Top 10 country music duets of all time
In a genre noted for, among other characteristics, vocal harmonies and songs with a story-telling emphasis, the added chemistry that a pair of singers can bring to that mix has created some of the most memorable performances. Here are ten duets that stand out from among many fine examples.
10. Murder on Music Row (George Strait, Alan Jackson)
Perhaps more than any other pop music category, country music has endured (and some would say thrived partly because of) wranglings over just exactly where the definitive boundaries of the genre should be drawn. While the dispute is a perpetual one, it intensifies and flares up every few years, as acts determined to challenge those boundaries come and go. At one such crossroads, right at the turn of the 21st century, two of country music’s most noteworthy traditionalists, George Strait and Alan Jackson, teamed up on a rather scathing allegory that aimed its business end directly at country music business itself. While not a chart-topping hit, it garned lots of attention, which (perhaps ironically) included a CMA award for Vocal Event of the Year in 2000.
9. Does He Love You? (Reba McEntire, Linda Davis)
Two parties in a love triangle by turns assertively boast of their advantages – and also confess their insecurities – as Reba sings from the vantage point of the faithful wife and Linda Davis assumes the role of her husband’s mistress. This emotionally super-charged set-up boosted by a powerhouse vocal performance went to No. 1 and earned the pair a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.
8. In Spite of Ourselves (John Prine, Iris DeMent)
In spite of itself, this off-kilter (and off-color) exercise in mutual self-deprecation, offered up by two veteran artists from the hinterlands outside the bounds of country music’s mainstream, has a quirky and distinct charm that will not be denied.
7. Tennessee Whiskey (Chris Stapleton, Morgane Stapleton)
Chris Stapleton, who spent years building a solid reputation on the bluegrass circuit as lead vocalist for the group SteelDrivers, had his breakout moment when he teamed up with Justin Timberlake for a show-stopping performance of this song (penned by David Allan Coe) at the 49th Annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards, on November 4, 2015. But Stapleton had already recorded a version equally as soulful for his “Traveller” album from earlier that same year, accompanied by his wife Morganne, an accomplished vocalist and songwriter in her own right.
6. Whiskey Lullaby (Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley)
Haunting harmonies from Brad Paisley and bluegrass diva Alison Krauss tell the equally haunting story of two lovers whose inability to reconcile leads to mutual self-destruction. The song, penned by Bill Anderson and Jon Randall, was built around a “put the bottle to your head and pull the trigger” comment that came from the latter’s manager.
5. Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings)
Outlaw partners in crime Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings teamed up, hardly for the first or the last time, for what became a No. 1 hit – and one of the most memorable examples from the tongue-in-cheek, ain’t-we-just-the-worst (wink, wink) catalog of songs.
4. Islands in the Stream (Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers)
A testament to country music’s surprisingly diverse influences, this song, one of the biggest country-pop cross-over hits of the 80s, was penned by the Brothers Gibb (aka the Bee Gees), taking inspiration from an Ernest Hemingway novel of the same title, with legendary Motown artist Marvin Gaye as the originally intended performer, and with two of country music’s most iconic stars of the era picking it up and turning it into an enduring anthem to mutual love and against-all-odds commitment.
3. Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man (Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn)
Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty recorded a small mountain of duets together, with many very fine and successful songs among them (including five No. 1 country hits), but the energy and chemistry of this upbeat, Cajun-infused performance about a pair of river-crossed lovers is definitely hard to beat.
2. Golden Ring (George Jones, Tammy Wynette)
The storytelling aspect has always been one of the defining hallmarks of the country music genre. Occasionally the story portrayed in the song and the story presented in the singer’s life resonate with a synergy that transcends the bounds of either. “Golden Ring,” which relates one episode in the revolving life cycle of a pawned wedding ring, would be a great song at any rate, but sung as a duet by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, whose tumultuous five year marriage had ended in divorce less than two years before their recording was released and went to No. 1, the emotional intensity is almost too much to endure without tears.
1. Jackson (Johnny Cash, June Carter)
“Jackson” is so much associated with Johnny Cash and June Carter – a royal couple if country music could ever be said to have had one – that it is somewhat surprising for many to realize that it was neither written for nor first recorded by the pair. But Johnny and June owned it so thoroughly, imbuing the song’s protagonists with liquored-up swagger (Johnny) and skillet-wielding sass (June) as they provoke and egg one another on while clearly loving every minute of it, that it will forever be remembered as their anthem.