The 25 Greatest Love Song Duets: Critic’s Picks.
Love songs by solo artists can be very powerful, but they only give us half the story. To truly convey the grandeur and complexity of modern romance, it takes two.
In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we’ve compiled a list of the 25 greatest love duets of all time. These picks range from ’60s country classics to 21st century hip-hop hits, with plenty of goopy ’80s pop ballads thrown in for good measure.
“I’m Real (Murder Remix),” Jennifer Lopez feat. Ja Rule
Ja Rule’s rock-salt rapping and J.Lo’s honeyed vocals make for a tasty combo on this chart-topping 2001 remix. The track finds Lopez shrugging off haters and searching for a man who’s free of insecurities. Promising “hard lovin’” and “straight thuggin’,” Ja is her knight in shining armor (and designer headband).
“It Takes Two,” Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston
Marvin Gaye was a solo genius who also made a fantastic duet partner for female vocalists. He teams with fellow Motown artist Kim Weston for the 1966 R&B classic “It Takes Two,” an exuberant piece of pop music about the simple mathematical theorem known by lovers the world over: two hearts are better than one.
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
As far as duets go, Marvin Gaye was never better than when he was singing with Tammi Terrell. Written by the husband-and-wife team of Ashford and Simpson, 1967’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” marked the beginning of Gaye and Terrell’s fruitful partnership. It’s a bright-eyed, uptempo celebration of love that transcends distance, geography, and inclement weather.
“Take Care,” Drake feat. Rihanna
“They won’t get you like I will,” Drake promises on this 2012 smash, which is built around a club-ready sample of Jamie xx’s remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’ll Take Care of You.” Drizzy’s real-life on-again, off-again love interest Rihanna doesn’t get her own verse, but she steals the show in the choruses, following Drake’s fitful rhyming with a simple declaration: “I’ll take care of you.”
“Love Me Harder,” Ariana Grande feat. The Weeknd
Shadowy R&B innovator The Weeknd scored his first-ever Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with this double-entendre-packed 2014 collaboration with Ariana Grande. In the first verse, an innocent Grande asks for something more than physical pleasure, to which the wolfish Weeknd responds, “I know your motives, and you know mine.” This relationship is doomed to fail, but at least they’re going to have some fun first.
“Jackson,” Johnny Cash and June Carter
Johnny Cash and June Carter were about a year away from getting hitched when they released this 1967 song about a married couple who lost their spark. While Cash spends much of “Jackson” singing about how he’s heading to the titular city to carouse with other women, the whole thing feels like playful fantasizing. Carter laughs off his threats, certain the ladies of Jackson will play him for a fool. In the end, Cash and Carter sing, “We’re going to Jackson,” implying they’re sticking together—or else taking a road trip to see who’s right.
“Islands in the Stream,” Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
The Bee Gees wrote “Islands In the Stream” for Marvin Gaye, who probably would’ve done a killer version. But there’s no denying the chemistry between Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton on this sweet and easy 1983 rendition, which reached No. 1 on the Hot 100, Hot Country Songs, and Adult Contemporary charts. The crossover success is no surprise. Everyone could imagine Kenny and Dolly rowing off into the sunset together.
«Up Where We Belong,» Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
This soaring, syrupy ballad plays over the closing credits of the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman, right after Richard Gere’s character surprises his girlfriend (Debra Winger) at her factory job and carries her out of the building. As listeners everywhere daydreamed about being whisked away from their boring jobs by attractive suitors, the single shot to No. 1.
“Endless Love,» Diana Ross and Lionel Richie
“Endless Love” enjoyed a seemingly endless reign at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1981. The single spent a whopping nine weeks atop the charts—and for good reason. Writing on assignment for the Brooke Shields film Endless Love, Lionel Richie outdid himself with a gorgeous melody and tender set of lyrics. Then he and Diana Ross sang the sucker like a still-smitten married couple enjoying a candlelight dinner away from the kids. “You will always be my endless love,” they sing, clearly unfazed by the prospect of eternity.
“Next Time I Fall,” Peter Cetera and Amy Grant
Former Chicago frontman and unrepentant balladeer Peter Cetera joined forces with then-unknown Contemporary Christian artist Amy Grant for this 1986 chart-topper. Cetera and Grant play a couple of sad sacks who’ve been unlucky in love, and who are now considering taking a chance on each other. Despite the considerable hamminess required for a song like this, both sing with a smidgeon of guardedness, selling the idea they’re wary of being hurt again.
“I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By,” Method Man feat. Mary J. Blige
“Back when I was nothin’ / You made a brother feel like he was somethin’,” Wu-Tang member Method Man raps on 1994’s “All I Need,” a heartfelt rap track made iconic the following year when Mary J. Blige jumped on the remix. Together, Mary and Meth recontextualize an old Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duet while creating one of the finest hip-hop love songs of all time. “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By” peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100.
«You’re the One That I Want,» John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
Written specifically for the 1978 film version of the musical Grease, “You’re the One That I Want” captures the moment where archetypal good girl Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) shows up at the school fair looking like a greaser pin-up. Her love interest, Danny (John Travolta), naturally finds this electrifying. But the message driving this chart-topping mega-seller is that Danny also needs to compromise a little and clean up his act. Travolta and Newton-John make this romantic negotiation sound like a giddy spin around the Tilt-A-Whirl.
“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
Just as “Up Where We Belong”—another Jennifer Warnes jam—will forever be associated with the final scene of An Officer and a Gentleman, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” instantly conjures images of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey cutting a rug to close out 1987’s Dirty Dancing. Years beyond his greatest successes with The Righteous Brothers, a bassy Bill Medley rides with Warnes over a bubbly soft-rock beat. The result is a perennial wedding-reception dance-floor filler-upper.
“Don’t Know Much,” Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville
Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville meet at an emotional crossroads on this 1989 smash. They’ve been through some rough times, and they’re not sure where they’re going. But they know they love each other, and that might be enough to see them through. Neville’s quivering soulfulness blends nicely with Ronstadt’s smooth, aching delivery, and we’re left with the feeling this couple is going to be OK.
“My Boo,” Usher and Alicia Keys
There’s a good reason this 2004 duet between Usher and Alicia Keys spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. To paraphrase Usher’s intro, everyone has that someone they’ll love forever, even when it’s inconvenient to do so. Over a mildly thumping hip-hop beat, Usher and Keys reminisce about dating years earlier, before either was famous—and before they went their separate ways. They’re not necessarily trying to get back together. “My Boo” is more about recognizing a bond that can’t be broken.
“Reunited,” Peaches and Herb
The 1979 chart-topper “Reunited” wasn’t actually a reunion for ’60s-era hitmakers Peaches and Herb. When Herb Feemster reactivated the group in 1976 after a six-year break, he enlisted a new “Peaches,” Linda Greene, who joins him here on the biggest hit of the band’s career. Lush and lightly funky, with harps and strings galore, “Reunited” captures the joy and relief of getting back with someone you never should’ve split from in the first place.
“Drunk In Love,” Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z
Five years into their marriage, Jay-Z and Beyoncé proved they were still very into each other with the 2013 sex romp “Drunk In Love.” It seems that once the D’usse is flowing, no room in the Carter residence is off limits. Beyoncé mentions getting busy in the kitchen and the bathroom, her favorite surf spot, while Jay-Z moves the action to the foyer, risking his Warhol paintings in the process. “Drunk In Love” is a remarkably intimate song that’s part R-rated movie, part episode of Cribs.
“Closer,” The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey
Four years after breaking up, two millennials meet again in a hotel bar and rekindle their romance in the back of a Range Rover, even though nothing’s changed between them. That’s the basic plot of “Closer,” the poppy 2016 future bass earworm that gave both The Chainsmokers and special guest Halsey the first No. 1 hit of their careers. Chainsmokers singer Andrew Taggert says “Closer” was inspired by Blink-182 and Taking Back Sunday, which explains the dark emo vibes hanging over this hookup scenario.
“I Got You Babe,” Sonny and Cher
One night in 1965, Sonny Bono woke up his young bride, Cher, and played her a song he’d just written on his busted $85 piano. It was “I Got You Babe,” a charmingly goofy back-and-forth between two broke hippie lovers determined to silence the naysayers and build a life together. Cher didn’t think much of the song—she told Sonny she was going back to bed. Of course, the public ultimately decides what’s a hit. America couldn’t help but root for these crazy kids, and the single spent three weeks at No. 1.
«Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,» Elton John and Kiki Dee
With 1976’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” Elton John and Kiki Dee put a glittery disco-era spin on the classic Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duet sound of the previous decade. Thanks to Elton and Kiki’s over-the-top, Broadway-worthy performances, the song reached No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. Decades later, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” remains a go-to karaoke pick for couples looking to marinate in some delicious retro cheese.
«Shallow,» Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
“Shallow” isn’t a love song in the traditional sense. The country-rock slow-burner from 2018’s A Star Is Born finds Ally (Lady Gaga) and Jackson (Bradley Cooper) unsatisfied with their lives and prepared to dive into the unknown together. Although they sing their guts out, Gaga and Cooper never sound like they have all the answers. All they know is that shallow—as in mindless, superficial, and easy—is no way to live.
«I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me),» George Michael and Aretha Franklin
George Michael wisely pulled back and let Aretha Franklin do her thing while the two were recording this 1987 soul-pop chartbuster. The Queen of Soul rises above the bombastic ’80s production and spews molten emotion all over this track. In the chorus, she and Michael play on the river-mountain-valley imagery of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” an obvious template for what they were trying to create.
“I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” Meat Loaf with Lorraine Crosby
Meat Loaf enjoyed a massive comeback with the epic 1993 power ballad “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” It’s not really a duet until 3:48, when Lorraine Crosby shows up to grill Meat about whether he’s going to treat her right. At the very end, she predicts, “Sooner or later, you’ll be screwing around,” to which Meat replies, “I won’t do that.” This seemingly solves the mystery at the heart of the song: What’s the one thing he won’t do for love? But as Meat explains in an episode of VH1 Storytellers, “that” actually applies to the various things he sings before each chorus. There are many things he won’t do for love. It’s all very confusing.
«Golden State,» John Doe and Kathleen Edwards
John Doe basically invented the punk-rock duet in his days with X, the legendary L.A. band featuring Exene Cervenka as his co-lead singer. On 2007’s “The Golden State,” Doe links up with Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards for a mature, pragmatic song about the simultaneously wonderful and terrible things about being in love. “You are the hole in my head / I am the pain in your neck,” Doe sings in the first verse, ensuring Hallmark will never hire him to write greeting cards. The title refers to Doe’s adopted home of California, a metaphor for beauty and freedom that gives the song a hopeful quality.
“Dilemma,” Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland
Nelly plays a respectful home-wrecker on this 2002 ode to the married lady up the block. In the role of the forbidden fruit, it’s Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child, which was still an active group at the time. Nelly spits game during the verses, then flips to Kelly for a twinkling nursery-rhyme chorus that sticks in the brain for months at a time. It turns out Kelly thinks about Nelly, too, which means we’ve got ourselves a good old-fashioned love triangle. Shame they never made a sequel to this one.