Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Nowadays, musical collaborations between artists, perhaps better known as "features" are something very common within the industry, no matter the genre. Collaborations between famous bands or solo musicians who get together to add onto some of their own songs is almost a demand by the public that the artist "must" meet. Having a "featuring" on an album of this era is almost a given - but another form of collaboration, that of "music duos" in in-band or album format are not as common as they may have been in the past.
Over the course of one's life, music is often associated with memories, revisited with nostalgia, referring to the theme of "what good times those were" when you think of music from earlier times. As a way of paying tribute to all those incredible equality duos, who although they were not part of our "current" life - in a generational sense - did influence many of our favorite artists today, we made a selection of mixed albums and duets that marked enormous importance in the music industry in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90, divided into four episodes. From singers and songwriters to producers (the list can be endless), we introduce you to legendary artists who were not only musical duos but also fashion and lifestyle icons of their respective golden decade.
SONNY & CHER
Origin: United States
Genres: Pop, folk, rock
Years active: 1964–1977 (one-off reunions 1979, 1987)
They were one of the most emblematic couples of the 20th century. Salvatore "Sonny" Bono met Cherilyn Sarkisian in Los Angeles in 1962. He was 27 and she was 16. Sonny worked for the famous producer Phil Spector, which allowed for Cher to become the backup singer in concerts of hits produced by Spector. From that moment on, Sonny felt that Cher could succeed as a solo singer, but because of her stage fright, he began performing with her to make her feel more comfortable. As a result, immediately in 1965, they became big stars through the success of the song "I Got You Babe".
They quickly became popular enough to land a TV deal with "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour" in 1971, one of the most successful television shows of the 1970s in the United States. The relationship between them was not only professional, but Sonny and Cher were also married in 1964. They divorced in 1975.
MARVIN GAYE & .........
Origin: United States
Genres: Soul, R&B
Years active: 1964-1969
We can consider Marvin Gaye as one of the pioneers when it comes to collaboration in mixed duos, however, this probably would not have been possible without the idea of Motown Records to increase their sales by recording together their male and female stars - with great success. Gaye sang so many duets with female singers that he was derisively christened the "Prince of Motown" and "Prince of Soul".
It was in 1964 when Motown released their first collaborative album, "Together", featuring Marvin Gaye alongside then recognized star Mary Wells, one of the great pioneers of R&B and soul in the United States, also known as the "Queen of Motown". This time, although Wells was already a famous artist, Marvin Gaye was just a rising star. This made Wells gently restrained and made Gaye much brighter. The album produced ten songs and managed to position the duo at number 42 on Billboard. After bad advice from her then-manager and ex-husband, Wells left Motown, so the label had to find another duet partner for Marvin Gaye.
Although recording began in 1964, "Take Two", Marvin Gaye's second collaboration with Motown Records artist Kim Weston, was only released in 1966. The album was sonorously a partnership of pure artistic quality, Weston vocally challenges Marvin on some songs by making them sound as if they both bet on who had the wider vocal volume, and he makes his voice even more poignant than ever before. Both artists were only 27 when their biggest hit to date "It Takes Two" reached number 14 on the Billboard Pop Charts and number 4 on the Soul Singles. While the chemistry between the two Motown artists was quite good, the duo did not transcend more than one album, as Weston left Motown that same year due to a dispute over royalties - so Marvin Gaye was once again without a partner.
In just one year, Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye recorded four of the most beautiful love songs ever recorded at Motown, and certainly the most beautiful in the decade: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", "Your Precious Love", "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By". These beautiful songs are certainly the product of a special kind of love. But Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's relationship was much more, much less than people think. At the age of only 17, Tammi had sung with James Brown (with whom she later had a very controversial relationship), while Gaye had already become a star. Initially, the label had in mind to release "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", (written by Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson), just because they had recordings of this single by both singers separately. And they weren't wrong. The song was mixed, and within a few weeks, the first track of "United", the first of the duo's three albums - and possibly the best of all - became a hit, reaching the top 20. The album produced four Billboard Top 100 hits, including the two Top 10 singles. To date, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" is Marvin Gaye's most listened to song on the Spotify platform with over 500 million plays.
Tammy's perseverance, love for music and commitment to her partner did not allow for her health to put a stop to her career.
A year later they released "You're All I Need", the second album of the duo, and the second album that Marvin Gaye manages to make with the same female artist after their previous failures. Although it was released in August 1968, the album had been recorded between 1966 and 1967, sometime before Tammi Terrell collapsed on stage in Hampton, Virginia, while she was on tour with Gaye. After undergoing complicated head surgery, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. However, and despite having undergone four more surgeries, Tammy's perseverance, love of music, and commitment to her partner helped her persevere in her music career, and despite being in a wheelchair, she returned to the studio in the spring of 1969.
In September of that same year, "Easy" was released, the third and final album by perhaps the most important Soul duo in the history of this music genre. It was a record that was not as dazzling as the previous ones, which can be proven by admitting that it left only one success: "Good Lovin' 'Ain't Easy to Come By". Tammi's diagnosis largely limited the recording, so Valerie Simpson (who went on to co-write and co-produced the album), did many of the tracks. While she was a good singer she did not have the charm, the charisma of Tammi. The release was not well received by fans, its highest rating was number 184 on Billboard's pop album list. When it was released, Tammi was undergoing the seventh of eight brain surgeries, the last of which would eventually kill her at age 24.
Marvin Gaye suffering from the premature death of his singing partner manifested itself in him canceling all live performances for two years.
ASHFORD & SIMPSON
Origin: United States
Genres: Soul, R&B, funk, disco, gospel
Years active: 1964 - 2011
Were they perhaps the two most successful artists created during the 1960s and 1970s and part of the 1980s? You could say yes that, since Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford, not only had a career as singers and performers but also wrote and produced together classics for Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan, among other great artists of the time. They had their first songwriting success in 1966 with the single "Let's Go Get Stoned" by Ray Charles, which caught the attention of Motown Records, and immediately that same year, the couple became part of the company's songwriting "Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell" after impressing producers with their song "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", a song that could have also ended up in the hands of Dusty Springfield, according to what Valerie told in an interview. Not only did the song become a hit when it was recorded by Gaye & Terrell, three years after its release, a cover of the song made it a hit again, giving Diana Ross her first Billboard Hot 100 solo No. 1.
The duo won three consecutive gold records as performers
They re-launched their recording career as performers in 1973 when they released "Keep It Comin". In 1974, Ashford and Simpson left Motown and got married, but their first crossover was not produced until 1977 with "Send It", the album that contained the Top Ten R&B hit "Don't Cost You Nothing", and which would go on to top the list of three consecutive gold albums: "Is It Still Good to Ya" (1978) an album that included hits such as "It Seems to Hang On" one of the biggest hits in disco music at the time, and "Stay Free" (1979), an album that opened with "Found a Cure", a single that was positioned at the top of the rankings throughout the country.
In 1984, Ashford & Simpson achieved their fourth gold record with the album "Solid".
The gold record streak came to a halt in 1980, after the release of "A Musical Affair", an album that was not as successful as previous efforts. Simultaneously, they continued to work as composers for other artists, achieving hits like "I'm Every Woman", not only one of Chaka Khan's most successful singles to date but also an anthem for many women. This super danceable and empowering song talks about Moor women and how by reviewing history, all the way down to the mother of creation, all life comes from her, so we are all women. The single returned to the top 15 years later after the success of Whitney Houston's version. Their own singing career resurfaced in 1984 with the hit "Solid", making it their fourth gold record and the duo's most successful single.
From the late 1980s on, and for the next three decades, Valerie and Nickolas continued to tour and make new studio albums. In 2002, they were inducted into the Composers' Hall of Fame. As artists in their own right, they earned a writing credit on Amy Winehouse's multi-Grammy-winning album, "Back To Black" which proved "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" on the song "Tears Dry On They Own". They also rewrote their hit "Solid" for President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009.
Nickolas Ashford passed away in 2011 from throat cancer, and the light on the career of this wonderful duo went out. However, their legacy continues to be a great influence on the musicians, producers, and songwriters of today.
OTIS REDDING & CARLA THOMAS
Origin: United States
It's possible that many of the female soul artists of the 1960s could have claimed the title of a most successful artist, but could they have complemented Otis Redding as well as Carla Thomas? In fact, it is said that Otis Redding never recorded a lighter, more entertaining album than this one.
"King & Queen" was recorded in January 1967, and released immediately in March of the same year. The album features ten versions of soul classics and the eleventh final song co-written by Redding. It was said to be inspired by the famous equality duos recorded by Marvin Gaye; in fact, "It Takes Two", Gaye's great collaboration with Kim Weston, is included on this album. The most outstanding track on the album was the classic "Tramp" (a song by Lowell Fulson and Jimmy McCracklin), where the battle of the sexes reaches its climax in an extremely ingenious way. While it is an underrated album, perhaps because it had a more upbeat sound, with a more natural Otis Redding, one that sings for fun (a quality that the album has in abundance), it was soon eclipsed by the tragic sudden death of Otis in December of that same year.
Origin: United States
Genres: Pop, soft rock
Years active: 1969 - 1983
The Carpenter family moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles in 1963 to pursue the ambitions of Richard, then a musical wunderkind. His sister Karen, four years younger, had little interest in music but turned out to be an excellent drummer when she started playing the instrument in school.
Before becoming pioneers of melodic and melancholic pop, the duo of siblings had some failed performances. In the mid-sixties, they founded the "Carpenter Trio". The third member was a mutual friend from school, Wes Jacobs. In 1966, they signed their first record contract with the up-and-coming Magic Lamp label and won the battle of the famous Hollywood Bowl band. The recording of the classic "Girl from Ipanema", made RCA Records offer them a contract, but the illusion was short-lived, as the release of the album was canceled because the songs available to him did not correspond to the spirit of the times in the eyes of the recording managers. The recording agreement is canceled, which also means the end of the Carpenter Trio. From then on, Wes Jacobs was hired as a session musician.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, progressive rock, funk, and soul dominated the musical styles in fashion, but the Carpenter siblings consciously resisted the spirit of the times. Both deliberately decided to focus their attention on preserving and maintaining an elegant and classic song style. The Carpenters' first album comes out in October 1969 under the title "Offering", was a commercial failure, and only produced a "success" with a song that was not even theirs, but a ballad version of the song by The Beatles "Ticket to Ride", however, this version excited the composer Burt Bacharach, who immediately contacted the duo for work with them.
A year later, in November 1970, the album was re-released internationally under the name "Ticket to Ride" (something absolutely untidy) and the sales were moderate. That same year "Close to You" is released, an album that not only conquered the charts in the United States but also became a worldwide success that later rewarded them with two Grammy awards. Their next albums sold consistently well, and for a decade they toured the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Until the early 1980s, the duo continued to enjoy their success, until one day it all turned around.
Richard struggled with an addiction to pills, caused by the sedative habit, and in 1982, Karen went into medical treatment for anorexia, which ended tragically in February 1983, when she died of a heart attack at her parents' home. The last studio album "Voice of The Heart", released in 1983, once again reached high lists as a legacy.
JANE BIRKING & SERGE GAINSBOURG
Origin: Paris, France
Genres: Orchestral Pop
They had a personal relationship that was outstanding in many aspects, both positive and negative, however, it is inevitable to end the 60's and not shine a light on "Jane Birkin Serge Gainsbourg", the 1969 album that was positioned at the top as the most controversial album thanks to the single "Je t'aime moi non plus", a song that made the Vatican raise its hand demanding the prohibition of it due to the high erotic content of it. It caused such a stir in Great Britain, that the original label, Fontana Records, stopped making the album despite being number 2 on the charts. However, immediately the record company, Major Minor, bought the rights and saw the song climb to the top, making it the first time a French song reached number 1 on the British charts.
The song was originally written to be performed by Brigitte Bardot.
The song was originally written in 1967 to be performed by the great star Brigitte Bardot with whom Serge was completely in love. Although it was recorded and played on the radio, it was the same Brigitte who asked Serge to cancel it due to the problems she had with her then-husband. As a result, Serge tried to convince a long list of great artists of the time to record it, like Marianne Faithfull, Mireille Darc, and Valerie Lagrange, but he did not succeed. Ten months later, during the shooting of a film, he met Jane Birkin, so in December 1968, just one year after the first version with Bardot, in the same Barclay studio in Paris, Serge and Jane recorded the new version.
From dynamic duos and unions of the soul to French record-setting scandals - these were musical duos of the 60s! For some, legendary solo artist Cher for instance, their collaborations were only the beginning of a flourishing career. For others, the releases as a duo marked the peak of musical success. In any case, the 1960s brought countless immortal songs and albums, only conceived through the union of two incredibly creative minds.