The only thing better than one rock star? Two of them. Most of the time, anyway. Not every collaboration ends well, especially when you have two big egos competing for their share of the limelight. But when they work, the results can be magical. Whether we’re talking Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, David Bowie and Queen, or Elton John and whoever his latest BFF is, rock has given us some great duets over the year. If you want to check out the best, here are the 20 best rock duets of all time.
20. Philip Bailey & Phil Collins – Easy Lover
When Phil Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire teamed up with Phil Collins on Bailey’s 1984 album “Chinese Wall,” the result was a glossy, sugary slice of 80s pop that makes for superbly easy listening.
19. Stevie Nicks And Tom Petty – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
The first glimpse the world got of Stevie Nicks as a solo artist was on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Following her departure from Fleetwood Mac, expectations for what she’d do next were running high. Considering the sumptuous beauty of this duet with Tom Petty, it’s fair to say those expectations were met.
18. Aretha Franklin & George Michael – I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)
Aretha Franklin and George Michael might have sounded a strange match back in 1987, but somehow, it worked. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” is a catchy, upbeat little number with plenty of sass from Aretha and just the right amount of swagger from George. It ended up spending 17 weeks in the charts in total, two of which were at No. 1.
17. Bryan Adams & Tina Turner – It’s Only Love
According to loudersound.com, Bryan Adams never wrote “It’s Only Love” with two voices in mind. Fortunately, he had a last-minute change of heart and decided to bring soul diva Tina Turner in on the action. At the time, Turner was working hard on her comeback, ripping up the stage like never before. Her performance is dazzling, with Adams matching her grit, if is not her raw power, step for step.
16. Meat Loaf & Cher – Dead Ringer For Love
Cher and Meat Loaf may sound like an odd pairing, but when they teamed up on “Dead Ringer For Love” in 1981, the result was enough to blow your socks off. Neither Cher nor Meat Loaf are known for downplaying an opportunity, and here, they sing like their lives depend on it. Compelling, bizarre (but in a good way), slightly camp, and completely lacking in even a drop of subtly, it’s the very definition of over-the-top fun.
15. John Mellencamp With Me’Shell Ndegeocello – Wild Night
There’s not a whole lot of chemistry going on between John Mellencamp and Me’Shell Ndegeocello in the promo to “Wild Night,” but there’s enough on the track itself to get us through. This was the song everyone played as they got ready for their own wild night in the mid-90s. Even if the Van Morrison original has the better groove, it’s still a very decent effort.
14. U2 And B.B. King – When Love Comes To Town
On paper, a collaboration between Irish quartet U2 and blues legend B.B. King doesn’t sound like the most natural of fits. But weirdly, it works. Bono and B.B. rub along nicely, with the rest of the band doing a great job of keeping pace. It’s a bit rocky, a bit bluesy, and altogether, very decent listening material.
13. Lita Ford And Ozzy Osbourne – Close My Eyes Forever
As I Love Classic Rock points out, The Prince of Darkness and power ballads don’t seem a match made in heaven but on “Close My Eyes Forever,” Ozzy showed a very different side to the one we’d been used to – surprisingly, it worked. Enlisting Lita Ford (whose career, like Ozzy’s, had taken a downward curve some while before) was a piece of genius, with the pair’s very different styles somehow working in complete harmony. The collaboration gave both of their careers a much-needed boost, and left us with a very memorable duet to boot.
12. Motörhead & Girlschool – Please Don’t Touch
Lemmy’s attitude to music was simple. When he said (as he did often), “We are Motörhead. we play rock’n’roll,” he said it all. This wasn’t a band that wanted to save the world, philosophize or evangelize. This was a band that just wanted to play good, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, louder and dirtier than anyone had played it before. When the band teamed up with the all-female British heavy metal band Girlschool in 1981, they transformed an old school hit from the 1950s into a ballsy, filthy, straight-up rocker. “Please Don’t Touch” is simple, straight-shooting, and oozing with cool.
11. Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes – Up Where We Belong
As Billboard says, “Up Where We Belong” might be synonymous with the 1982 film “An Officer and a Gentleman,” but you don’t have to lust after a uniformed Richard Gere to dig the romance. Joe Cocker’s smokey vocals blend beautifully with Jennifer Warnes’. Even if the lyrics are a little too sugary for taste, it would take a stony heart not to get swept up in the magic.
10. Bill Medley & Jennifer Warner – (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life
The second duet to hit our list featuring Jennifer Warner is “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.” Just as it’s impossible to hear “Up Where We Belong ” without thinking of “An Officer and a Gentleman,” no one can think of “Dirty Dancing” without humming a few bars of “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.” Since closing out everyone’s favorite 80’s movie, it’s closed out more weddings, more proms, and more romantic evenings than any other song from the era (probably -no one’s actually checked, but it’s more than likely). Fortunately, none of its appeal has been lost to ubiquity; all these years later, it’s still pulling at the heartstrings.
9. Elton John & Kiki Dee – Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
Elton John might be an ego on legs, but he’s not one to hog the mic. So fond is he of collaborating, he even released an entire album of duets (aptly, although somewhat unimaginatively, named “Duets”) back in 1993. He’s sung with George Michael, Le Anne Rimes, Aretha Franklin, and on one particularly memorable occasion, Ru Paul. His recent collaboration with Leon Russell, meanwhile, has given him his biggest chart-topper since 1976. One of his greatest pairings was with Kiki Dee on the 1976 single, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”
8. Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson – Say, Say, Say
As Billboard rightly says, simply hearing the words “Michael Jackson” and “Paul McCartney” together would have been enough to send shivers up the spine of any music fan back in 1983. When “Say, Say, Say” was released that same year, it went straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for 6 weeks. The pair later fell out after Jackson bought up the vast majority of the Beatles’ back catalog, but their brief friendship did at least succeed in given us one of the greatest rock duets of all time.
7. David Bowie and Mick Jagger – Dancing In The Street
Sure, the video is a travesty, not just to rock, but quite possibly to nature. But if you can close your eyes, forget what you’ve seen, and just listen to the music, “Dancing in the Street” is a great song, with superb chemistry between Bowie and Jagger, plenty of gloss, and just the right amount of swagger. It might not be in the same league as the original, but it’s still a very good tune to get you bopping.
6. INXS and Jimmy Barnes – Good Times
Ranked as one of Rock Pasta’s 10 best rock duet of all time, “Good Times” by INXS and Jimmy Barnes is a track that brings together two of the biggest acts in Australian rock history in one frenetic, bluesy piece of rock majesty. Despite repeated requests, Barnes has refused to play the song since Michael Hutchence’s death in 1997, saying “I’ve had a problem playing Good Times live since Michael died. It’s driven me nuts. Everyone loves it, they want me to play it and I didn’t want to play it anymore because it’s not the same without Michael.”
5. Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder – Hunger Strike
After Andre Wood of Mother Love Bone died, Chris Cornell assembled the supergroup Temple Of The Dog with several members of Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam in tribute to his late friend and former roommate. Eddie Vedder contributed vocals to several of the band’s efforts, including, most memorably, on “Hunger Strike.” Strangely enough, it wasn’t planned – Cornell was having a few problems with his vocals, Vedder was hanging out at the studio, and simply stepped up to the mic. Either way, the moment, as News Break says, proved a seminal moment, not only for the Seattle grunge scene, but for rock in general.
4. Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure
Freddie Mercury and David Bowie were flamboyant, precocious, and masters of their craft. Putting that much talent together on one song was bound to result in something epic, and on “Under Pressure,” it most certainly did. With a funky bass from John Deacon, two outstanding vocal performances, and almost too much bombast to stand, it’s majestic. The two singers may have spent more time competing with each other than harmonizing, but who cares when it sounds this good?
3. Diana Ross & Lionel Richie – Endless Love
Diana Ross & Lionel Richie’s “Endless Love” spent a massive nine weeks at the top of the charts in 1981 and 27 weeks at various positions afterward, giving both artists the biggest hit of their respective careers and a massive boost to the Brooke Shields’ movie of the same name. In 1994, Luther Vandross and Mariah Carey attempted to do the same with their own version of the song, but didn’t quite capture the same magic – despite selling well, it peaked and stalled at number 2.
2. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Please Read the Letter
What happens when you bring together a rock god and a bluegrass legend in the same recording studio? In the case of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, a lot. The two have recorded together extensively, but nowhere has their combined strengths blended so beautifully than on this. “Please Read the Letter” is nothing short of gorgeous, with perfectly balanced harmonies and palpable chemistry between Plant and Krauss.
1. Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash – Girl From The North Country
The thought of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan on the same song seems like the stuff of fantasy. It was perhaps inevitable that the paths of two of the most historically defiant risk-takers among American singer-songwriters would at some point cross. By 1969, the pair had stuck up a firm friendship. When Cash heard that Dylan was recording “Nashville Skyline” in the studio next door, he dropped by. 2 days later, they’d recorded 21 duets, covering everything from Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings” to “You Are My Sunshine.” “Girl From The North Country” is one of the highlights of the recordings – spare and understated, there’s zero trace of ego from either artist. There’s no battle for the spotlight, no bid to outdo the other – it’s simply two friends making music. Nothing could be more beautiful.