by Kevin Burton
Yesterday I plucked ten of my favorites from a Billboard list of the 40 biggest duets ever. Today I’ll list ten of my favorites that didn’t make their last.
Pulling from that list was easy. Now I’m picking from every other duet ever released. Chances are quite high that I will forget one.
If so, no biggy. This is mainly a public service to remind guys to stop procrastinating and get your Valentine’s Day gift buying act together for your woman.
With that then, on with the countdown:
10 “Summer Nights” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, 1978.
Yesterday’s list ended with “You’re The One That I Want,” the other big hit from Grease for Travolta and Newton-John, at number one. Why not go back there?
That movie and the classic songs are now burned into the fabric of 70s America. But Newton-John almost turned down the role of Sandy.
“OK, I want to see a screen test with John and myself and then I’ll let you know if I want to do it,” she told casting director Joel Thurm according to “Indiewire.com.
Singing his and hers perspectives on young love, dreams and expectations, the song was number one UK, number five US.
9 “Baby Grand” by Billy Joel and Ray Charles, 1987.
In my dateless, piano obsessed 1980s, Joel and Charles provided me the perfect bluesy anthem, singing “Late at night when it’s dark and cold, I reach out for someone to hold. When I’m blue, when I’m lonely, she comes through she’s the only one who can. My baby grand is all I need.”
8 “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, 1972.
This song came after Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and before “Killing Me Softly” at a time when Flackruled AM radio. Flack and Hathaway had another big hit duet with “The Closer I Get To You” in 1977.
7 “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams, 1978.
To hear Deniece Williams sing “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” made one want very much to be that boy. She demonstrates that same high-register vocal mastery in her duet with the legendary crooner Mathis. It is Mathis’s only number one song. It was on top for one week, knocked off that perch by “You’re The One That I Want.”
6 “Mockingbird” by James Taylor and Carly Simon, 1974.
Taylor and Simon’s cover of the 1963 Inez and Charlie Foxx song hit number five on the Hot 100 in 1974.
The song is based on the lullaby “Hush Little Baby.” Cash Box called the Taylor/Simon version “a great re-working of this big 60s hit” saying “the fresh approach is keyed by a beautiful vocal interchange and a great Dixieland horn arrangement.”
5 “Suddenly” by Olivia Newton John and Cliff Richard, 1980.
OK this is the last time I will mention Olivia, promise. In terms of blending of voices, “Suddenly” is the best song on this list. It only reached number 20 on the Hot 100 though, number 15 UK.
I have always thought the song “Suddenly Seymour” from the Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack, especially the way singer Ellen Greene overdramatized it, was a spoof of movie duet love songs in general and Olivia in particular.
When I heard it in the movie I was cracking up. But now I can’t find any writing that fits my spoof theory.
4 “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, 1967.
To talk great duets, you could just list the hits of the Motown team of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and leave it at that. Two others “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” and “You’re All I Need To Get By.” could have made my list. But Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has that extra dose of energy that takes it, well, to the top of the mountain.
Ain’t no bad duets by Gaye and Terrell.
3 “Deep Purple” by Donny Osmond and Marie Osmond, 1975.
The Osmonds’ version is a note-for-note cover of a 1963 number one smash by Nino Tempo and April Stevens, who were also a brother-sister act. The Osmonds reached number 15 with their version.
I love the song in spite of the spoken-word middle, not because of it.
2 “Whenever I Call You Friend” by Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks, 1978.
From the ethereal introduction “Whenever I Call You Friend,” delivers the joys and harmonies of both music and that one-of-a-kind relationship. Loggins isn’t often mentioned with the great rock singers but I think both Loggins and Nicks soar on this tune.
Loggins co-wrote the song with Melissa Manchester. It was the only time the two would write together.
“It came out of the oddity of the times,” Manchester said. “He and I kept running into each other at televised award shows. We were frequently paired up to present awards together. We would meet and chat in the Green Room, and finally he asked if we could get together and write something. He came to my house one night and we polished off that song.”
1 “Meet Me In Montana” by Dan Seals and Marie Osmond, 1985.
One day in the mid-80s I walked out of a record store, having purchased a Dire Straits and a Marie Osmond record. Not sure how many others can claim that. The biggest gem in my haul was “Meet Me In Montana” an Osmond duet with Dan Seals. I drove my roommate crazy repeat-playing the song but I couldn’t get enough of it.
I would love to have a chance to record it in a studio someday. Do you think Osmond, with two appearances in the top three of my duets list, would be available for that?