ABC is putting Kelly Clarkson, Robin Thicke, Jennifer Nettles, and John Legend on the road and forcing them to cast potential duet partners for themselves. I think it’s a perfect idea, especially since the art of the duet has hit the wayside in the past few years, wouldn’t you say? Seriously, what was the last duet you cared about? If “Moves Like Jagger” comes to mind, I got here just in time. To honor the ABC show’s noble intention of reviving the duet, here are the best 10 duets of all time, the ones that represent 1) the fun of collaboration 2) glamorous celebrity intermingling, 3) a tinge of unintentional hilarity (only if necessary), and 4) ineffable pop goodness. Some are recorded, some are live versions, and all are compulsively listenable.
We begin with the story of two outlaw superstars on their way out of the clink.
10. Lady Gaga and Beyonce, “Telephone”
What if I’d selected “Video Phone” instead? Would you have me commited? Would you commit yourself? The point is: Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s supersonic duet is something of an acquired taste, but both ladies outsass themselves in record amounts. Who knew there were such exhilarating methods of discussing the problems of cell phone technology?
9. Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, “Where is the Love?”
Oh, Roberta. She’s the loveliest. Both legends sound marvelous here, and though they’d collaborate again, I think this remains their sweetest, most charmingly simple partnership.
8. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”
Funny enough, both Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes have sung in duets with other performers, and both songs were contenders for this list. Medley’s collaboration with Gladys Knight, “Loving on Borrowed Time,” and Jennifer Warnes co-sang the Oscar-winning ballad “Up Where We Belong.” Too bad Dirty Dancing’s crowning moment is still so listenable, catchy, and fun, even after being tarred and feathered recently by the Black Eyed Peas.
7. David Bowie and Bing Crosby, “Little Drummer Boy”
I love a duet forged by an unlikely partnership. In this Christmas video, Bing Crosby and David Bowie chat to try to level with one another, and both legends agree to hum and trill “Little Drummer Boy” like proper schoolchildren. Bowie is Swinton-fierce, of course, but Bing Crosby is equally game for fun.
6. Aretha Franklin and George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting”
Combine prime George Michael and the no-nonsense ’80s version of Aretha Franklin, and what do you get? This lively concoction that somehow serves both voices perfectly. I dare you to take your eyes off George throughout its runtime.
5. Michael and Janet Jackson, “Scream”
Michael Jackson had always admired Janet’s producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and the fruits of their collaborative labor are staggering: “Scream” combines Michael’s spooky rage, Janet’s defiant streak, and outrageous video costs. It’s all worth it, especially for the glimpse into Michael’s agnst.
4. Elton John and Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”
I don’t know a single song as paradoxically idiotic and perfect as “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” There should be a third singer who tells the other two to get a room, frankly. But Elton and Kiki’s effervescence sells this slap-happy Laurel and Hardy routine, and I’m already stuck with the damn tune in my head again.
3. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
Ashford and Simpson have thrown us many gems (namely “Solid,” of course), but their unmatched production is “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” It’s peppy, real, and even a little funky. My theory is that ever gay person on Earth has Wiki’d Tammi Terrell’s sad story at some point, but if you haven’t yet, hop aboard the frown train now.
2. Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, “Islands in the Stream”
“Islands in the Stream” eliminates some of the inanity of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” while adding two scoops of pure, Dolly-brand sincerity. She and Kenny croon like lovers of a million years, and I’d pay good money to see them both sing the late ’90s cover/riff of this hit, “Ghetto Superstar.” Kenny will totally play Mia.
1. Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, “Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy”
May I stun you? Though I wrote that exhaustingly loving tribute to Barbra Streisand for her 70th birthday, I’m not a particular Streisand zealot. I’m a Madonna-era sexual chutzpah fanatic, see, and Barbra’s world is sort of detached from that. But no matter: One area where the legend exceeds all competitors is duets. Her work with the late Donna Summer on “Enough is Enough” is a murderously powerful disco anthem, and her nutty duet with Neil Diamond, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore” is a rare combo of schmaltz and total romantic power. And somehow, they both pale in comparison to this, one of the most unforgettable TV performances of all time and the definitive duet of the past 60 years. Judy Garland’s spirit is swelling, Barbra’s star is spiraling up, and both — without warning, halfway through the song — decide to give the performances of their lives. If there’s a better duet on the planet, I don’t know it.
What are your choices, kids? Who did I forget/snub/?