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Great Duets by Rachel Johnson

Blog | By Rachel Johnson | Feb 05, 2024

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, Wiki Commons Image

The Oldie cannot let the death of the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan pass unremarked.

As his evergreen festive floor-filler – Fairytale of New York – crested the charts yet again in memoriam, it hit me: this is more duet than Christmas choon. As Kirsty MacColl and Shane slug it out, full of piss and vinegar, ‘You’re a bum/You’re a punk/You’re an old slut on junk,’ I thought – now this is romance.

If music be the food of love, then the duet is the sensuous prelude to the feast.

Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s mouth-breathing, mid-coital gasps of Je t’aime… Moi non plus; Sonny ‘I Got You Babe’ and Cher; Kenny and Dolly declaring they are islands in the stream – all these are date-night bangers, even if Sir Tim Rice might take his green pencil to some of the lyrics. ‘We ride it together, ah ha/Making love with each other, ah ha/Islands in the stream/That is what we are…’

As a flailing Spotify – the tech giant shed 1,500 employees last month – is trying ever harder to ‘own’ our listening with its Wrapped feature – which scrapes all your data together to tell you who your favourite artists are, and how long you’ve spent listening to them, I decided to ask Spotify for my favourite duets.

I’d just listened to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s classic version of Girl from the North Country – so I had high hopes of a decent list.

‘Duet music picked just for you’ started promisingly with Shallow, from the remake of A Star Is Born, sung by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Dolly and Kenny made it, Cold Heart by Elton John and Dua Lipa, You’re the One That I Want from Grease, Simon and Garfunkel, and Put Your Lights On by Santana and Everlast – all in all, a solid effort from the streamer.

Something Stupid made the cut too – the classic duet, which everyone from Frank and Nancy Sinatra to Nicole Kidman and Robbie Williams has recorded. It’s simple; it’s short.

Permit me to end on an anecdote.

Some years ago, I was asked to a karaoke night for charity at Abbey Road Studios. Then it was my turn.

I chose Something Stupid. But – it’s a duet! I needed a man!

The first man my eyes met in the audience were those of the actor Samuel L Jackson. Always alive to a photo op, I pointed at him. ‘You!’

He came on and we grabbed mics. The lyrics came onto the teleprompter. We started gyrating. ‘I don’t know this one!’ he hollered in my ear.

How could Samuel L not know the most famous duet in the songbook? It was a fiasco.

‘It’s a good thing you can write,’ said the editor of GQ as I came off stage, ‘because you can’t sing a note.’