As Bruce Springsteen once sang "Two hearts are better than one", and that more often than not works in a song too. A good duet can bring out the best in each singer, and it can create a third entity that is a unique combination of their two voices, and indeed their two hearts. The fantastic new Paul Kelly & Dan Sultan single "Every Day My Mother's Voice" is a poignant reminder of what a duet can offer.
Australian rock and pop have a strong history of duets, going right back to the beginning. Here are a few of our faves, and we'll try not to include too many from Paul Kelly, who indeed is the king of them. We reckon this is just the first of a few parts, so let us know what you want to see featured next time.
JOHNNY O'KEEFE & DEL JULIANA - "MOCKINGBIRD"
As we said, duets have been a feature in Australian rock and pop since the beginning. And this is pretty early. Johnny O'Keefe's 1973 cover of Charlie & Inez Foxx's "Mockingbird" was one of his biggest hits and also one of his last. That version was recorded as a duet with Margaret McLaren, but as you can see here, O'Keefe had a history with the song. This version, from 1963, features the wonderful Del Juliana, who was a regular on JO'K's Sing Sing Sing TV show, and who was slated to open for the Beatles here in 1964 until unexpectedly being replaced by Johnny Devlin.
NICK CAVE & KYLIE MINOGUE - "WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW"
When this one was announced, no one knew if it was serious. It was the unlikeliest of pairings, especially given Kylie was at the peak of her popularity at the time, and young Nick was still very much a cult thing. Meeting through their mutual acquaintance Michael Hutchence, the pair worked wonderfully together, and their seeming differences worked perfectly to enhance the role each played in the song and the classic video
ERNIE SIGLEY & DENISE DRYSDALE - "HEY PAULA"
From the sublime to... something else... From 1974, when Ernie was at the peak of his tonight show TV popularity, and Ding Dong (that's Denise), a former go go dancer and would-be pop star in the 60s, was his beloved sidekick. This cover of the 1963 hit by the American duo of Paul & Paula (yes it made a bit more sense when they sang it) was a surprise local hit and the film clip, featuring Ernie rocking some denim, is a fabulous time capsule.
JAMES BLUNDELL & JAMES REYNE - "WAY OUT WEST"
This faithful cover - a #2 single - of the 1973 Dingoes hit found James Reyne at the peak of his commercial powers in 1992 and introduced pop Australia to an up-and-coming young country singer James Blundell.
KASEY CHAMBERS & BERNARD FANNING - "BITTERSWEET"
The rock and country crossover duet would actually become quite a popular thing, especially after Kasey Chambers became a massive crossover success with a brand of rootsy, Americana-inspired country – and that incredible voice – that credible rock types loved. See also Catherine Britt's duet with Tim Rogers called "Troubled Man".
JENNY MORRIS & MICHAEL HUTCHENCE - "JACKSON"
Continuing with the country tunes, albeit in a bit more of a jokey manner, this duet on the old Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood and Johhny Cash/June Carter duet first appeared as a bonus track on the 1984 Australian cassette-only collection of INXS remixes called Dekadance. Of course, Jenny had caught her major break singing back up for INXS, and began her solo career with the backing of the band's Andrew Farriss.
OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN & BILLY THORPE - "BAD ABOUT YOU"
Our Olivia gets her boogie on! From her 2002 album of duets entitled simply 2, this was an unexpected blast. Of course, the pair would have known each other on the 60s circuit, but this collaboration, with Thorpie cranking out the guitar, was definitely one out of the box. (Note, YouTube comment notwithstanding, "Bad About You" is the correct title.)
JON ENGLISH & MARCIA HINES - "JOKERS & QUEENS"
This 1983 duet from two of the most loved figures in Australian music in the 70s wasn't a big hit, but it was a nice idea and one that drew Marcia into Jon's more earnest world. The pair had worked together in the 1973/74 Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
KEV CARMODY & PAUL KELLY - "FROM LITTLE THINGS, BIG THINGS GROW"
The original recording of an Australian classic, as featured on Kev's 1993 classic Bloodlines. Speaking as we were at the top about two hearts being better than one, the impact of this recording, featuring an out-spoken and hard-hitting Indigenous songwriter teamed up with one of mainstream Australia's most-beloved figures, says it all.
JIMMY BARNES & INXS - "GOOD TIME"
The biggest last; we couldn’t ignore this one. A massive hit in 1986, and indeed the first time that the song, an absolute corker from Vanda & Young's late Easybeats days, had been a significant hit, despite numerous earlier covers. Of course, Barnesy loves a duet almost as much as Paul Kelly, and next time we'll no doubt feature him again!