Sometimes one just ain't enough.
That's a line, okay an amended line, from the rarest of rock treats - the duet. Everyone loves when two pop icons team up for a single. It's just like those rare occasions when two solo wrestlers join forces for a super tag-team.
Just like its brethren in the WWE the results for pop duets are often much less than the sum of their parts. Still, each duet holds a special spot, or two, in the minds of music fans.
So it's easy to say that all duets are overrated isn't it? Well, that would be the case if it weren't for the fact that so many great ones are overlooked. Sometimes this is a result of one star not shining as brightly as his or her partner, but more often it is simply due to a lack of hype. Whatever the case, the pop music duet is almost always overrated, but sometimes a few songs can be underrated.
The following are the five most underrated Pop Music Duets of All Time as well the five most overrated - a truly select list as the quality/respect meter really has to be out of balance to ascend to the top of a nearly universally overrated category.
5. "Volcano" by Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan
Though not credited as a duet (Hannigan's work is billed as backing vocals) it's hard to say that the female voice is not equal to Rice's in either time or presence on this track. A lilting and haunting masterpiece from the Irish songwriter, "Volcano" stands out from the other tracks on his debut album simply because Hannigan is much more than a backing artist and her tender voice compliments Rice's desperate wail beautifully. Though it's clearly the best track on "O", "Cannonball" and "The Blower's Daughter" are often the most recognized.
4. "Kids" by Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue
A tremendous hit in several countries, "Kids" followed the path of the rest of Williams' work by being completely ignored in America. Stateside music lovers missed out on a soaring pop anthem replete with the exuberant glee of most of Williams' work. The difference here is that the equally brilliant Minogue adds her voice to the track, complimenting her fellow pop star with sublime pop/rock harmonies. Plus, the song's coda features one of the most exquisitely boastful raps ever laid down.
3. "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" by Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley
Ah, Meat Loaf. When you're fat, sweaty, dress like a pirate crossed with a vampire and are named after food, everything you do is going to be underrated. "Paradise" is the most glaring case of this, especially since nobody outside of Ms. Foley's family even knows who that thunder-throated siren accompanying Mr. Loaf is. This song is a tremendous example of Jim Steinam's Baroque pop as he uses the singers to flesh out a full story and their mammoth voices to take that tale to massive heights. Actually, this song could be called a trio with Phil Rizzuto's inspired play-by-play of a tryst in the backseat of a car, but we'll leave it on this list for now.
2. "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" by Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks
This is an incredibly simple song. A basic three-bar rock tune that turns into something magnificent because of the way Petty and Nicks compliment each other. Nicks' smoky tones actually make the scratching yelps of Petty sound good as the two gel on a song that sounds at the same time like the mystical pop of Nicks and the bar band rock of the Heartbreakers. This song is just everything a mingling of two stars should be as they meet in the middle on the overall sound, outdoing their individual work in the process. Still, this song is barely thought of as a great duet - it could be because Nicks and Petty sound so good together that people assume they were in the same band at one point.
1. "Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
The smoothest song ever? The sexiest song ever? This duet is certainly in the conversation for both. It's an effortless R&B tune on which the two singers sound like they could be twins conjoined at the vocal chord they're so in sync. The melodies just flow forth in a combination as smooth and sweet as honey and butter spread over warm toast. A top ten hit in its day, this song is mostly recognized now for being on commercials and far overshadowed by the duo's overly-saccharine "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". When it's not even the best-known song that starts with "Ain't No" by a particular duo, then that song is underrated.
5. Any Song with a Male Rapper featuring a Female R&B Singer
Hard to figure out exactly where this all started. Ja Rule
and J. Lo's
"I'm Real" probably started the trend, but who knows? Since then, every rapper and every female R&B star have paired up in a way that would make the cast of "Swingtown" blush. The results are often horrible, sounding like two different songs mashed together. Still, these almost always hit the top of the charts and are inescapable in dance clubs. In the words of Master P, "Ugh". Note: This does not include Beyonce
brilliant "Crazy in Love".
4. "Ebony and Ivory" by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
When you have two of the top ten all time pop musicians combining on a single, the results should be outstanding. Instead, Wonder and Sir Paul delivered a mediocre pop ballad with lyrics that sound like they made them up while looking at the piano. Even worse, is that they fail to sing in perfect harmony, making those awful lyrics an out-and-out lie. Despite its shortcomings, this song will always be hailed as a classic due to its pleasant melody, the stature of the performers and that it's supposedly an anthem of racial tolerance. Somewhere, Franklin from "Arrested Development
" is wondering why he doesn't have a record deal.
3. "Dancing in the Streets" by Mick Jagger and David Bowie
Bowie and Mick recorded this cover as a means of promoting Live Aid, so at least their intentions were good. The execution was as bad as it gets. Somehow they made this annoying pop tart unbearably worse as they each sound like caricatures of themselves, over singing the tune every step of the way. Also, this is the worst music video ever made. There are no exceptions to that. It's the worst. Music. Video. Ever. Made. None of this seems to matter; however, as many look back on this duet as an excellent pop moment for this duo and an 80s classic that deserves inclusion in nearly every VH1 retrospective on that decade.
2. Any Duet Between a Living Person and Dead Person
It started with Natalie Cole
and her father
singing "Unforgettable" "together" on her 1991 album of the same name, and the practice has been inescapable ever since. Whether it's Judy Garland
or Frank Sinatra
or Tony Bennett
(oh, he's still alive?), contemporary singers have been standing on stage alone, singing in the vocal dead spaces of a classic while an image of their singing partner plays on a giant screen. It's always terrible, there are no exceptions. It's right up there with having Fred Astaire
dance with a vacuum in commercials. Somehow, these are always hailed as moments. Awards shows build up to them for hours on end, telling us we're only a few minutes away from Avril Lavigne
performing with Billie Holiday
and nearly everyone takes the bait, talking about how great it was the next day. It never is. Ever.
1. "Walk This Way" by Aerosmith and Run-DMC
This is the moment. This is the moment Hip-Hop went mainstream. This is where it all changed. This is why we listen to rap music so much today. Too bad none of that is true. Too bad rap was still considered fringe music until the early 90s. Too bad the first song to feature rapping and top the charts was Blondie's
"Rapture" with Fab 5 Freddy
five years prior and that "Rapper's Delight" hit the top 40 another two years before that. But nobody likes facts; they get in the way of the truth. They get in the way of people believing that this was a good song, that it was a crucial moment in music. In reality, it was just a poorer version of a rock classic re-recorded by Aerosmith at a time when they made The Grateful Dead
look like Nancy Reagan. No knock against either group, but it's time we all stop fooling ourselves thinking this cover version was an important moment in music.
Check back next week for the most overrated and underrated child performances in film history.
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Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer