The first rock duet I experienced was the epic “Summer Nights,” sung by rebel-turned-romantic Danny Zuko and good-girl-gone-(eventually) bad Sandy Olsson in the movie Grease.
In my 8-year-old mind, Danny was just all right (I found Kenickie’s scrappy-thug vibe much more intriguing) and Rizzo was WAY cooler than Sandy (I’m a natural brunette…and I’m Italian). But that duet had (cue Travolta/Newton-John “oh”) something special, a dreaminess and a longing that even Rizzo’s brassy, indomitable solo couldn’t achieve. Later, “You’re The One That I Want” had Sandy and Danny at the carnival in their shoulder-shimmying, cigarette-crushing duet glory. They skyrocketed in a red sports car to—where? Heaven? An orgasm? College? It didn’t matter. The rock duet became my American dream of underdog love, highway romance, and some other intangible summer breeze of a feeling that made me want to live forever.
In the 80s, rock duets were something to bank on, a chart-topping formula that was nearly infallible. Heart’s Ann Wilson and Loverboy’s Mike Reno nailed “Almost Paradise” in the box-office megaforce Footloose. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes with “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” helped create an iconic musical vignette in Dirty Dancing.
Other artists made radio and MTV-centric history with the cinematic powers of the rock duet. Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty made spooky hippie magic on “Stop Draggin My Heart Around;” Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne went goth-wedding-vow on “Close My Eyes Forever;” David Bowie and Freddie Mercury gave us dystopian glam in “Under Pressure.” The rock duet seemed untouchable.
Eventually, bombastic ’80s culture fizzled out. Rock duet firepower drifted away in favor of grunge solitude, riot grrl feminist warrior-stance, virtuosic hip-hop shadefests, and bubblegum-pop sex candy. Duets were dismissed as cheese and saved for frumpy “lite” radio stations. Where was the romance? Where were the radio Romeo and Juliets – or the Romeo and Romeos?
But hark! What light through yonder YouTube breaks? It is the east, and Neon Trees is the sun! A chick drummer and a hot androgynous frontman wail “Take a bite of my heart tonight!” on 2009’s “Animal.” Duets by The Civil Wars, Of Monsters And Men, and Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros were cooler, ballsier, sexier, and rocked harder than anything I could remember! Bands are coming out with male and female vocalists, built rock-duet-equipped right out the gate! My band Chevonne and The Fuzz is one of those—big surprise, right? 🙂
Not only do I, a worshipper at the mixtape altar of rock duets, need this sea change in music; the world at large needs it. We need to hear people singing to each other, telling a story of two people connecting in a moment: diverging and converging in unison, dissonance and suspension, and eventually in perfect harmony.
We’ve got to leave our couchposts and touch somebody. You can’t sing a rock duet over Skype or FaceTime. It’s real and it’s raw and it’s visceral. The rock duet is love, heartbreak, hope. Am I being dramatic? Ask Sandy and Danny.
You can purchase a CD or buy concert tickets for Chevonne and The Fuzz right here.
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