A rock guitarist since the 1970s, Kelley has been a fan of rock, blues and jazz since the 1960s.
It Only Takes Two to Tango
A few of these rock duos have performed only by themselves, though most have backup bands that may seem nearly as large as orchestras—yet they’re still considered duos, a label the music industry seems to prefer. At any rate, we’re lucky to have these mini-bands, aren’t we?
Now let’s begin the countdown for the greatest rock duos!
20. Peter and Gordon
Members: Peter Asher and Gordon Waller
Years: 1962 to 1968, 2005 to 2009
Peter and Gordon were one of the greatest rock and roll duos of the 1960s. Their first single, “A World Without Love,” was a #1 hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. Penned by Paul McCartney—though Lennon-McCartney got the credit—it was the first of many of their McCartney-written singles, including “Nobody I Know,” “I Don’t Want to See You Again,” and “Woman.” But Peter and Gordon covered a number of tunes by other artists: “I Go to Pieces,” “True Love Ways,” “To Know You IS To Love You,” “Lady Godiva” and “If I Fell,” a Beatles’ tune. Notably, Peter and Gordon produced 11 studio albums. And in 2007 and 2008, Peter and Gordon became some of the featured performers in the EPCOT Flower Power concert series.
19. Shirley and Lee
Members: Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee
Years: 1952 to 1963, 1972
Both born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, Shirley and Lee, never a romantic couple, much less married, began performing and recording R&B songs when they were just teenagers. Nevertheless, they were sometimes called “Sweethearts of the Blues,” because of the blues-driven, romantic nature of their songs. “I’m Gone,” written by Leonard Lee, was the duo’s first single; it reached #2 on Billboard’s R&B National Best Sellers chart. Their most popular tune, “Let the Good Times Roll,” written by the duo, sprang to #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart in 1956 and #20 on the US Pop chart. In 1972, Shirley and Lee reunited for some performances.
18. Richard and Linda Thompson
Members: Richard Thompson and Linda Pettifer or Peters
Years: 1972 to 1982
Thompson and Pettifer were married in 1972, after which they formed a folk rock duo and later released the album, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974), which critics liked but few people bought. They released two more albums in 1975, Hokey Pokey and Pour Down Like Silver, and these albums didn't sell either, perhaps because of the dark tone of their songs—as well as, perhaps—the Thompsons’ belief in Sufi mysticism; in fact, Richard Thompson became a Muslim; he also wasn’t interested in fame or fortune. But in the early 1980s their album, Shoot Out the Lights (1982), and concurrent live performances, more electric than acoustic, attained critical and financial success. Nevertheless, the Thompsons got divorced in 1982, and then split into solo acts.
17. Chad & Jeremy
Members: Chad Stewart and Jeremy Clyde
Years: 1962 to 1968, 1983 to 1987, 2003 to 2016
One of the two-Brits of the British Invasion, Chad & Jeremy, purveyors of folk-rock with a sotto voce sound, rather than the ranting of other British Invasion bands, released a number of soft ballads in their heyday: “Yesterday’s Gone,” “Willow Weep for Me,” “Before and After” and “A Summer Song,” their biggest hit, which ascended to #7 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It’s been covered by artists such as The Lettermen, Skeeter Davis, and The Doodletown Pipers—and you may have heard it on a commercial or two! Notably, 11 of their songs made the Billboard Hot 100, and they produced 14 studio albums. Moreover, they appeared on some US TV shows: Batman, My Three Sons, Laredo, and The Patty Duke Show.
16. The White Stripes
Members: Jack Gillis (White) and Meg White
Years: 1997 to 2011
Part of the garage rock revival of the late 1990s, The White Stripes, a married couple hailing from Detroit, Michigan, released in 1999 their debut album The White Stripes and its hit single “The Big Three Killed My Baby,” and then they got divorced—but the duo continued! Soon they released their second album, De Stijl (2000), self-recorded on eight-track analog, proving they were a raw, no-frills, minimalistic group. Nevertheless, one critic called them the “greatest band since the Sex Pistols.” Their third studio album, White Blood Cells, reached #61 on the US Billboard 200 and went gold. The duo hit their stride by 2003; each of their last three albums—Elephant (2003), Get Behind Me Satan (2005), and Icky Thump (2007)—won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. Notably, in 2009, the duo was the subject of the concert film, Under Great White Northern Lights.
15. Jan and Dean
Members: William Jan Berry and Dean Torrance
Years: 1958 to 1968, 1973, 1976 to 2004
Forerunners of the California sound, surf music, and muscle car songs, Jan and Dean were some of the biggest hit-makers of the 1960s; a few of their hit singles were “Surf City,” the first surf song to hit #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100, “Drag City,” “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Sidewalk Surfin’” and “The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena).” But perhaps their most popular hit single was “Ride the Wild Surf,” the title track of a movie starring Fabian Forte. Notably, the duo had 16 Top 40 hits from 1963 to 1966. Ironically, in 1966, Jan Berry was badly injured in an automobile accident near Dead Man’s Curve in Beverly Hills, California, and it took a year for him to recover. Nevertheless, Jan and Dean continued to perform and record into the 1970s and beyond.
14. Indigo Girls
Members: Amy Ray and Emily Saliers
Years: 1985 to present
A folk rock duo from Atlanta, Georgia, the Indigo Girls began making music in high school and they progressed quickly. Strange Fire (1987) was their first, full-length studio album; self-produced, it went gold. Their next album, Indigo Girls, reached #22 on the Billboard 200 and went double platinum and featured the hit song “Closer to Fine,” which climbed to #52 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Then in 1990, the duo won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. This dynamite duo continued producing gold and platinum albums into 1997. Often touring, they’ve had three different touring bands. The Indigo Girl's most recent studio album is Too Long (2020). Notably, when performing, the duo lets audiences sing along with them. Not bad for two girls whose music was once labeled as “immature.”
13. Sonny & Cher
Members: Sonny Bono and Cher (Cherilyn Sarkisian)
Years: 1964 to 1975, 1979, 1987
A married couple as of 1964, Sonny & Cher began their soft rock singing careers in the early 1960s, and then the duo shot to stardom in 1965 when they began releasing numerous hit singles: “Baby Don’t Go,” “I Got You Babe,” which reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100, “Just You,” “The Letter,” “The Revolution Kind,” “Laugh at Me,” “Little Man” and “All I Ever Need Is You.” When acid rock hit the scene, the duo’s popularity plummeted; but they segued impressively in the 1970s as TV personalities on shows such as The Nitty Gritty Hour, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, and The Sonny and Cher Show. But, alas, the duo ended—except for a reunion or two—when Sonny and Cher got divorced in 1975.
12. The Black Keys
Members: Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney
Years: 2001 to 2015, 2019 to present
An alternative rock band from Akron, Ohio, The Black Keys began playing music in garages or basements and they produced their own albums, including The Big Come Up (2002), which critics liked but didn’t sell; in fact, they had to mow lawns to help pay the bills! Then in 2010, the duo moved to a downtown studio in Nashville, Tennessee, where they found commercial success with the release of Brothers (2010), which rose to #3 on the Billboard 200. Brothers also won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album and yet another Grammy Award for the single “Tighten Up.” And, in 2013, the duo won three more Grammy Awards for the album El Camino (2013) and the single “Lonely Boy.” In 2015, Auerbach and Carney launched solo projects, and then the duo reunited for the album, Let’s Rock (2019).
11. Sam & Dave
Members: Sam Moore and Dave Prater
Years: 1961 to 1981
Perhaps the most successful soul and R&B duo of all time, Sam & Dave produced numerous hit singles, including “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “You Don’t Know Like I Know,” “I Thank You,” “When Something is Wrong with My Baby,” “May I Baby” and “Wrap It Up.” In 1967, “Soul Man,” their greatest hit, reached #2 of the US Billboard Hot 100. Famously, it was covered in 1978 by the Blues Brothers, though their version is considered blue-eyed soul. Sam & Dave, who began as gospel singers in the call-and-response groove and feel, sang songs by some of the greatest producers and songwriters of that era—Steve Cropper, Isaac Hayes, Eddie Floyd, and David Porter. And, nicknamed “Double Dynamite,” Sam & Dave were considered one of the greatest live acts of the 1960s.
10. The Eurythmics
Members: Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart
Years: 1980 to 1990, 1999 to 2005 and 2014, 2019 reunions
A British duo forming in Wagga Wagga, Australia in 1980, The Eurythmics first hit album was Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), the title track of which became an international sensation and perhaps their greatest hit. In 1987, they won a Grammy Award for “Missionary Man,” the Best Rock Performance by a Rock Duo or Group with Vocal. In 1990, Lennox and Stewart embarked on solo careers, and Lennox became an iconic pop figure by emphasizing her singing talent, androgynous looks, and eccentric demeanor. Notably, in 2005, The Eurythmics were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, and that year they also released the single “I’ve Got a Life,” which reached #1 on Billboard’s US Dance Club Songs list.
9. Ike & Tina Turner
Members: Ike Turner and Tina Turner
Years: 1960 to 1976
In the late 1950s, guitarist/songwriter Ike Turner, combined his backup band, The Kings of Rhythm, and the Ikettes, three female backing vocalists, along with singer Tina Turner, and called it The Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Their first big hit single was “A Fool in Love,” written by Ike Turner, which reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides. Hitting the big time in the mid-1960s, the duo went on a UK tour with the Rolling Stones. Their charting album at the time was River Deep—Mountain High. Over the years, the duo produced a total of 21 studio albums and many live cuts. They also covered numerous hit songs: “Proud Mary,” “Come Together,” “Get Back,” “I Want to Take You Higher” and “Early One Morning.” Notably, in 1972, Ike and Tina won a Grammy Award for “Proud Mary,” Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group.
8. Daft Punk
Members: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter
Years: 1993 to present
Daft Punk, a French duo from Paris, France, creates music that’s a medium of drum machines and synthesizers. “Da Funk,” Daft Punk’s first popular single was included on their debut album, Homework (1997). Considered French house music, electropop, or synthpop—and generally very danceable—Daft Punk’s music is played by two young men wearing the robotic costumes you might see in a movie such as Tron (1982). So, not surprisingly, the duo composed the score for the sequel, Tron: Legacy (2010), recorded along with an 85-piece orchestra! This stellar score reached #4 on the Billboard 200. Then Daft Punk went interstellar in 2014 with the release of Random Access Memories (2013), which won five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year for the single “Get Lucky.” And, in 2016, Daft Punk released “Starboy,” its first #1 hit on the US Billboard Hot 100.
7. Loggins and Messina
Members: Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina
Years: 1971 to 1976
From the early to middle 1970s Loggins and Messina were perhaps the greatest rock and roll duo in the US. They produced six studio albums, most of which went either gold or platinum. Their greatest hits were “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” their highest-charting single, which reached #4 on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as “Danny’s Song,” “House at Pooh Corner,” “Angry Eyes,” “Good Friend,” “Thinking of You” and “My Music.” Maybe their greatest album was Loggins and Messina (1972). Interestingly, the duo reunited in 2005 and launched their “Sittin’ In Again” tour—which included a very impressive array of backup musicians—and eventually produced the album: Live: Sittin’ In Again at the Santa Barbara Bowl.
6. Tears for Fears
Members: Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith
Years: 1981 to 1991, 2000 to present
Among the new wave, MTV-popularized bands of the 1980s, Tears for Fears is a British duo from Bath in the UK. Their debut album was The Hurting (1983), which reached #1 on the UK Albums Chart. Topping that achievement to the point of gaining international fame for the duo, their second album, Songs from the Big Chair (1985), soared to #1 on the Billboard 200; moreover, the album included two of their signature singles—“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout,” both of which hit #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. In 2004, Tears for Fears released the album Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, which reached #46 on the Billboard 200.
5. Ashford & Simpson
Members: Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson
Years: 1964 to 2011
Ashford & Simpson were a husband-and-wife duo that sang, wrote, and produced soul, R&B, funk, and disco for more than 45 years. Some of the most popular songs they wrote were: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “You’re All I Need to Get by,” and “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).” They also wrote songs made famous by other artists: “I’m Every Woman” for Chaka Khan, “California Soul” for The Fifth Dimension, “Let’s Go Get Stoned” for Ray Charles, and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. As for songs they wrote and sang, their greatest hits were “Solid” (1984), “Stuff Like That” (1978), and “Found a Cure” (1979). Notably, the duo released 13 studio albums, including Is It Still Good to Ya (1978), which reached #20 on the Billboard 200.
4. Everly Brothers
Members: Don and Phil Everly
Years: 1951 to 1973, 1983 to 2006
Born in a musical family, the Everly Brothers performed with their parents in the 1940s. Playing country music and skiffle originally, they eventually turned to country-rock; their first hit singles were “Bye Bye Love” and Wake Up Little Susie,” the first of many singles to make the Top Ten in the US. Their biggest hit was “Cathy’s Clown,” which soared to #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Even though their hair grew longer, the duo’s popularity waned during the British Invasion and psychedelic era. “Cathy’s Clown” was the last #1 song of their careers; and “That’s Old Fashioned” in 1962 was their last Top 10 hit. In the 1970s, Don and Phil pursued solo careers, and then the brothers reunited in the early 1980s. Their last charting single was “Born Yesterday” in 1986.
3. Righteous Brothers
Members: Bill Medley and Bucky Heard (or Bobby Hatfield)
Years: 1962 to 1968, 1974 to 1976, 1981 to 2003, 2016 to present
The original purveyors of what came to be known as “blue-eyed soul,” The Righteous Brothers were only moderately successful until 1964, when, with the help of legendary producer Phil Spector, the duo achieved international notoriety with the release of the single, “You’ve Got That Lovin’ Feeling,” which rocketed to #1 on the US Billboard 100 and became perhaps the most popular rock tune of the twentieth century. Other smash hits for the duo were “Ebb Tide,” “You’re My Soul and Inspiration,” “Just Once in My Life” and “Unchained Melody.” Notably, in 1987, Bill Medley sang a duet with Jennifer Warnes on the song, “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” included on the soundtrack for the movie Dirty Dancing; the single hit #1 on the Billboard 100 and won a Grammy Award. In 2016, Bill Medley toured with Bucky Heard, and they performed all the Brothers’ hits.
2. Simon and Garfunkel
Members: Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel
Years: 1956 to 1964, 1965 to 1970, 1972, 1975 to 1977, and many reunions
The folk-rock stardom of Simon and Garfunkel began with a thud, as their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964) never climbed out of bed. But the following year, a selection from the album, “The Sound of Silence,” was overdubbed with electric instruments and a drum kit and then released as a single, which became a #1 hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. The duo also struck gold with the single, “Bridge over Troubled Water,” which also reached #1. As for the album of the same name, it sold over 25 million copies and became one of the greatest selling albums ever. Another huge hit by the duo was “Mrs. Robinson,” the signature tune from the hit movie, The Graduate (1967). Notably, in 1981, the duo reunited for The Concert in Central Park, which drew over 500,000 fans; a live album of the show went double platinum.
1. Hall & Oates
Members: Daryl Hall and John Oates
Years: 1970 to present
In the early 1970s, Hall & Oates were trying to define their sound. Is it rock, R&B, blue-eyed soul, or pop? Consequently, their albums flopped. But in 1975 the duo released the album Daryl Hall & John Oates, which featured the soft ballad “Sara Smile,” one of their most memorable hits. Then in 1977, the duo produced “Rich Girl,” a meteoric hit, which shot to #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Then the disco era chipped away at their popularity. But in the early 1980s, the duo, using a more urban, danceable, new wave sound, rebounded with the #1 singles: “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” and “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).” Next, the duo produced their most successful album, H2O (1982), which featured three Top 10 singles, including “Maneater,” a #1 hit. Overall, the duo has released 34 charting singles and, even though their stardom has diminished somewhat, continue to produce memorable, cutting-edge rock—or is it pop?
© 2021 Kelley Marks
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on February 03, 2021:
Thanks very much for the comment, Takako Komori! I'm glad you saw Hall & Oates in their prime. Now they're vintage rockers who may be finding it a little harder to hit the high notes or even walk on stage night after night. Later!
Takako Komori from Yokohama, Japan on February 02, 2021:
It`s great to see Hall & Oates as No.1! Some of the others I hadn`t heard of, so thank you for their information.
I remember going to the Hall & Oates concert when I was a high school student in Tokyo back in 1984/1985. They performed at a venue near the imperial palace (where the emperor resides). It was an incredible experience, especially because they were in their prime. I`ve seen their recent performances on youtube and they still look and sound great, although they have sort of lost their energy, Daryl Hall`s voice isn`t as high pitched as before.
Still, they are very talented and it`s amazing that they are still producing music in their 70s!
Thank you for a great hub!
femi from Nigeria on January 27, 2021:
Bravo, lovely stuff. I was hooked from start to finish. Even watched all the videos.