The biggest pop songs ever to top the charts are often written or performed by top musical duos. Sometimes there’s a lone songwriting or performing genius like Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, or Taylor Swift, but there are just as many pop songs written collaboratively.
The best duos of all time come in all kinds of musical genres and performing styles: sometimes a duo is the heart of a larger musical group, and sometimes they’re the sole performers. Sometimes the partnership is equal, and sometimes one member outshines the other, and some stay friends for life while others become fierce rivals. The lives of highly creative people are always interesting, so let’s dive in.
Read on to learn about the best music duos of all time!
1. John Lennon and Paul McCartney
A duo that forever changed the course of popular music, John Lennon and Paul McCartney met in their native Liverpool as teenagers in the mid 1950s. They were both into the blues and “skiffle” music (a variant of rock-and-roll) of the day. They bonded over their musical interests, forming their first band, the Quarrymen, in 1956, which, of course, eventually became the Beatles.
John and Paul’s songwriting relationship was the stuff of legend. They would sit together at the piano or with a guitar and rattle off five hit songs in an afternoon without breaking a sweat, and their songs are still recognized throughout the world.
2. Simon and Garfunkel
Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon met as schoolchildren in Queens, NY. Even then they had a musical spark, and they were already harmonizing together at that age. As teenagers, they formed a duo called Tom and Jerry, split up for a while with Simon living as a folk musician in England and Garfunkel studying in New York City.
By 1965, Simon moved back to New York and the duo had their first big successes with songs like “The Sound of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson.”
3. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards formed the perfect core of a great band: Jagger was a born performer and singer who bared his soul and belted out the lyrics, while Richards was the musician’s musician, working out chord progressions and innovative guitar techniques. They created some of the world’s best-known songs, like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “Wild Horses.”
This pair of legends have a deep appreciation and artistic understanding of American music, though they both hail from England. They met as schoolboys, formed The Rolling Stones as young adults, and began writing their own songs and switching away from being a cover band in 1963.
4. Sonny and Cher
Sonny and Cher met in Los Angeles in 1962 when Salvatore “Sonny” Bono was working as a backing singer for record producer Phil Spector. They became friends, eventual lovers, and musical partners when Bono got the young Cherilyn “Cher” Sarkisian a job working at the same record studio. Eventually, the pair went off on their own, recording hits like “I’ve Got You Babe” and “Baby Don’t Go,” both charting in 1965.
Sonny and Cher became household staples in the 60s and 70s, going on to have individual careers as time went on.
5. Meg White And Jack White
This songwriting duo was part of the return-to-retro, low-fi aesthetic of the late 90s and early 2000s. They were also influenced by blues music and garage rock. Coming together in 1997 in Detroit, Michigan, Meg White got to know Jack Gillis when he started performing music and reciting poetry at the restaurant that she worked at. They started dating and eventually married.
Another outgrowth of this relationship was a budding songwriting partnership, and it proved to be the real lasting one. Together, Meg and Jack White (he adopted her name as a stage name) produced a string of successful albums in the early 2000s, like De Stijl, White Blood Cells, and Elephant. They divorced in 2000, but the White Stripes continued as a creative partnership.
6. Sam and Dave
Responsible for popularizing soul and gospel music and bringing the influence of these genres to bear on popular music as a whole, Sam Moore and Dave Prater met when they were both performing in gospel bands in Miami. The duo had their first musical meeting around 1961 and soon realized that they were destined to work together.
In 1965, Sam and Dave started to produce records with Stax and collaborated with soul music studio legends like guitarist Steve Cropper and producers Isaac Hayes and Jim Stewart. Their first big hit single was “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” which they followed up with “Soul Man” and the LP Soul Men.
7. Steely Dan
A pair of intellectual liberal arts college types, Steely Dan was a product of keyboardist Donald Fagen and guitarist Walker Becker, who met at Bard College in Hudson, NY. They shared an interest in jazz and fusion music as well as an oddball lyrical sensibility. After working in a series of bands together, they went off to LA to work as a duo.
Eventually, Fagen and Becker decided they wanted total creative control over the musical process, and did’t much care for touring. They became behind-the-scenes pop legends and wrote ultra-popular albums like Can’t Buy a Thrill, Pretzel Logic, and The Royal Scam.
8. The Righteous Brothers
A blue-eyed soul duo that produced a string of hits in the 60s and 70s, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley first met while part of another band, the Paramours. When that band dwindled down to just two members, it became the Righteous Brothers after Hatfield joined. The pair linked up with legendary producer Phil Spector and started to work on their own material. They cut their first hits with songs like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.'”
9. The Eurythmics
A band that felt and saw the transition from punk to new wave and then synthpop, the Eurythmics were composed of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. They first met in a restaurant in London and played in a punk band called The Catch together, also becoming romantically involved.
Their first big album was Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) in 1983, followed by Touch in 1984. The title track of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) was their defining moment that propelled them to creative success. They later started to incorporate more soul and funk influences before breaking up in 1990.
10. Daft Punk
Electronic pop and dance music pioneers Daft Punk came together in France in 1993. The men under the robot masks are Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo, and they dabbled in indie rock before joining the forefront of the French house movement.
The daft duo scored some early hits with the record Homework in 1997 and it was at this time that they adopted their signature practice of obscuring their faces behind some sort of mask. Their work remained popular well into the 2000s and 2010s, and songs like “Around the World” became dance classics.
11. Ike and Tina Turner
Another husband-and-wife musical partnership, Ike and Tina Turner made it big by performing soul-ified cover versions of popular songs like the Beatles’ “Come Together” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.” The duo also produced original records of soul songs like The Gospel According to Ike and Tina.
The duo met in the mid 50s in St. Louis when bandleader Ike Turner invited a young woman, then Ann Bullock, who was clearly entranced by the performance of one of his songs, to join his band. They remained friends and musical partners for a while, eventually getting married. Bullock eventually became Tina Turner and had her own solo career after a personal and professional breakup.
12. Everly Brothers
A duo that mixed close harmony singing and rock and roll, The Everly Brothers were made up of Isaac “Don” Everly and Phil Everly, whose family exerted a strong musical influence on them from an early age. They sang on a local radio show as “Little Donnie and Baby Boy Phil,” displaying talent as songwriters and singers as teenagers.
The two boys were fortunate to secure some music industry connections, and after a couple of flops, the Everly Brothers hit the big time with songs like “All I Have to Do is Dream” and “When Will I Be Loved.”
13. Hall and Oates
Fueled by a fusion of R&B and rock and roll, Hall and Oates epitomize the radio rock of the 80s. Daryl Hall and John Oates met in 1967 while they were both working independently, each leading his own band. The pair found themselves trying to escape gunfire that erupted in the vicinity of the band competition they were both attending, forcing the duo into the same service elevator where they struck up a conversation.
After deciding to work on music together, they released some early albums, the most successful of which was War Babies, in the years 1972 through 1974. They continued to score hits throughout the 70s and 80s. Some notable records include Private Eyes, Sacred Songs, and Voices.
14. Eric B. and Rakim
A classic late 80s DJ and MC partnership, Eric B. and Rakim were both musical from a young age, and each specialized in one of the two major aspects of hip-hop. Eric B. was the DJ of the duo, learning how to sample records as a young man in Queens, NY. In search of someone to rhyme over his beats, Eric B. found William Griffin, otherwise known as Rakim, in New York, and the duo was born. The duo’s first big records were Follow the Leader and Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em.
15. The Louvin Brothers
Close harmony masters Ira and Charlie Louvin really were brothers, and they were raised in the devoutly Christian milieu of Alabama in the 1930s. Their vocal and instrumental styles complemented each other well, and they recorded many deeply moving ballads and love songs, their voices constantly weaving into opposite registers.
16. Tears for Fears
It’s not talked about as much, but there was a Second British Invasion that happened in the 80s. This invasion featured drum machines, driving beats, and synth hooks, which is what English band Tears for Fears is all about.
Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith formed Tears for Fears in 1981 in Bath, England, after the breakup of their first band, Graduate. During their Graduate days, Orzabal and Smith were influenced by new wave and mod music, and they carried this 70s influence forward into the 80s, changing into a sound that took the world by storm with albums like The Hurting in 1982 and Songs from the Big Chair in 1984.
17. Indigo Girls
Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, like many of the legendary duos on this list, met as kids. They both grew up in the Atlanta, GA metropolitan area and began performing folk music together as high school students on a weekly basis at The Dugout, a bar in Emory Village, GA. After a period of separation and separate interests, they came together again as the Indigo Girls and started to get serious about producing records.
Their first successful album was a 1988 self-titled record that included the hit song “Closer to Fine.” Nomads Indians Saints came next, a highly successful album that featured the hit “Hammer and Nail.”
This Atlanta rap duo expanded the limits of what influences rap music could take in and brought a great songwriting sensibility and sense of humor to their music. They incorporated elements of rock, jazz, and techno into hip-hop, and their songs have strong and memorable melodies and hooks.
André 3000, also known as André Lauren Benjamin, had already started performing (but not under his stage name) in high school when he met his songwriting partner Antwan “Big Boi” Patton. The duo formed Outkast in 1994 and produced their first successful albums, ATLiens and Aquemini. They went on to produce Stankonia in 2000 and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003.
19. Run The Jewels
You’ve heard of a super-group, but Run the Jewels is a super-duo. It’s made up of Atlanta Rapper Killer Mike and Brooklyn rapper EI-P, who both had successful careers on their own but came together to form RTJ in 2011.
They released their first self-titled album in 2011 for free online, and continued to release music throughout the 2010s with Run the Jewels 2 and Run the Jewels 3.
20. Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra
Nancy Sinatra became the exemplar of a new style of music with the indispensable help of record producer and songwriter Lee Hazlewood. The pair had quite different lives and got into the record business by different paths, but they were an irresistible musical crossover, creating a kind of cross between psychedelic rock and country. They’re responsible for the still popular song “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’.”
Hazlewood was born in Mannford, OK and went to medical school in Texas until he served a compulsory stint in the army. Upon release, he turned to a career as a DJ and a songwriter instead of continuing his studies, and began to see success.
Sinatra was 10 years younger than Hazlewood and was the daughter of Frank Sinatra. She began to study singing and music at UCLA but dropped out to make records. She started collaborating with Hazlewood in the 60s and 70s and the pair’s success soared after she changed her look to adapt to the ascendant “swingin sixties” aesthetic.
21. Richard and Linda Thompson
Folk rock in the U.K. of the 60s and 70s drew heavily on pioneers from across the Atlantic like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, but it also managed to incorporate some of the local folk sound of England and Scotland. Richard Thompson, a member of The Fairport Convention, was steeped in both musical styles. And so was Linda Thompson, then Linda Peters, a folksinger who encountered Richard Thompson when she moved to London to study in 1967.
The pair became romantically involved and remained married for 10 years. They also had a recording and songwriting career that produced a slew of unique albums.
22. The Black Keys
Two natives of Akron, Ohio came together in their high school days to form a blues-rock duo. Despite being from different social circles, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were attracted to each other musically because of their love of classic blues artists like R.L. Burnside and Robert Johnson and their musical chemistry.
In 2001, they formally became The Black Keys and began to produce albums and tour. Their early albums The Big Come Up and Thickfreakness remained obscured, but they hit upon a string of commercially successful albums with Brothers and El Camino.
23. Loggins and Messina
A seasoned ex-member of some successful bands, namely Poco and Buffalo Springfield, Jim Messina met the nobody songwriter Kenny Loggins in 1970 while working as a record producer. Messina saw something in Loggins’s songs and asked to record his songs with him, and the rest is history.
Sittin’ In, their first effort, came out in 1971 and a single from the album called “Vahevala” saw some radio success and showed up on the pop charts. Their harmonies were what made the songs great and they became the showcase of the songs. From then on, Loggins and Messina became a real double-act and not just a performance by Loggins.
24. Chad and Jeremy
While the rest of the British Invasion came in guns blazing, Chad and Jeremy claimed to have “snuck in” to the American pop scene. They were a low-key, folksy subset of the wave of British pop musicians that became so popular in the early 60s. If the Rolling Stones wrote music for bars, rock-and-roll dancehalls, and stadiums, Chad and Jeremy wrote for coffeeships and bohemian bedrooms.
Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde met in a London arts school in the early 60s and liked harmonizing together so much they decided to take a swing at a folk career. Their first successful song was called “Yesterday’s Gone” in 1963.
25. Jan and Dean
Owing much of their sound to the surf rock pioneered by the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, William “Jan” Berry and Dean Torrence were still a noteworthy musical force of their own. They met in high school in their native Los Angeles and became musical partners that would sing together in the football locker room.
By 1959, they were making records with legendary producer Herb Alpert while going to college at UCLA. They scored a hit with a song called “Baby Talk” and met the Beach Boys while performing in the LA area in the early 60s. Their wave crested between the years 1963 and 1966 when they had a string of chart-topping hits.
26. Delaney and Bonnie
A pair of songwriters who were also soulmates, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlet were born in Mississippi and Illinois respectively. They were both talented musicians from a young age, and Delaney played guitar while Bonnie sang. They met in Los Angeles in 1967 within a year of meeting one another, having both converged on the city to find work as musicians.
A group of itinerant musicians started to form around Delaney and Bonnie, some of them famous, like Duane and Gregg Allman or George Harrison. This eventually became Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, which signed a contract with famous record label Stax Records.
27. Royal Blood
This English pop duo gets its signature sound from bassist Mike Kerr, who uses a bass guitar with special effects pedals to achieve a fuller sound that allows the two-piece group to take up the same musical space as a larger group. The other member of the duo, Ben Thatcher, is a drummer.
The duo met as teenagers around the year 2005, and they played in bands together throughout their adolescence. They developed a special musical relationship and became an official duo in 2011, releasing their first single, “Out of the Black,” in 2013. From there, they started touring in the USA and Europe.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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