Duet Go Breaking My Heart: My Favorite Female/Male Pairings

In celebration of the new Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile duet album, Lotta Sea Lice, I put together a playlist of some of my personal favorite female/male duets from the past 50 years. Some duos harmonize while some trade off on vocal duties. Some are romantic and some are (like in the case of a brother-sister duo) not. Clearly this is my own purely subjective list of favorites, so if you’re upset that “Islands In the Stream” or some Rihanna song aren’t listed, don’t even start with me.

Starship: “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”
First the band called themselves “Jefferson Airplane,” then “Jefferson Starship,” then after various personnel and stylistic changes (not to mention time spent in court), the band just became “Starship.” Ridiculous? Sure. But, they released the glimmering 80’s gem “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”  Is there anything more fun than the lip sync performance of this song by Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins? I think not.

Florence + The Machine and Josh Homme: “Jackson”
Seldom is a cover of a great song anything special. But this live cover from an MTV Unplugged special of the Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash song absolutely slays.

M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel: “Sweetheart”

Yes, I realize they have recorded multiple albums together under the name She & Him, but my personal favorite duet of theirs comes from Matt’s album A Wasteland Companion. His beachy guitar and earnest vocals go hand in hand with Zooey’s sweet, throwbacky qualities — like Buddy Holly and a pair of dark-framed glasses.

Jenny and Johnny: “My Pet Snakes”

Back in 2010 when Jonathan Rice and Jenny Lewis were still an item (they’ve since split), they recorded a full album of duets, I’m Having Fun Now, under the name Jenny and Johnny. There is not a single dud on this super-catchy, lyrically rich indie pop album. Seven years later, it’s still in high rotation for me. On “My Pet Snakes” Jenny sings the verses, then takes backing vocal duties during the chorus where Johnny leads. It is just…

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”
There will never be another talent quite like Marvin Gaye. (Though Leon Bridges is certainly giving it a noteworthy try.) Back in the 60s, Gaye paired with fellow Motown vocalist Tammi Terrell for a series of duets and (pardon the cliche) it was magic.


Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks: “Insider”
Like so many others, when Tom Petty passed away last week, I immediately started binging on his music. After a few days, I found myself all the way down the rabbit hole listening to rare live versions of songs I’d never heard before. This is when I stumbled upon their live 1981 performance of “Insider” at The Forum. Even with the sound of thousands of screaming fans in the background, nothing sounds more intimate than these two harmonizing.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: “Stick With Me Baby”
Although Robert Plant could probably have sexual chemistry with a tree stump, the mix of his voice with Alison Krauss’s in particular on Raising Sands almost makes me feel like a bit of a creep for listening in. Get a room, you two!

Angus & Julia Stone: “Big Jet Plane”

Thankfully brother/sister duo Angus & Julia Stone have a completely different vibe to their music. Their voices harmonize beautifully against swelling strings on “Big Jet Plane,” giving off more of a melancholy feel than romantic.

Andrew Bird and Fiona Apple: “Left Handed Kisses”
As much as I love Andrew Bird singing with fellow Americana performer Tift Merritt, his recording of “Left Handed Kisses” with glorious feminist weirdo Fiona Apple makes a stronger pairing. For the most part, the duo trade off singing every other line, allowing each to showcase their titanium-strong vocals.

Shovels & Rope: “Cavalier”

There aren’t too many husband-wife-duos these days. (That makes sense though, as the thought of working and living with the same person sounds like the premise of a horror movie to me, quite frankly.) But Cary Ann Heart and Michael Trent of Shovels & Rope seem to make it work, creating lovely Americana tunes, sometimes letting one another take the lead, and sometimes, like in “Cavalier,” harmonizing.

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