The Top 10 Soulful Duet Pairings


One of the most legendary things in soul music is the power of two sets of voices sharing, or fighting for the spotlight… it’s always a wonderful tug back and forth between two voices interpreting a song…

sometimes a career is made out of it.. sometimes just one voice overdubbed over one song to make some magic, never to happen again….

#10) Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald
Prime example: On My Own

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This one is really hard for me, because I really hate Michael McDonald and his craptacular nearly 40 year career of possibly being the worst Blue-eyed soul singer ever to walk across the stage, but somehow his overdub (one of many cases where a duet artist wasn’t actually in the studio with the primary vocalist) is subtle and well, for once you can clearly understand what he’s saying. And weirdly for Patti Labelle, she’s subdued, nuanced and reflective. And does a great job with the contemplative lyric.

#9) The Supremes “Meet” The Temptations
Prime Example: Not Now (I’ll Tell You Later)

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Motown decides after a interesting pairing on Ed Sullivan of The Supremes and Temptations singing “(I Know) I’m Losing You” (in actuality a song first cut on The Supremes then given to The Temptations) to make wads of cash on them with a LP and a TV Special. But actually in my opinion the best moment is a 1963ish track buried on the back of The Temptations 1966 lp Gettin’ Ready “Not Now (I’ll Tell You Later)” that is clearly dominated by Florence Ballard. And is charming for it’s throwback Motowness.

#8) Dusty Springfield & The Pet Shop Boys
Prime Example: What Have I Done To Deserve This?

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Synth pop meets the grand dame of blue eyed soul in this international hit record. wonderfully disenchanted about love, and is Dusty Springfield playing the ultimate Cougar or not (at the time of the recording she was 45-46ish) still searching for love in a narcissistic late 1980s world. Light years away from the breathless optimism of “Stay Awhile” … how do you make it through *another* break up, and does it end…
….is this really adulthood.

7) Judy Clay & William Bell
Prime Example: Private Number

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I love this pairing, primarily because for both being relatively young singers at the time of the recording, their voices are exceptionally weathered, weary beings, people sounding like they’ve been out of contact with each other for a good 20 years, perhaps childhood sweethearts. Adrift for multiple decades and finding each other… once again.

6) Fontella Bass & Bobby McClure
Prime Example: Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing

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Possibly the most sassy pairing in soul duet history, snapping barbs about how one expects the paycheck at the end of the week, one expects not to hear rumors floating around town at a mile a minute. Stripped down, lively, and honest. “Dontcha be no fooool”

5) Jerry Butler & Betty Everett
Prime Example: Love Is Strange

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Jerry Butler, one of the sexiest voices of the 1960s, like a good glass of bourbon and a Buick Riviera, just neat, smooth, pure class, paired with Betty Everett singing in the lower, tougher range of her voice (the same range that garnered her the biggest hits too) Like more famous pairings in this soulful style, it sounds like nothing can tear the tender affair apart. They recorded a LP and more worth of Material, but my favorite is their take on the mentioned 1957 Mickey & Sylvia classic.

4) Sugar Pie DeSanto & Etta James
Prime Example: In The Basement (Parts I & II)

Two gang running homegirls from the Fillmore in SF meet up 10 years after they took two separate paths into Soul Music find each other in 1965, on the same label, Chess records, both in relative lulls and cut a few tracks. I prefer “In The Basement” slightly over the Motown meets Stax horns percolator against cheating and lying lecture that is “Do I Make Myself Clear” but it’s awesome to hear two homeguuurls dish it out… kinda a pre-“sisters are doing it for themselves”

3) Kim Weston versus Marvin Gaye
Prime Example: Baby I Need Your Loving

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The best thing about this pairing is also the worst, Kim Weston could sing poor Marvin under the table, but it also makes Marvin Gaye work twice as hard, makes him grittier and more playful, and far less tortured sounding in comparison to his concurrent solo work. This is the “His Girl Friday” playful duet pairing before he was ready for his “holy matrimony” to Tammi Terrell… that we’ll get to in a bit. Out of the 2 LPs worth of material they recorded together between 1964 and 1966..My favorite is the incredibly stripped down, chimed out version of “Baby, I Need Your Lovin'” that sounds like it was produced by the people who performed the Bewitched theme

2) Dinah Washington & Brook Benton
Prime Example: Baby You’ve Got What It Takes

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The Mother of all Soul music duets, and a shame, because rumors point that Dinah and Brooke actually barely got along good enough to lay down the mentioned song and the awesome (and dated) “A Rockin’ Good Way.” Their joint Mercury LP points to this, as the majority of the tracks are solo recordings by Benton and Washington. The template however have set the tone for almost every modern “duet” since.

1) Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Prime Example: Memory Chest

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The duet pairing everyone tries to be, the romantic ideal on vinyl that everyone looks up to. It’s really hard to believe that on some deeply subconscious way Marvin Gaye was in love with the doomed Terrell, because he swoops, flashes vocal feathers like a peacock and acts like Super Marvin, to the charmed and feisty Tammi. The more surprising thing is that their earliest output is that in fact they were Tammi Terrell solo recordings from late 1966, including the classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Even though they weren’t always in the studio, and most likely the majority of their last LP, 1969s Easy include studio demo recordings featuring Valerie Simpson in the place of a gravely ill Terrell (To this day Valerie Simpson denies it’s her on the final LP, but it really doesn’t sound like Tammi Terrell) there is a wonderful magic to the music these two doomed beautiful people made…

….hopefully somewhere in the Universe or some other dimension, or heaven if you believe in that, they do a club gig every friday night, keeping love alive.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Top 10 Soulful Duet Pairings

  1. Randy

    Beautiful. Love MANY of the classic Soulful Duets. MUST include Peaches & Herb and Mickey & Sylvia. Etta & Harvey were great too and of course Marvin Gaye & Mary Wells. James & Bobby Purify come to mind too. DEFINITELY you rightly placed MARVIN & TAMMI in their more-than-earned #1 position. NO ONE else comes within a light-year!

  2. Wayne

    Marvin and Tammi definitely, but there’s no mention of Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, now come on…. They definitely had the magic too.

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