was originally written by Lowell Fulson and Jimmy McCracklin in 1967 and has since been recorded by over 10 different artists.  More »

"It's Gonna Work Out Fine" by Ike and Tina Turner wouldn't have existed without the genre groundwork laid by "Love Is Strange" (which no doubt inspired Ike's guitar lick) and Dinah Washington and Brook Benton duets immediately preceding it (which clearly inspired everything else).

But as usual, Ike and Tina Turner got rawer with the concept behind this 1962 burner than their forbears. The song has since been heralded as gustier, more to the point, and more willing to take chances in the genre than its predecessors. Perhaps because of their torrid personal lives, the Turners really turned out a show stopper with this reconciliation ballad.  More »

Although uncredited in its original lease, this Ray Charles track is indeed a duet with The Raelettes vocalist Margie Hendricks. Originally written and performed by R&B star Percy Mayfield in 1960, "Hit the Road, Jack" garnered fame only after Charles' versions hit the turntables in 1961. 

The alternately furious and comic duet between Hendricks and Charles powers this brief but powerful stomper. The track is smooth yet raw, as is Brother Ray's way, and wrapped around a descending chord figure that instantly became part of the pop lexicon. Although it wasn't written the way it was depicted in the movie "Ray," it could have been: listening to it, you could see that scene spring to life, even if the movie had never been made. More »

Shrewd sometimes to a fault, Sonny Bono knew on which side his bread was buttered, which is why he designed his duets with Cher to be symbols of the counterculture, portraits of doomed hippie lovers a la Romeo and Juliet, a pair of losers with nowhere to fit in.

Their other singles often featured only one or the other singing lead, making "I Got You Babe" all the more definitive of their true impact. If you don't care about rock history, you can still identify with it as a generic they-don't-understand-us anthem for teens of all eras.  More »

This call and response tune became an anthem of soul music of the 1960s, with siblings Inez and Charlie Foxx's original 1963 version topping charts and going on to influence a number of famous covers and pop culture references. 

Since its original release, the track has since lost some of its luster to an unfortunate soft-rock version by the king and queen of the Seventies' singer-songwriter movement James Taylor and Carly Simon. Yet "Mockingbird" is still a remarkable document since the lyrics themselves reveal next to nothing about what these two feel for each other. The sly delivery, on the other hand, transforms what is essentially a children's rhyme to a soul-filled number. 

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"Don't Go Breaking My Heart" could have been one of rock history's stickiest duets, with Elton making a career move into disco and longtime session singer Kiki Dee (hardly his equal, at least from a charisma standpoint) just sort of enjoying the moment.

The pair made it work — sexuality and other concerns aside — mainly because they've got their friendship down pat and lyricist Bernie Taupin actually does a good job delineating what makes any good relationship work ("When I was down / I was your clown"). Relentlessly showbizzy but somehow rock anyway, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" has gone on to great commercial and cultural success, featured in several movie and television scenes.  More »

Like everything else on his classic debut, this second single from Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" must have been an unwelcome zit-covered joke for those who took "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad" as a serious adult ballad. But then, part of being "barely eighteen and... barely dressed" is the freedom that entails.

This classic duet — in which "Night Court" original Ellen Foley stands firm and matches Meat Loaf's leather lungs note for note — is remarkable for the way it depicts adulthood, with all its soul-crushing concerns and pitfalls, already skulking over the horizon. Begging the question, "Love affair or youth in love with its own fleeting possibilities?" More »

How could a lingering, tortured breakup sound so sweet — angelic even? Well, first you need two of the greatest Seventies soulsters in the business, Roberta Flack, and Donny Hathaway, then you couch the song in a super mellow vibe, and there you have it: a perfect breakup song.

"Where Is The Love" comes from one of the most understanding and emotionally open of eras in music. One of the more enigmatic songs on this list, if only for the fact that both the male and female leads share lines like "Oh, how I wish I'd never met you" and "Why did you have to lie?" Now that's a major he-said-she-said moment! More »

Said to have created a musical genre all by itself — Cowboy Psychedelia, or what some dub the "Saccharine Underground" — the 1968 quasi-hit "Some Velvet Morning" would occupy a singularly weird place in history even if no one had picked up on it.

How else can you explain a cowboy talking about his experiences with the goddess Phaedra while Sinatra's daughter, as Phaedra, tells him what he can learn from the flowers? Hazlewood even named his granddaughter Phaedra, which, in Greek mythology, would make him Zeus. Wow.

As always, personality pulls it off: these two always had a chemistry in the studio, and it shines beautifully on this haunting melody.  More »

Perhaps the most famous romantic duet of all time, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John belted "You're the One That I Want" in the 1978 blockbuster smash "Grease," propelling the pair into instant fame. 

In the scene, Danny and Sandy finally realize they are right for one another after reuniting from a bout of "Summer Love." At this point, he'd tried being a jock, and she's tried being a slut, so it's apparently the effort that counts. John's not much of a singer, granted, but he treats it like an acting job, and Olivia has no trouble propping him up. 

The single reached number one on charts in countries worldwide and as of 2013, it is still the fifth best-selling single of all time in the United Kingdom.  More »

Perhaps the ultimate make-up song, this duet by Peaches and Herb (who, with a different "Peaches," scored a handful of R&B hits in the mid-Sixties) makes breaking up seem, by turns, necessary and educational ("Our quarrel was such a way of learning so much").

Perhaps that's why it sat atop domestic charts for a solid month, selling three million copies in the process. Or maybe it was the interplay between Herb and his latest peach, who, like the five others was never involved with him romantically. Hey, whatever works! More »

Of course it's not really a duet, but doesn't it feel like one? Much like Lou Rawls did for Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me," relatively unknown Johnny Bristol goads Diana, call-and-response style, through the song. Bristol co-wrote, developed, and produced the song as a vehicle for Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, but when Motown head Berry Gordy heard the nearly-finished track, he immediately turned it into the Supremes' last Diana-led single. (The backing female voices are not the Supremes at all.) 

Bristol guided Diana through the song with harmony and occasional encouragement and accidentally recorded the results, which sounds like two lovers pledging their eternal fidelity. Romantic, indeed! More »

 

Another romantic duet for Marvin Gaye, "It Takes Two" featured Kim Weston in this poppy ode to love. Due to Gaye's chemistry with absolutely everyone, he remains famous for his duets, though the ones he made with Kim Weston, Mary Wells, and Diana Ross usually pale when placed next to his glorious Tammi Terrell singles.

This one was a big hit, however, and deservedly so — although it uses its two leads not to detail a specific romance so much as the idea of romance itself. Think of it as a commercial for not staying single. Sample line: "Two can make just any place seem just like bein' at home." More »

Paul and Paula were actually Ray and Jill — that is, Ray Hildebrand, a Brownwood, TX student, and Jill Jackson, niece of the guy who ran Ray's boarding house. When the duo sang this song on their Sunday afternoon radio show in 1963, they soon had an instant hit on their hands.

Calls and responses of "Hey Paul" and "Hey Paula" sweeten the melodies, intertwining all the facets of young love in lyrics like "true love means waiting and hoping that soon wishes we've made will come true." 

They only managed one follow-up hit with "Young Lovers," but this sweetly innocent pledge of devotion — as simple and effective as a Valentine — remains an industry favorite. What's more, it essentially inspired the rock duet craze of the mid-Sixties. More »

Credited with being the first "swamp-pop" single to hit the national charts, "I'm Leaving It All Up To You" featured Cajun melodies in a rock waltz setting. Dale and Grace, "Sweethearts of the Sixties," perfected their hit in Prairieville, LA, just up the road from New Orleans and not far from the heart of Acadiana.

With both leads singing at once, more in the style of a country weeper, this one is rustic enough and effective enough to have been covered by Freddy Fender and Sonny and Cher. Donny and Marie took a watered-down version to the Top Ten in the Seventies. More »

Brook Benton and Dinah Washington had one of the sexiest vocal combinations in pop music, with Benton's low growl bumping and grinding up against Washington's high sassy stops. But in "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" they had the sparks going, too — enough for them to make a vocal miscue somewhere in the last verse seem like the sly, half-serious bantering of newlyweds. 

"You're back in my spot again, honey," Washington purrs, to which Benton replies, "I like your spot." Little wonder that this duo racked up two Number One R&B hits in the same year during 1960.  More »

Chuck's brand of "​uptown soul" usually proved a little too slick for most hardcore R&B fans, but the "Any Day Now" singer proved he could handle the gutbucket stuff quite well with this 1965 Top Ten hit "Something You Got," which features him trading off with Maxine Brown (best known for her R&B hit "Oh! No Not My Baby").

Slowing Chris Kenner's original New Orleans smash down to a stealthy crawl, Jackson and Brown pack a ton and a half of raw sexual energy into the pointedly vague lyrics — if Kenner sounded like he was in love, these two sounded like something darker (and maybe more fun) was going down. More »

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Fontenot, Robert. "Popular Oldies Duets." ThoughtCo, Aug. 19, 2017, thoughtco.com/greatest-oldies-duets-2522295. Fontenot, Robert. (2017, August 19). Popular Oldies Duets. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/greatest-oldies-duets-2522295 Fontenot, Robert. "Popular Oldies Duets." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/greatest-oldies-duets-2522295 (accessed November 20, 2017).