An Extremely Close Reading of Pop Song Duets
November 10, 2017 9:41 PM   Subscribe

No no, you can't just listen on the surface. You have to do a critical reading of just the lyrics. I love stuff like this.
posted by MovableBookLady (24 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
This a fun one. A couple of duets that I'd add:

The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale Of New York:

You're a bum
You're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last

(If you haven't heard it, try to guess who's singing what in that bit.)

George Jones and Tammy Wynette - Golden Ring: Somebody manipulated these two substance abusers into performing a live duet together two years after their divorce.
posted by clawsoon at 10:03 PM on November 10 [6 favorites]


I've got chills.
They're multiplying.
And I'm losing control.
'Cause the power
You're supplying,
Is electrifying.

posted by fairmettle at 10:35 PM on November 10 [5 favorites]


The live version of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" has the two singers yelling at each other about what they'll split up in the divorce. It ends with:

"I'm taken' the baby!"
"We ain't got no baby!"
"I'll get one."
posted by Marky at 10:39 PM on November 10 [14 favorites]


I still want someone to do a cheery duet version of The Mountain Goats' No Children.
posted by ckape at 12:57 AM on November 11 [6 favorites]


Call & Response, kind of a sub genre of Duets.

CocoRosie's sound is steeped in it. I love the interplay of opera with spoken word poetry, the dark v light imagery:


The babes
The guns
The waste
The punks
I don’t need no human friends
The cars
The wars
The shopping malls
I can leave you all behind
And I will chase my brother’s shadow
Leave my own hung in the closet
The stars that I could hardly see
I know you are looking down at me

This is the end of time
Lets all hug and say goodbye
This is the end of time
We are all heavenward and weary

posted by mannequito at 1:12 AM on November 11


Mark Ronson & the Business Int’l’s album Record Collection from 2010 is mostly duets of one form or another. I think You Gave Me Nothing In particular would fit this article pretty well.
posted by aubilenon at 1:53 AM on November 11


Chevrolet - with a video that completely misses the point of the song.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:03 AM on November 11


Aw, even just mentioning duets always conjures up I Never Talk to Strangers for me, with Tom Waits and Bette Midler finding partnership in their shared contention. It's one of my favorite songs.

Bartender, I'd like a Manhattan please
Stop me if you've heard this one
But I feel as though we've met before
Perhaps I am mistaken
But it's just that I remind you of
Someone you used to care about
Oh, but that was long ago
Now tell me, do you really think I'd fall for that old line
I was not born just yesterday
Besides, I never talk to strangers anyway

Hell, I ain't a bad guy when you get to know me
I just thought there ain't no harm
Hey, yeah, just try minding your own business, bud
Who asked you to annoy me
With your sad, sad repartee?
Besides I never talk to strangers anyway

Your life's a dime-store novel
This town is full of guys like you
And you're looking for someone to take the place of her
You must be reading my mail
And you're bitter 'cause he left you
That's why you're drinkin' in this bar
Well, only suckers fall in love with perfect strangers

It always takes one to know one, stranger
Maybe we're just wiser now
Yeah, and been around that block so many times
That we don't notice
That we're all just perfect strangers
As long as we ignore
That we all begin as strangers
Just before we find
We really aren't strangers anymore
Aw, you don't look like such a chump (aw, hey baby)

The mix of hope tied to past bitterness and familiarity with the patterns of their lives matching up for, just maybe, one more go to see if this time they might get something right, but resolved to not count on it even as they recognize the mutual need. It's a lovely thing.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:58 AM on November 11 [11 favorites]


Minor quibble on TFA: Ellen Foley does sing the female part on the studio recording of "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," but she does not appear in the video for the song in a black wig. That's Karla DeVito and it's her own hair.
posted by wabbittwax at 8:08 AM on November 11 [8 favorites]




This is still probably the most in-depth and incisive piece of criticism I've ever written: 1500 words analyzing the relationship of Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat as depicted in the song "Opposites Attract."
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:32 AM on November 11 [13 favorites]


These are my favorite duets: Rhythm, Country and Blues
posted by MovableBookLady at 10:27 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]


Huh. All this time, I thought "Picture" was a break-up song.
posted by bring a tuba to a knife fight at 10:54 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]


Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald's On My Own has got to be one of my all-time favorite music videos. It's shot in split-screen: her in a high-rise overlooking the city, him gazing at the ocean through the windows of his beach house. God, I love it. And her red jumpsuit. Also because McDonald sounds like a golden retriever, which, consequently, means I never realized what total nonsense his verses are:

So many promises never should be spoken
Now I know what loving you cost
Now we're up to talking divorce
And we weren't even married

posted by materialgirl at 12:59 PM on November 11 [3 favorites]


(In case it's not clear, one of my faves for its sheer ridiculousness.)
posted by materialgirl at 1:01 PM on November 11


Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald's On My Own has got to be one of my all-time favorite music videos

It's neat, but I found the film jitter or whatever to be super distracting. I wonder if it would have bothered me if I had seen it when it was new, and I wasn't accustomed to super stable digital video & display that only uses solid state stuff
posted by aubilenon at 2:29 PM on November 11


It'd be interesting to see someone do that matched furniture/camera tracking gimmick with digital equipment and post-production.
posted by ckape at 4:04 PM on November 11


...Still early November, but lest we get side-tracked into "Baby its Cold Outside" - I'm going to propose:
Her and the Car and the Mobile Home are Gone: Dolly Parton with Porter Wagner
Tramp: Otis Reading and Carla Tomas.
- both dedicated to men with rather patchy taste in clothes; which is probably most of us.
posted by rongorongo at 1:48 AM on November 12 [1 favorite]


This is awesome! I'd love for them to dissect What Have I Done to Deserve This by the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield.

"chasing time from hour to hour, I pour the drinks and crush the flowers"
posted by wheek wheek wheek at 5:23 AM on November 12 [1 favorite]


Johnny Cash and June Carter, Jackson is good for how June mocks Johnny as a "big-talkin' man" when he brags about what he's going to do in Jackson.
posted by jonp72 at 12:14 PM on November 12


The Beautiful South has a number of duets that would warrant this kind of close reading.

A Little Time
[him] I need a little time
To think it over
I need a little space
Just on my own
I need a little time
To find my freedom
I need a little…
[her] Funny how quick the milk turns sour
Isn't it, isn't it
Your face has been looking like that for hours
Hasn't it, hasn't it
Promises, promises turn to dust
Wedding bells just turn to rust
Trust into mistrust
And You Keep It All In
[Hook]
You know your problem?
You keep it all in
You know your problem?
You keep it all in

[Verse 1]
That's right
The conversation we had last night
When all I wanted to do was knife you in the heart
I kept it all in
posted by Lexica at 5:12 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


McDonald sounds like a golden retriever

materialgirl, if you ever start a blog that tracks which singers sound like which dog breed, I really want to know about it. You just made me realize an unmet need for such a thing. (Probably unmet, anyway; definitely a need.)

Anyway.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings did a whole album of duets with various guest chanteuses, Kings and Queens, which I still need to listen to in full. But I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard via the CBC so far — especially:

- Black Sheep (featuring Serena Ryder) which narrates the slow death of a marriage from both perspectives. Here it seems the two characters are recounting events to a third party during their solos in the verses, then confronting one another during the bridges. The one-line refrain is the only perspective that belongs to everyone in the story, no matter who is singing it to whom.

- I’m Still Lovin’ You (with Amy Helm) which sounds like another simply-structured lovers’ lament, but I like how the two characters apparently can’t hear each other pining away, even when they’re wondering in harmony, “Where are you tonight? Are you goin’ downtown?” I know it isn’t that unusual in a duet, but it’s kind of a neat device when I actually stop and think about it.

Sidenote: this article helped crystallize why I hold “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League in such utter contempt. Much obliged!
posted by armeowda at 5:53 PM on November 12


I regularly skip that Postal Service song when it comes up. The Nice Guy creepiness is part of it, but it's mainly the mention of physically blocking the door that does it. And I otherwise like me some Ben Gibbard.
posted by tavella at 8:13 AM on November 13


The The - Slow Train to Dawn. Matt Johnson's angst has left him emotionally and mentally paralyzed and stoking the engine of an oncoming trainwreck, and Neneh Cherry, who just wants some commitment and honesty, is let down by both him and the train.

Just as a side note, if you do get the chance, they made videos for all the songs on the album Well worth your time, and all the lyrics are as relevant today as when they were written.
posted by
Zack_Replica at 1:56 PM on November 13


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