Mixtape #3: Best duets by singer-songwriters

Duets can be wonderful and horrible at the same time. When a singer just teams up with someone else for commercial purposes, the result is often boring. But there are rare occasions when two voices melt together and carry a tune to new levels. Here are the best non-cheesy duets by singer-songwriters.

With each and every one of the following songs I got goose bumps and the strong urge to call my friend Helen to meet up and rehearse that tune with me. Some of the songs are live versions and not written as duets. After listening to them I never wanted to go back to the original version. (See also the best testosterony duets)

Her and Him

This is Part I of a duet series, it features male and female singers. I also put a playlist on youtube where you can listen to the full list back to back (43:24min).

Joni Mitchell and James Taylor: You Can Close Your Eyes

“I’m ready when you are James.” – “I know!” There’s a live album (The Circle Game) of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor that makes me speechless, it’s so great. In the duet “You can close your eyes” you can hear Joni giggling in the first few seconds. In the BBC documentary “Troubadours” James said that touring with Joni was fantastic. Then he smiled and added: “too good to last”…

Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansgard: Falling Slowly

Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansgaard were a couple when they filmed the musical movie Once. Falling Slowly is one of my favorite songs.

Paula Fuga and Jack Johnson: Country Road

Jack Johnson seems to be the king of duets (at least live), and this one with Paula Fuga always gets me in a good mood despite the lyrics which start with a traffic accident: “Head on collision on a two-lane country road…”

Lisa Hannigan and Damien Rice: Cold Water

Lisa Hannigan and Damien Rice have a number of great duets (e.g. Vulcano), but Cold Water is the best one. Her voice is so soft and sweet, and Damien’s distinctive tone adds perfectly to that.

Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave: Where the Wild Roses Grow

When Kylie Minogue meets Nick Cave, both rise to new levels. Kylie deviates from her ususal pop stuff for this song which shows her beautiful voice. And Nick brings in his usual darkness which makes this song so bitter sweet.

Michael Cera and Ellen Page: Anyone Else but You

This song is from the movie Juno in which a girl (played by Ellen Page) gets knocked up by her boyfriend (Michael Cera). Both end up being friends and sing this tune (originally by the The Moldy Peaches) in a very non-vocalist, innocent, authentic way.

Skye Edwards and Kurt Wagner: What do New York Couples Fight About

This song is on the Morcheeba album Charango with London-based singer Skye Edwards. Kurt Wagner is an American songwriter from the band Lambchop who sang the duet as a guest on the album. I like how his deep voice contrasts Edwards’ vocals.

Carole King and James Taylor: You Can Close Your Eyes

Carole King and James Taylor were always platonic close friends, they claim (BBC documentary Troubadours). I couldn’t decide if I like the Joni or Carole version better (tendency towards Joni).

June Carter and Johnny Cash: Help me make it through the night

This video is so fantastic because you can see how much fun June and Johnny have on stage. They seem to really enjoy themselves there, and their voices really are great together.

Joy Denalane and Max Herre: Mit Dir

There had to be some German music on notnicolajames at some point – so here goes: Max Herre is originally a songwriter from Stuttgart who became famous with hip-hop projects. He and singer Joy Denalane had a lot of chemistry on stage (they have two children together).

They sing about how time stands still when they are together, and that “tonight I need a bit more than friendship.” There’s a quicker version which I like better from the dynamic point of view. Below is a slow motion version which shows both dancing on an island, very sweet.

Check out the full playlist on my youtube channel (43:24min). Part II of best duets includes just male artists, including Rufus Wainwright, Jack Johnson and Ray LaMontagne. I will also add some She and She duets by K’s Choice, Skunk Anansie and First Aid Kit later.

Need more inspiration?

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    9 thoughts on “Mixtape #3: Best duets by singer-songwriters

    1. wow, loads of material for our next session! 🙂 looking fwd to it! another Christmassy suggestion: ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl:

    2. Another suggestion: Kotton Krown by Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) from their album sister.

    3. think you could add Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. “Summer Wine” is the better known, but “Lady Bird” is maybe the better duet – also where is “Something stupid”? 🙂

    4. Pingback: Mixed Tapes: best testosterony duets by singer-songwriters « notnicolajames

    5. Not one of the typical duets, but I like it and therefore it is worth mentioning 🙂 :
      “Meds” by Brian Molko (Placebo) feat. Alison Mosshart (The Kills).

    6. Pingback: Dream on, James Morrison « notnicolajames

    7. Pingback: These days I just walk with you « notnicolajames

    8. Pingback: Mixtape # 7: Best Lady Duets « notnicolajames

    9. Pingback: 5 Best feel-good albums a sunny Sunday morning brunch « notnicolajames

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