Last week, Mariah Carey surprised her fans when she announced that her new single, “Beautiful”, will be a collaboration with R&B giant Miguel. Now, as we await the May 6th debut of the highly anticipated tune, this is the perfect time for us to reflect on several classic pairings with a countdown of the ten greatest Pop music duets.
Journeying back across the decades to the 1960s, I have compiled a short list of ten collaborations that had a major impact on the music industry, both commercially and culturally. Who did the legendary Frank Sinatra tap for his rendition of “Lady is a Tramp”? Which duet leapt from the big screen and developed into one of the biggest hits of all time?
Check out the list of the ten greatest Pop music duets below to find out the answers to those questions and more:
10. Usher & Alicia Keys – “My Boo”
Both their careers have since lost steam but Usher and Alicia Keys were undeniably the dominant artists on the music scene in 2004. So, just imagine the excitement that erupted when they joined forces for the monster hit “My Boo”. Bolstered by impressive harmonies and cleverly played sexual tension, the song is a perfect example of a duet done right without overbearing growling or money wasted on a big budget video that never saw the light of day.
9. Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer – “No More Tears (No More Tears)”
With Disco music ruling the airwaves in the late 1970s, Barbra Streisand knew that her Wet concept album needed an extra splash of glitter to become a certified hit. However, the diva didn’t just add a few sparkling keys a track in her attempt to find her footing on the charts. Rather, she summoned the Queen of Disco herself, Donna Summer.
Streisand and Summer recorded the powerful club anthem “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)”, which rocketed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1979. Shockingly, the duo never performed the song live, despite numerous pleas from their fans for at least a one night only concert.
8. Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – “Say Say Say”
What happened in 1983 when the two biggest-selling artists of all time got together in the studio? Nothing short of pure magic, of course. Long before their bitter feud, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson united for the song “Say Say Say”, and scored one of their biggest hits.
“Say Say Say” held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for a six weeks, which was then chart record, and become Jackson’s most successful single ever. Musically, it was widely regarded as a breakthrough for both men as it combined elements of Pop and Rock with trace elements of Funk. Certainly not what many expected from a McCartney song.
7. Brandy & Monica – “The Boy is Mine”
We all love a good girl fight, especially when it’s over a man. Brandy and Monica’s camps clearly understood our lust for drama, and both women channelled that rage into “The Boy is Mine”. What resulted was a hit song that remained at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for thirteen weeks – the longest stay at the top for any duet in the history of the chart.
6. Diana Ross & Lionel Richie – “Endless Love”
Diana Ross was often mocked during her early career because her light vocals sounded almost laughable when compared to the mammoth instruments of Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and Donna Summer. However, Lionel Richie put her warm, crisp voice to good use on their duet “Endless Love” in 1981 and momentarily silenced all her critics.
“Endless Love” is still ranked at the most successful duet in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 after logging nine weeks at the top and a total twenty-seven frames on the chart. Remember, that in a time when digital sales and online streaming didn’t exist so just imagine how difficult it was for any artist to stay on the Hot 100 for more than just ten weeks!
5. Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston – “When You Believe”
Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston were media rivals since the former exploded onto the music scene in 1990. Vocally, they were neck and neck in the race to be Queen of High Octave Melodrama while commercially, they engaged in the type of chart warfare that gave Madonna nightmares. Yet, the tension finally broke in 1998 when they released “When You Believe”.
For just over four minutes, fans of Carey and Houston encouraged to believe in themselves with unwavering faith in a higher power as both divas emphasised the emotional message without trying to overpower each other. Since Houston’s passing in 2012, “When You Believe” has reemerged as one of the most popular hits in her catalogue as singers everywhere continue to pay tribute to her legacy.
4. George Michael & Aretha Franklin – “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”
Just imagine how George Michael must have wanted to wet his tiny denim shorts when her got the chance to sing with his favourite artist, Aretha Franklin, in 1987. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” was a global smash and a much-needed career revival for the Queen of Soul, who was happy to riff, run and wail on a song with then more relevant Michael. Excuse me while I emulate all the included finger-waving and neck-bobbing to Franklin’s incomparable vocal performance.
3. John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – “You’re the One that I Want”
“You better shape up because I need a man and my heart is set on you!” - Sandy. Long before Rihanna completed her bad girl reinvention with her Rated R album, it was Olivia Newton-John who strutted her stuff to the top of the charts in her trademark leather pants and high heels.
John’s duet with John Travolta, “You’re the One that I Want”, helped to propel Grease to instant classic status in 1978 and made them Pop culture’s ruling couple, although they weren’t romantically involved. Flash forward to 2013 and the teens of Glee are praying for similar success. Good luck with that, children.
2. Frank Sinatra & Ella Fitzgerald – “The Lady is a Tramp”
Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald – just saying those names should give any real music fan a thrill! Known as The Voice and The First Lady of Song the icons teamed for their rendition of “The Lady is a Tramp” in the 1950s. Sassy, catchy and full of that good Jazz music, their version of the song has long been considered as the standard, regardless of what young Lady Gaga’s fans think.
1. Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson – “Scream”
The stars aligned in 1995 when Michael and Janet Jackson released their duet, “Scream”, as the lead single from the former’s HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. Although the song failed to top the Billboard Hot 100 where it peaked at #5, it was a breakthrough for both artists as it stood as a climax for the Pop/Rock musical direction with which they both previously experimented (Michael’s “Dirty Diana”, Janet’s “Black Cat”).
What really made “Scream” special, however, was the accompanying video. Requiring four choreographers, the production pushed both Jacksons to their limits as they redefined dance and laid the foundation for dozens of future imitators. Michael and Janet never performed “Scream” live together but it wasn’t necessary. Both the song and video sold themselves.
What is the greatest Pop music duet? What is the best tune from those listed above? What song was missing? Vote in our poll and share your opinion!