The best duet in the world

Last updated 08:46 17/02/2010

Back when Blog On The Tracks was in its infancy (now it's juvenile) we looked at duets - discussing our favourites and some atrocities. It was nearly three years ago. The post was called It Takes Two and we had all sorts of things named - the grand and the hideous. More than one reader mentioned the act of violence that is Mick Jagger and David Bowie's Dancing In The Street. The video for that song is, apparently, some sort of camp-classic. Hmmm...

Anyway, we are revisiting the duet topic, which, 600 odd posts (many of them very odd) after the last duet post seems fair enough to me.

And I bring the news there in the title - I have found The Best Duet In The World.

It is a clip that features Etta James and Dr. John. In it they are singing - to each other and at each other - the song I'd Rather Go Blind.

It is like a mating call, it is primordial. It is nearly carnal. It is quite possibly disgusting. But it is the best duet in the world.

In the clip of this song Etta James does not look like some booty-shaking Beyonce. She looks more likely to come waddling out of The Warehouse with a stack of DVDs she got for $4.99 and a 12-pack of that horrid nuclear-reactive fizzy drink under one wing, an oversized key-ring with a fuzzy lion on it dangling from some part of the other wing.

And Dr John seems to be there purely to answer that question that was on everyone's lips back in 1979 - specifically just what would it look like to squeeze Tom Waits and Dom DeLuise in to the same body? (Either that or he's proof that someone, other than my uncle, wears that kind of hat).

They are, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, ugly; but they have the music!

Now, now - hold all the you're no oil painting yourself calls (something my wife said to me last night when I was choosing pictures of Diana Krall for yesterday's interview blog and, baffled by the allure she seems to hold for some people, I referred to her as a bit of a spade-face).

The reason this duet works is because she is not Beyonce and he is not John Mayer (though if you read Mayer's press he seems reluctant to work with the likes of Beyonce; well parts of him, anyway...)

And I mean that they (Dr John and Etta James) neither look nor sound like whatever plastic modern singer you care to think of. And that is why this works. That is why this is the best duet in the world. That is why this says something and Kanye West and Estelle singing American Boy does not!

James starts the song (a tune she recorded many years earlier, by herself) with a deep moan. It's like a bison at the watering hole; sending out a warning blast.

And then she spies the good doctor, behind the keys. She gives him a cheeky wink. It is revolting. He loves it. He moves towards her - they sway together, singing only to one another.

Sure they're vaguely aware that there is a live audience and there will be a TV audience but all they really care about is each other. And the song. They care about the song.

They know to play to the audience on some level. But they are working with and for the song.

At one point, taken in so deeply by the song's message - and by the roles they are living out, method acting on the stage - Dr John and Etta James resemble Lori and Dori (now Lori and George) the famous conjoined twins. So close are their heads.

This performance is one part music concert, one part wildlife documentary. And it is amazing. About a million miles from the plasticity and pointlessness of so many celebrity-duets and redundant cameos that now plague pop music.
Wildlife Documentary
The performance features on a TV concert B.B. King recorded in 1987 - released as B.B. King & Friends.

You can watch the clip here

So - that is the best duet in the world. But if you disagree - and, well, what are the chances there? - please list your preferred duet below.

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Sylvian   #1   08:57 am Feb 17 2010

Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush- 'Don't Give Up'.

James Dean Bradfield (Manic Street Preachers) & Nina Persson- 'Your Love Alone' (although Nicky Wire does sneak in for a line).

U2 & Pavarotti- 'Miss Sarajevo'.

Human League (Phil Oakey & Susan Ann Sulley)- 'Don't You Want Me'.

Cletus   #2   09:00 am Feb 17 2010


Danny   #3   09:10 am Feb 17 2010

As I said in a post recently, I watched the movie "Cadillac Records" where I saw Beyonce playing Etta James. I thought she was wonderful, and have since been listening to the real Etta James. But, if anyone needs an introduction to her, the movies gives a kind of backdrop to what made her what she was, and what made her sing with such passion. I love this in the world ever? Maybe. I do admit to having a soft spot for Michael and Janet doing "Scream" though.

Don 1   #4   09:22 am Feb 17 2010

Dr John is something of a serial offender in this regard - his duet with Ricky Lee Jones on a pornographic Makin' Whoopee is further evidence for the prosecution.

But there are too many great duets to name just one. Otis and Carla Thomas on Tramp; Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell's You're All I need to Get By; anything by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris; Emmylou and Ryan Adams on Sweet Carolina; Pogues and Kirsty McColl on Fairytale of New York. The downright oddest has to be Nick Cave and Shane McGowan doing What a Wonderful World.

erin   #5   09:25 am Feb 17 2010

I don't know if there is a more impressive duet out there, although there a possibly a few more aesthetically pleasing ones. But Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow still remain the most gag-worthy in my books.

RaucousDave   #6   09:27 am Feb 17 2010

Oooooh, yeah... that's one GREAT performance! Thanks for that, Simon. I might have voted for BB King and Dionne Warwick doing "Hummingbird" (on the Deuces Wild album), but Etta and the good Doctor - now, dat's somethin' else!

iscariot   #7   09:27 am Feb 17 2010

Well, here goes my credibility, but the greatest duet ever is:

'You Don't Bring Me Flowers' - Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond

LR   #8   09:55 am Feb 17 2010

"This performance is one part music concert, one part wildlife documentary."

Love this description Simon. If only I could access youtube from work...

T   #9   09:57 am Feb 17 2010

a huge fan of etta james when she recorded under chess records

its a top track havent hurd her do a duet for this song so will def check it out

stuffit   #10   10:04 am Feb 17 2010

You ain't seen nothin' till you've seen Julio and Willie Nelson gaze into each others eyes doing their rendition of To All The Girls I've Loved Before. Magic.

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