This week’s post – the 450th /Tuesday Ten – was inspired by a conversation with Daisy while flicking through the music channels a couple of weeks ago. So much has happened already since then that I think we’ve forgotten some of the detail, but we were watching The White Stripes, and it got us thinking about specifically male-female duos in music.
There have been an awful lot of them, too. Often they have specific dynamics, an undercurrent of tension, and not all of them are a duo that are in a relationship, either. But this kind of duo have been responsible for some fantastic, thought-provoking music, and I dug into my own music collection for this week’s post in the main, looking at artists that I know well.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
Formed by Alison Moyet on dramatic, soulful vocals, with old schoolfriend and former Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke on synths, this was a duo that burned brightly for just a couple of years, before acrimoniously splitting and moving on. The stark, slightly primitive electronics certainly have a thread or two back to what Clarke was doing in Depeche Mode’s early days, that’s for sure, but here he was working with a very different powerhouse of a vocalist, and indeed Alison Moyet enjoyed considerable success in her own right as a solo artist for much of the rest of the eighties.
Interestingly, after the split, Vince Clarke went on to form another duo with singer Andy Bell, the more commercially successful Erasure, a duo that have continued to work together ever since (now active for 36 years).
Another duo whose origins go back to a similar time – the early-to-mid eighties – have, when you listen to their own music, perhaps surprising origins. Both Dean Garcia and Toni Halliday probably have Dave Stewart of Eurythmics to thank for what came after, both artists having been part of the wider orbit of work that Stewart was doing, before forming a short-lived, unsuccessful group as State of Play, solo work and then Curve, in 1990. The latter made a splash from the off, with snarling, pitch-dark shoegaze-esque sounds that had a quite shocking aggression (and volume) – and while they were always officially a duo, live they expanded to a five-piece, as I recall. Their fortunes waned as they went out of fashion in the music press – although they made quite the return as they edged further into industrial rock with Chinese Burn in particular, and they eventually called it a day in 2005. Dean Garcia has been involved in countless projects since – most notably the excellent SPC ECO as a duo with his daughter Rose Berlin – while Toni Halliday only recently broke cover with a new solo EP.
Another duo with a long history was that of Swedish pop titans Roxette. Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle both had musical endeavours prior to working together (Gessle in particular as part of Gyllene Tider), but both became worldwide stars by the time of the second Roxette album Look Sharp! – even if it took chance college radio play in the US to kickstart it outside of Sweden. That said, it’s not hard to see why single The Look caught on – a chorus and vocal coda that are the kind of earworms that stick, for starters. They sold tens of millions of albums – indeed are the second best selling Swedish act ever, no mean feat when the band ahead of them is ABBA – and the duo’s long career only came to an end when Fredriksson succumbed to the brain tumour she’d fought for some years, in 2019.
A very, very different Swedish duo to Roxette, The Knife. Formed – uniquely in this list – by siblings Karin and Olof Dreijer, they eschewed interviews and live performance in the normal sense for some time, released four albums (five if you count the opera piece based on The Origin of the Species), and managed the rare feat of having none of their albums sound anything like what they had released before. Early hit Heartbeats was as technicolour as the entire album Silent Shout was pitch dark, while Shaking The Habitual took in dark ambient, sexual politics and freedom, industrial dance music, and exhilarating performance pieces as live music. The first time I saw them live, on the …Habitual tour at the Roundhouse, was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, as they toyed with audience expectations and experience. Finally, it seems, no longer an entity, both members content to move on and do something else, the world is poorer for The Knife’s absence.
A duo that were definitely not siblings, in reality Jack and Meg White were actually married once upon a time (and unusually, Jack took his new wife’s surname). Continually toying with expectations, they swiftly found a niche in blues-influenced garage rock (and likely inspired a legion of other guitar-drums duos in the coming decades, too), and perhaps unexpectedly to everyone, became massive stars. Their songs have soundtracked ground-breaking videos, inspired crowd-chants at every sport imaginable, and, I would suspect, have helped bring classic blues artists – whom Jack White has name-dropped at every opportunity across his career – to a new generation of fans. Some legacy for what started out as two teenagers in love in Detroit, playing music because they loved it – even if they divorced long before they had any success.
The Dresden Dolls are one of the few bands where I can tell you exactly where I was when I first heard them. I’d not long moved to Sheffield, and a friend at a house party we’d thrown played me Coin-Operated Boy, and I was hooked from the start. They came to promience thanks to their live shows around a similar time (my wife Daisy and I saw them live for the first time on the Yes, Virginia… tour in 2007), where they rocked harder than bands with considerably more than two members, covered seemingly random songs that worked, and had a seriously devoted following. Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione seemed – and, going on their shows in London a couple of years ago, still do – to have an almost telepathic connection musically, and feed off that devotion from the crowds, too. Daisy and I have seen the ‘Dolls three times, and Amanda Palmer in her various solo guises around a dozen times (including house parties, secret shows, street shows…), and made a ton of friends from those shows. Palmer’s more recent work might have lost us a bit, but I don’t regret the sixteen or so years following her and Brian’s work so far.
We have Amanda Palmer to thank for discovering Bitter Ruin – who captivated us at a show supporting AFP in 2010, and our love for them has never really dimmed since. A broadly acoustic duo of Georgia Train and Ben Richards, they both sing, and across their various EPs and one album, they could be dubbed “chamber pop”, I guess but also use classical influences for a sound that never really quite fitted in anywhere. That said, they were always best experienced live, where Georgia’s extraordinary voice and icy stage presence drew you in like a tractor beam, and on numerous occasions I’ve seen audiences stunned into silence by their performances. Clearly not everything worked out, as the duo went on hiatus for some time, and Georgia in particular pursued a solo career, but more recently there have been tentative steps back for them, with a couple of new songs – just this past month excellent new song Brother appeared.
The only duo in this week’s post that was named after just one of the duo, but then, that kinda sums up how they work. Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have been working together for over two decades now, with Goldfrapp herself very much the public face of the pair, while Gregory seems content in the background. Both, too, have history in other musical realms prior to working together (I first heard Alison Goldfrapp’s striking voice on an early Tricky song, Pumpkin, for example), but as the duo here, they’ve covered a remarkable amount of ground, almost alternating between delicate chamber pop and sexy, charged electro-pop from album-to-album, while making both work well.
Another in this list that I’ve followed for a long, long time is Mazzy Star – and they are another where the two had worked together previously. David Roback in particular was a veteran of the LA psychedelic scene, first with The Rain Parade and then with Opal, before Hope Sandoval replaced the previous vocalist and the now duo became Mazzy Star. Bearing in mind that the band first appeared as the eighties rock/metal scene out of LA seemed to be waning, Mazzy Star couldn’t have been more of a change. Drowsy, blues-led music wrapped in reverb, with Sandoval’s striking voice right up front (in total contrast to her apparent indifference to playing live, which turned out to be terrible nervousness at doing so), there was a night-time beauty to their songs which captivated many, including me. After dissolving and heading off to solo work, they eventually reformed and released new music over the past decade – and it genuinely was as if nothing had changed for this timeless-sounding band, even with seventeen years between albums three and four – sadly this came to an end with David Roback’s death from cancer a year ago.
Finally, at least in terms of musical output, one of the most influential and consequential musical duos of all. Across the sixties and into the seventies in particular, this duo released a string of legendary songs, with Tina Turner an instantly recognisable, electrifying presence across every song. It transpired later on that Tina had suffered terrible abuse, both physically and psychologically, at the hands of Ike, and there was something grimly fitting about her spectacular comeback in the eighties and nineties, that turned her into one of the biggest stars in the world, while Ike descended into a world of cocaine abuse, a seemingly never-ending wrap sheet, prison time and eventual death by the drug.
Tina Turner is now in her early eighties, having broadly withdrawn from public life to a quiet retirement in Switzerland, and the much-acclaimed recent documentary Tina (which I must get ’round to watching) has been touted as her last public statement.