Updated: Mar 11
The 80s were the decade of the bizarre, of the deformation of classic rock. They marked the arrival of electronic music, shiny clothes, and messy hair. Many of the rock heroines of the decade - like Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks, Chrissie Hynde, or Suzi Quatro (among others) - occupied spaces of rock that had been impossible for a woman to win over, yet all of them succeeded. Also, pop artists like Madonna, or Cindy Lauper, helped shine a light on many artists changing the mainstream scene forever. While Islam deemed her name a forbidden word, and Pope Juan Pablo II considered her unpleasant and dangerous to society, Madonna became a sexual, aesthetic, and existential revolution for women, and dissidents, she became a gay icon, she became the queen of pop. That's why the 80s is the decade with the most female icons breaking barriers, not because of any special space given to women, but because it was the decade where the anti-commercial became commercial.
With this decade, came many of the best and most popular pop music duos of all time, almost every movie soundtrack had a duo of some kind that reached the top of the world rankings.
The task of selecting a few female/male duets from the 1980s became quite difficult, but we did it - and made a list of the most relevant ones, of which we are sure that, if we had to ask 200 people to name us a pop duo of the decade, the first two would surely be named by the majority.
Origin: London, England
Genres: Synthpop, New wave, Dance-rock
Years active: 1980-1990, 1999-2005, 2014
The duo formed by the British Annie Lennox and David Stewart was one of the most important and recognized bands of the 80s in the music scene not only in the United Kingdom but also in the United States.
They met in London while studying at the Royal Academy of Music. As they left, they spent time together, the connection between them became more and more intense, they shared the same love, the same passion, they knew what they wanted to do, and that the path they both wanted to take could be walked together.
By the end of the 70s, they were not only romantic but also musical partners. In 1977, they formed a group called "The Catch" with which they only released one single and which quickly became "The Tourists", an authentic British post-punk band with which they released three albums and managed to score some top ten hits. The band only lasted three years and was dissolved in 1980, at the same time the love affair between Annie and David did, however, although they were no longer lovers, the passion they both had for following in the path of music was untouchable, so they decided to continue being colleagues, and formed Eurythmics.
Eurythmics' second album changed the band's future forever
In January 1981 they went to Germany to record their debut album "In the Garden" released in October of the same year. Although for a debut, the album got good reviews, it did not do well in sales. During the next year, David Stewart set up a home studio and Eurythmics went on to record the album that would change their destiny forever. In January 1983, the band's second album "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" was released, the album that turned them into international stars. By that time, MTV had recently become a major influence accelerating their success enormously by playing the elegant androgynous video to the album's lead single over and over. The atmosphere of the clip conveyed a message of empowerment, which audiences loved. "Sweet Dreams" was one of the most successful songs of the decade and became a hit again 15 years after, at the hand of Marilyn Manson.
After the success of the singles "Sweet Dreams" and "Love Is a Stranger", the duo began a year-long series of hits. The duo's third album, "Touch", was released in late 1983 and continued at the top throughout 1984, generating their hits to the top five on all charts. During the course of 1984, Annie Lennox's theatrical gender-bending looks became increasingly noticeable, she wore her hair cut flush, David Bowie-style makeup, always upside down. This aesthetic facet helped widely to make their sales become a record.
In 1985, the duo recorded with a female musical legend for their album "Be Yourself Tonight".
By 1985, the duo released their fourth album "Be Yourself Tonight", with a sound change quite different from what the public was used to, the album had an R&B-influenced sound and had one of the least thought-out performances until then for the English band. The great American singer Aretha Franklin joined Annie in a duet on the song "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves", which would later become a feminist anthem.
The album credited a long list of renowned artists.
Another of the great singles on that album was "There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)", which became the number one hit in the UK. The album credited a great list of recognized artists who had participated in the recording, including musicians from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello among others, however, despite having reached a very high level of sales and acceptance worldwide, as the decade progressed, the duo's popularity wore a bit thin. By the end of it, the band was struggling to reach the top 40 in the US, although they remained successful in the UK. As a result, Eurythmics began to pass in other areas of the industry. During the following years, Dave produced artists such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Mick Jagger, while Annie began an acting career.
In 1990 the duo took a break for almost a decade.
By the early 1990s, Eurythmics had taken an extended break, both Lennox and Stewart followed solo runs. In 1992, Annie released "Diva", a best-selling album. On the other hand, David continued to produce records and write movie soundtracks, and in 1995, he officially launched a solo career. In 1999, Eurythmics released "Peace", their first new studio album after almost a decade. Along with the release of the album, the duo embarked on the "Peace Tour" a world tour in which the income generated by the tour was donated to Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Although this was the band's last studio album, they continued to work and collaborate on different causes together until 2014.
As the years went by Annie Lennox changed her androgynous look and decided to get her face washed, so as not to hide her wrinkles, she became a very important non-binary icon for a generation that was starting to raise its voice. There would certainly be no Lady Gaga or Pink if Annie Lennox hadn't dared to go out on stage as she did in the 80s. In addition to her musical career, Annie Lennox has long been a political and social activist. Today, she dedicates her life to "The Circle", an NGO that empowers women and girls around the world by helping them get treatment for AIDS, providing condoms, improving the health system around them, helping them become more professional in different areas, and seeking to achieve economic and political gender equality. Annie Lennox is a hero not only for rock - but also for feminism.
Origin: Halmstad, Sweden
Genres: Pop rock, soft rock
Years active: 1986-2019
Who doesn't love Roxette? The Swedish duo formed by Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle brought us all together at some point, perhaps who didn't once sing "Listen to Your Heart" with that passion that characterizes it?, or who didn't turn up the volume when "The Look" was played on the radio? The duo was one of the world's greatest pop acts of the 1980s and much of the 1990s, selling more than 75 million records worldwide and dominating the charts with several of their classics.
Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle met in the late '70s when she was a member of the pop combo "Strul & Ma Mas Barn" and he played with "Gyllene Tider", one of Sweden's biggest bands from the late '70s and early '80s. Marie's group broke up, and she immediately joined Per's band as a backup vocalist for a concert tour and then worked with them in the studio.
In 1986, Marie and Per were considered the best singer and composer of the moment in Sweden.
The chemistry between them was impeccable, and after a round trip, that same year they decided to join forces to form Roxette. As the first single they released the song "Neverending Love" for the album "Pearls of Passion" recorded entirely in English, with which they achieved a hit in Sweden, however beyond the effort they had to record in a language other than their own, the record company was not interested in selling the material in the United States, but they wanted to go for more.
Roxette became a success in the United States thanks to an American student.
In October 1988 they released their second album "Look Sharp!" and with it, the recognition that had been so long sought and sounded began to come to them. Songs like "Listen To Your Heart" and "The Look" reached the top of the main charts in their country and their fame began to grow. The album was a sales record in Sweden, selling more than three hundred thousand copies (the equivalent of seven platinum records), however, their music did not cross the continent as they wished. It wasn't until an American student in Sweden took a copy of the album back to his home in Minneapolis and persuaded a DJ at a local radio station to put a spin on "The Look". The song was a huge hit with listeners, and Capitol Records immediately released the album in the United States. By April 1989, their top hits became number one on the singles charts, and the album went platinum, establishing Roxette in the United States and beginning their career in Europe.
Previously, in 1987, before reaching fame, the band had released the song "It Must Have Been Love (Christmas For The Broken-Hearted)" originally created as a Christmas single. At the time, the song passed without much success, however, once they reached fame in the United States, the single became a hit in all charts, reaching the third single for the band to be placed at number one in the American rankings, thanks to being included in the soundtrack of the movie Pretty Woman.
By the beginning of a new decade, the band had established itself around the world. They continued to release albums until 1996 when Roxette went into recess after recording an album in Spanish. Three years later they worked together again in 1999 with the album "Have a Nice Day", and "Room Service" followed in 2001. However, in the fall of 2002, Roxette was forced to curtail her activities when Marie Fredriksson was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Over the next few years, she focused on her recovery and recorded solo material, while Per also created his solo project.
In 2009, the duo organized a comeback-tour that sold out venues all over Europe, Roxette returned to the recording studio releasing 2011 their first album in ten years and was followed by another successful world concert tour that lasted two years. During the following years, they continued to release new albums and tours, but always with the limitations that Marie's illness presented. On December 9, 2019, Marie Fredriksson died at the age of 61 after fighting her illness for more than a decade.
Both Marie and Per managed to come up with one of the most striking creative duos of the 1980s.
Lita Ford & Ozzy Osbourne
Origin: United States
Genres: Hard rock, glam metal
Years active: 1988
The 80s were not only pop or synthesizers. Hard rock, too positioned itself as one of the most influential musical genres of the time, not only for its music, but also for its aesthetics, bands like Whitesnake, Poison, Motley Crüe, Guns N Roses, Among many others, they became icons of the scene especially in the city of Los Angeles, where the movement had a great presence in nightclubs like Whisky A Go-Go, the Rainbow, and all the Sunset Strip clubs in Hollywood. The lists of the main American rankings were led by these 100% male bands, the genre was almost entirely dominated by men. But among them, there was a small percentage of empowered women breaking the scene, bands like "Heart" of the Wilson sisters, or "Vixen", held firmly within a very masculine gender, where the image of women, was entirely objectified in the album covers and video clips of many male bands of the time. Among that group of women was also Lita Ford, former guitarist of the female band of the 70s "The Runaways".
In 1988 Lita enters the recording studio with Ozzy Osbourne.
In 1982, Lita began a successful career as a soloist. By the middle of the decade, she had signed a record deal with RCA Records, hired Sharon Osbourne Management, and resurfaced with a more radio-friendly pop-metal sound. Given the connections, Lita entered the recording studio with then ex-member of the heavy metal band Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne (Sharon's husband), and according to them, without realizing it, as a result of some extra bottles of alcohol, they wrote together with the lyrics of a song that would soon become one of the most successful ballads of the genre to this day "Close My Eyes Forever". The single was part of "Lita" (1988), the American singer's most commercially successful album. The song became the first top ten single for both of them in their solo careers, ranking number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 list in the US.
Bryan Adams & Tina Turner
Origin: Canadian/ United States
Years active: 1985
Tina Turner is one of the few stars who has collaborated both in the studio and on stage, with the biggest artists in music, from Mick Jagger, David Bowie, to the great Bryan Adams, among many others."She was spectacularly Tina." This is how the Canadian singer-songwriter summed up his first meeting with Tina Turner in an interview.
The meeting came about thanks to a call from Tina's producer to Bryan, asking him to write a song for Turner, who at the time was recording his hit album "Private Dancer", something that was not possible at the time since Adams was making his fourth album "Reckless" and did not have a "spare" song, so he offered her the space to sing a song on his album, but got no response. However, a few months later, when Adams had his album almost finished, he heard that Tina would perform in Canada, (where he lived at the time), as Lionel Richie's act of support. He immediately sent a copy of the song to her manager, Roger Davies, who invited him to meet Tina after the show.
The song had a sound that really matched the styles of both artists at the time.
Days later "It's Only Love" became a fact, being released as the sixth and last single from "Reckless" Bryan's fourth album which later became multiplatinum thanks also to his biggest hit "Summer 69". The song had a sound that really matched the styles of both artists at the time. The single reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 list in the U.S. and was nominated for a Grammy award for best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal, and the video clip won an MTV Video Music Award for best stage performance. Among the different formats in which it was released (CD, 7" and 12" single cassette) the 12" single included a live version from 1985 that would later appear on the album Tina Live in Europe (1988).
Adams told her in a 2009 interview that this was his most memorable collaboration ever. He explained, "Working with Tina Turner was amazing. I used to go see her in the clubs when I was in my teens/early 20s before she made it big. It was amazing to see her. He added, "It was a privilege to have sung with her, especially since she was only 24 at the time".
Aretha Franklin & George Michael
Origin: UK/ United States
Genres: R&B, Pop
Years active: 1987
As early as 1986, Englishman George Michael, composer, and singer of the Wham-duo, was one of the world's most popular pop artists. At only 23 years old, he was considered one of the most promising artists of the decade, something that he would amply demonstrate with "Faith" (1987), his first solo album that consecrated him with four songs in the number 1 position, in addition to winning a Grammy award as the album of the year and selling more than 20 million copies worldwide.
During the recording of that album, he was presented with the opportunity to record a song with rock legend Tina Turner, but the offer he made to Tina did not come to fruition. However, beyond his disappointment, Michael was about to experience one of the most important and unforgettable moments of his career. "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)," the song written by Dennis Morgan and Simon Climie, was offered by the songwriting duo to megastars Clive Davis and Aretha Franklin, who were also bigwigs on the Arista Records label at the time. Davis, seeing that the song was really good and had great commercial potential, then suggested Aretha record it, who had always been one of the British singer's favorite artists.
The song made that Aretha Franklin obtain her first and only success number one in the United Kingdom.
"The first time I heard George sing was when I was with Wham! and I liked it," Aretha Franklin would recall in an interview in 2017, adding that "his music had a unique sound, very different from anything else out there. When we recorded it, everything went well, and we were so happy that it reminded me of what producer Jerry Wexler said when he was in the studio: 'Let's wait until tomorrow. If we feel the same way we do now, maybe we'll have a hit," said the queen of soul, and so it was, George Michael not only achieved a lifelong goal, singing with one of his favorite artists but also helped Aretha achieve astonishingly, the first and only number-one success she had in the UK by positioning herself as such on both the UK Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100, they also achieved it in the United States by staying at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list for two consecutive weeks. Today, the song is considered one of the best duets of all time, as it had the merit of bringing together two of the most emblematic stars - unfortunately deceased - of pop and soul.
Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty
Origin: United States
Genres: Rock, country rock, pop
Years active: 1981
Just like in the bonus track of the last episode, Jimmy Iovine is once again involved in the collaboration of two of the most important artists that the rock scene had not only in the United States but also worldwide. We are talking about Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Jimmy produced "Hard Promises" Petty's fourth album, while Stevie launched her solo career also under the production of Iovine, who at that time was also her boyfriend, however at the time of work, things were very difficult between the two because they were technically very strict. Stevie did not have a single to go out and promote her album, so after attending several times to the studio where Petty was recording, she approached him asking if he could write something for her debut album. As had happened just a few years ago with Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith, Petty had written several songs for his new work, including "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" but did not see it as a single, so he left it aside.
"Tom, let's do what I did with Bruce and Patti, if it worked once, it can work again"
Jimmy Iovine to Tom Petty
That's when Jimmy came on the scene again. After hearing the song, which at the time he said sounded like the blues, he felt that he would see it as a pop hit if it was sung by a woman, so he immediately told Petty: "Tom, let's do what I did with Bruce and Patti, if it worked once, it can work again," so Tom agreed, but unlike what had happened with Bruce when he gave the song to Patti to sing on her record, In this case, the two recorded the song together, as a collaboration of Petty for Stevie's debut album "Bella Donna", which was finally released in July 1981, making the song a success, would reach number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 list in the USA. U.S. list for six consecutive weeks. The song also appeared in the dramatic film Taps (1981).
As this impressive list of artists shows, the legendary sound of the 80s was heavily shaped by iconic musical duos. It was the equal treatment and uplifting influence all those duos had on each other that made them as successful as they were - and still are. And, as the cherry on top of the evergreen hits that were created throughout this synth-heavy decade, many of the duos also conceived later feminist icons, breaking gender-rules with their leading role, looks, and lyrics!