We all remember the great duets. Save Your Love by Renee and Renato, Welcome Home by Peters and Lee, Orville’s Song by Keith Harris & Orville The Duck.
But the art of the duet also has its place in rock’n’roll. From power ballads to balls-out OTT anthems, and from mega-hits to cult classics, the rock duet comes in all shapes and sizes.
Here we present the very best of them. Ducks not included.
Ozzy Osbourne & Lita Ford – Close My Eyes Forever (1988)
In the late 80s, so powerful was the allure of the power ballad duet that even the coke-snorting, bat-munching Prince Of Darkness succumbed to it. In time-honoured tradition, Sharon was blame. At that time, Mrs. O was managing former Runaways star Lita Ford as well as the old man. Putting the two together was a no-brainer. What they delivered with Close My Eyes Forever was something truly unique – a love song utterly devoid of romance. Lita sounds agitated. Ozzy, inevitably, sounds pissed. But the song was a hit – top ten in America. And it’s better, at least, than the duets the Double-O went on to make, with daughter Kelly and, of course, Miss Piggy.
David Bowie & Mick Jagger - Dancing In The Street (1985)
Two legendary rock singers, and a classic old Motown song. What could go wrong? As it turned out, pretty much everything, as Bowie and Jagger hammed it up and made a dog’s dinner of Dancing In The Street. But at least they did it to raise money for Live Aid. And the high-camp video spawned a brilliant spoof – so we recommend you watch this instead.
Sebastian Bach & Axl Rose – Love is A Bitchslap (2007)
Former Skid Row singer Bach has been tight with Axl since the early 90s, when the Skids had opened for Guns N’ Roses on the Use Your Illusion tour. This provocatively titled duet is the best of three tracks from Bach’s album Angel Down to feature Axl. A throwback to the good old bad old days of the 80s, it’s a full-tilt rock’n’roll blaster. From these two badasses, you’d expect nothing less.
Sammy Hagar & Kid Rock – Knockdown Dragout (2013)
The Red Rocker’s 2013 album Sammy Hagar & Friends was exactly as billed – a bunch of songs recorded with famous buddies, including former bandmates from Van Halen, Chickenfoot and Montrose and H.S.A.S. And on an album notable for its complete lack of anything approaching subtlety, the standout was this raucous duet with white trash superstar Kid Rock. Best enjoyed with a shot of Sammy’s own-brand tequila.
Def Leppard & Tim McGraw – Nine Lives (2008)
Taylor Swift loves Def Leppard, but it was another famous fan that ended up cutting a song with the band. Country singer Tim McGraw wears a big hat and has had plenty of big hits in the US – 10 number one country albums, 25 number one country singles. And his duet with Joe Elliott on Nine Lives worked brilliantly, his Southern twang adding a little extra spice to a hard rock anthem in the classic Leppard tradition.
INXS & Jimmy Barnes – Good Times (1987)
It was a marriage made in Aussie rock heaven. In 1987, INXS had become the biggest thing from Down Under since AC/DC. Jimmy Barnes, as former frontman of Cold Chisel and solo star, was Australian rock’n’roll royalty. And the song they recorded together was an Aussie classic – a hit for 60s stars The Easybeats, written by the group’s founding members Harry Vanda and George Young, the latter the older brother of Malcolm and Angus. The version that INXS and Barnes cut for the soundtrack to cult horror comedy movie The Lost Boys was as rowdy as an Aussie boozer at closing time, with Barnes and Michael Hutchence really belting it out. It’s no wonder so many people were pulling for Barnes to replace Brian Johnson in AC/DC. He’s an absolute powerhouse of a singer.
Almost Paradise – Mike Reno & Ann Wilson (1984)
If you missed the 1980s – whether born too late, or perhaps whacked out on coke for the duration – this is what it was like. Power ballads ruled. And if said power ballad happened to be the love theme to a Hollywood blockbuster, performed as a duet by a pair of big-haired rock stars – one a dude, the other a chick – the cash just rolled in. So it was with Almost Paradise, written by soft rock master Eric Carmen, sung by Loverboy’s Mike Reno and Heart’s Ann Wilson, and featured in Footloose, a movie so quintessentially 80s it had Kevin Bacon top billing. To hear it again now is to be transported back in time to a golden age…
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Please Read The Letter (2007)
In the year that Led Zeppelin reunited for that one-off performance at London’s O2, and the world waited for the mother of all comeback tours, Plant had already moved on. For the singer, one gig with the old band was enough. He had other areas of music to explore, and he did so, brilliantly, with Raising Sand, an album of duets with bluegrass singer Krauss. The old songs they recorded ranged from country to blues and rockabilly. But the best track on the album was one that Plant had written with Jimmy Page – the tender ballad Please Read The Letter. The irony was not lost on Page.
Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash – Girl From The North Country (1969)
The song that Dylan first recorded in 1963 for his second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was remade six years later as a duet with Cash. Most extraordinary of all, in this meeting of two major figures in American music, is the complete lack of ego in the performance. It is a simple song, beautifully sung: the two voices, Dylan’s reedy, Cash’s deep, in perfect balance.
Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush – Don’t Give Up (1986)
It was the dream art rock pairing that almost didn’t happen. As astonishing as it now seems, Gabriel had wanted to record Don’t Give Up with Dolly Parton, believing that his lyrics for the song, inspired by photographs of The Great Depression in 1930s America, would have a deeper resonance if sung in part by an American voice. Instead, after Dolly turned him down, Gabriel found the perfect partner in Kate Bush. The emotion created in their duet – enhanced by Godley & Creme’s video – made Don’t Give Up a classic, defining song in Gabriel’s career.
Gary Moore & Phil Lynott – Out In The Fields (1985)
Moore and Lynott made some great music together in an on-off working relationship spread over many years. In 1979 there was Thin Lizzy’s classic Black Rose, the only album that Moore made with the band, and also Moore’s solo hit Parisienne Walkways, a duet with Lynott. They repeated the trick in 1985 with Out In The Fields, an electrifying anti-war protest song. Sadly, it turned out to be Lynott’s last hit before his death the following January.
Temple Of The Dog – Hunger Strike (1991)
Led by Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, Temple Of The Dog was a Seattle rock supergroup that made one album as a tribute to Cornell’s friend Andrew Wood, the singer of Mother Love Bone, who died from a heroin overdose in 1990. Alongside Cornell were Soundgarden’s drummer Matt Cameron, two former members of Mother Love Bone – guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament – plus guitarist Mike McCready and singer Eddie Vedder from the new band formed by Gossard and Ament, Pearl Jam. What they created in Wood’s memory was one of the great albums of the grunge era, featuring in Hunger Strike a beautiful, melancholy song in which Cornell and Vedder shared lead vocals, both digging deep.
Alice Cooper & Donovan – Billion Dollar Babies (1973)
The title track from the Coop’s masterpiece was one of the most bizarre love songs ever written, its subject a sex doll, which he serenaded thus: ‘Rubber little monster/Baby I adore you/Man or woman living couldn’t love me like you do.’ An additional frisson of twisted romantic delusion was supplied in interludes sung by folk rock kook Donovan in a weird faux-Cockney voice: ‘If I’m too rough, tell me/I’m so scared your little head will come off in my hands.’ As duets go, it’s a long way from Kenny and Dolly trilling Islands In The Stream.
Meat Loaf & Cher – Dead Ringer For Love (1981)
As one critic noted, Cher could sing any old piece of tat like her next meal depended on it. And if anyone could empathise with that, it’s Meat Loaf. The two old troupers teamed up for this hit single from Dead Ringer, Meat’s follow-up to Bat Out Of Hell. A frenzied rock’n’roll anthem that hits fever pitch and stays there for the duration, Dead Ringer is surely the most OTT duet of them all.
Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (1981)
She was one of the biggest stars in rock’n’roll, singer and songwriter for Fleetwood Mac, but when Stevie Nicks first met Tom Petty in 1978, she was, in Petty’s words, “this absolutely stoned-gone, huge fan.” Nicks loved Petty’s songs so much that she wanted one to sing. “It was her mission in life,” he said, “that I should write her a song.” Only it didn’t turn out quite like that. When Petty wrote Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around – this cool, slinky rock’n’roll tune – it sounded so good he wanted to keep it for himself. But in the end, Stevie got her way – and her duet with her favourite singer became the big hit from her debut solo album Bella Donna.
Rush & Max Webster – Battle Scar (1980)
It was not so much a conventional duet as two bands facing off and rocking out. The guys in Max Webster – a band, not a person – were old friends of Rush. And for the album Universal Juveniles, Max Webster’s last, the two bands set up in the same room to record Battle Scar live off the floor. The song is a real shit-kicker, with a slow, grinding tension. And the combination of two unique voices – Kim Mitchell’s groan, Geddy Lee’s yelp – adds to the spaced-out vibe. It’s the ultimate Maple Leaf Mayhem jam.
Led Zeppelin – The Battle Of Evermore (1971)
On Zeppelin’s iconic and definitive fourth album was the only song the band recorded with a guest singer. Folk music had been a key influence in Zeppelin’s music from the outset. On their debut album there was Black Mountain Side, based on a traditional Irish song. On Led Zeppelin III there was a number of folk-influenced acoustic tracks. And when Jimmy Page wrote The Battle Of Evermore – playing a mandolin for the first time, borrowed from bassist John Paul Jones – it sounded, he said, “like an old English instrumental.” It was Robert Plant who suggested that the song required another voice to compliment his own, and it came from Sandy Denny, formerly of British folk group Fairport Convention. The result was magical, a Led Zeppelin song unlike any other.
Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure (1981)
What started out as a bit of fun, an off-the-cuff collaboration between two giants of rock, turned into what Brian May later called “a fierce battle”. And it was a battle that Bowie won, his ego bigger even than Freddie Mercury’s. As May said of the making of Under Pressure: “It was hard, because you had four very precocious boys and David, who was precocious enough for all of us. David took over the song lyrically.” For all that, May described Under Pressure as “a great song”. With that killer funky bass line from John Deacon, and stellar performances from the two alpha male vocalists, it was a UK number one and a smash hit all over the world.
Motörhead & Girlschool – Please Don’t Touch (1981)
“We are Motörhead,” Lemmy used to say. “And we play rock’n’roll.” For him, it really was that simple. The band he led was, in his mind, plugged straight into the original rock’n’roll of the 50s. Except that Motörhead played it louder, faster, and filthier. In tribute to Lemmy’s heroes was the song that Motörhead recorded with all-female NWOBHM stars Girlschool – under the inspired portmanteau of Headgirl. Please Don’t Touch was a minor hit in 1959 for Brit rock’n’rollers Johnny Kidd & The Pirates. Headgirl played it straight, no messing, retaining the spirit of the original. And the way Lemmy sang it with the beautiful Kelly Johnson just oozed rock’n’roll cool.
Bryan Adams & Tina Turner – It’s Only Love (1985)
The greatest duet of all time wasn’t actually written with two voices in mind, but when Bryan Adams decided on cutting this song with a female singer, he knew immediately who he wanted: soul legend Tina Turner. There was no ballsier singer in the world, and in the mid-80s Turner was in the process of making a comeback. When the duo recorded the track, her performance was so powerful that Adams was blown away. As he told Classic Rock: “It was like a tornado had just ripped through.” First and foremost, It’s Only Love was a great song. What made it so brilliant as a duet was the two gritty voices were so perfectly matched. Such was the heat generated between them in this song that it was widely rumoured that their relationship was more than professional – a story Adams has always denied. But he got a great hit song out of it. That was more than enough.