x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Unlikely duets: perfect pairings?

It's easy to laugh at celebrity duets as little more than an opportunity for publicity, but there have been plenty of superb musical pairings.

We might be used to seeing Kate Moss's face plastered all over billboards and magazines, but up until now, we haven't been able to hear her much. The British supermodel has kept relatively quiet for most of the years of her fame, but it seems she might be about to make some noise. Perhaps spurred on by previous forays into the music world (an impromptu duet in 2006 with her boyfriend at the time, Pete Doherty, met with surprisingly positive reviews) she may, recent reports suggest, be planning to release a single with her current beau, Jamie Hince of The Kills. Meanwhile, Britney Spears announced on Twitter last week that she "would love" to record a duet with Robbie Williams.

It's often easy to laugh at celebrity duets as little more than mutual ego stroking or an opportunity for some cheap publicity, especially if the performers are a couple in real life. But let's not forget that there have been plenty of superb musical pairings and that, in fact, far from being gimmicky, the duet has an illustrious history. The average person in the street nowadays might not recognise the name Tammi Terrell. But in the late 1960s, a series of duets between the baby-faced singer and the Motown legend Marvin Gaye helped the pair rule the airwaves. And of all their hit songs, the 1967 classic Ain't No Mountain High Enough earns them a spot in the duet hall of fame. Two-and-a-half minutes of pure, pop perfection, the song is regarded as one of the most important records ever released by Motown. Sadly, three years after starting their partnership Terrell died, aged 24, from a brain tumour. Hit hard by her death, Gaye did not perform in public for four years.

It goes without saying that Sonny and Cher remain one of the most famous musical couplings of the past 50 years. Meeting at a Los Angeles coffee shop in 1962, the couple started their careers as backing singers for the record producer Phil Spector. The duo hit the jackpot with the 1965 single I Got You Babe, which propelled them to worldwide stardom. Success couldn't keep the couple together, however, and they divorced in 1975.

Johnny Cash and June Carter were another couple who benefited from each other's presence. They won Grammys for their duets Jackson and If I Were a Carpenter. Carter also co-wrote Cash's biggest hit, Ring of Fire. Cash, of course, proposed to Carter onstage in 1968. And it's not just husband-and-wife teams that work well together. Natalie Cole recorded a duet with her father, Nat (years after his death), using his original recordings of the hit song Unforgettable, for which she won three Grammys. They are not the only father-and-daughter pairing to have a shot at any list of great duets: there's also Frank and Nancy Sinatra's recording of Something Stupid, which underlines just how bad Nicole Kidman and Robbie Williams' 2001 version is. On the other hand, Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne's 2003 version of the Black Sabbath classic Changes probably wouldn't warrant inclusion.

Duets aren't always easy listening, either. Notable examples run the gamut of musical styles - from Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush's Don't Give Up to Beyoncé and Jay-Z's Crazy in Love, and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's Islands in the Stream to PJ Harvey and Thom Yorke's This Mess We're In, there's something for everyone. And some surprisingly great songs have resulted from the most apparently unlikely collaborations. Take for instance the gravelly-voiced singer Nick Cave, whose duet with his fellow Australian, the pint-sized pop singer Kylie Minogue, resulted in the beautifully haunting Where the Wild Roses Grow in 1996. To that list you can also add Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé (Barcelona in 1988), Roy Orbison and kd lang (Crying, 1987) and James Brown and Pavarotti, who performed It's A Man's World on stage together in 2002. The jury is still out on David Bowie and Bing Crosby's so-odd-it's-good Peace on Earth in 1977.

Clearly, the duet is a very big umbrella. Whether there's room under there for Kate and Jamie or Britney and Robbie remains to be seen.