For years, my dogs Emma and Sailor collaborated on free-form and synchronized barking. Though Emma was older and smaller than Sailor, she never took a backseat to him. In fact she kept him on probation for seven years. As a producer of sound, Emma was a formidable unit who could shake the shack with her John Philip Sousa thundering. In memory of Emma and Sailor and their body of work, which is still echoing through the cosmos, here’s a look at some famous female/male musical duos.

Look At Us
Sonny & Cher
(Salvatore Bono and Cherilyn Lapierre)
1965
Sonny and Cher were perfectly matched, as neither of them had a particularly good voice. Sometimes I can’t tell which one of them is singing. But they harmonized well! Sonny rarely ventured beyond his limited range; when Cher swung out, as in her solo hit “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” (1971), it sounded like controlled yelling. When they worked together, Sonny did the composing, Cher did the hair. Most of their albums aren’t worth spit, but if you were a teenage love couple in the ’60s you have a soft spot in your heart for “I Got You, Babe.” The dopey lyrics don’t hurt the surprisingly strong finish, the spare but effective piano arrangement, and their genuine affection for each other.

River Deep – Mountain High
Ike & Tina Turner
1966
I could’ve picked any of their albums because none of them are memorable, but I picked this one because it features “River Deep – Mountain High.” This is either Phil Spector’s masterpiece or his monster mash. Tina sounds like she’s floundering in a tidal wave of strings, but she’s one of the few vocalists of that era who could stand against the full fury of the Wall of Sound. Crosby, Stills, & Nash would’ve been sucked into another dimension. Ike wrote most of their material (not “River Deep”), but Tina topped him when she wrote their last hit, the upbeat, funky “Nutbush City Limits” (1973).

Make Your Move
Captain & Tennille
(Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille)
1979
It pains me to even consider these characters, as their lukewarm music makes Bananarama sound like The Buzzcocks. However, I can appreciate their special status in the music industry: A husband-and-wife team who have been recording and performing together since the early ’70s. The only other couple I can think of with that kind of staying power is June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash. Dragon wrote most of the Captain & Tennille catalog, so he’s the one who deserves the lengthy prison sentence, but the bland-voiced Tennille is guilty of aiding and abetting. She also contributed their final hit, “Do That to Me One More Time” (1979). If this blog survives until 2015 it will be my pleasure to wish them a happy 40th wedding anniversary.

While we’re discussing substandard music of the ’70s, let me briefly mention The Carpenters, Donny and Marie, and Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. Roberta Flack by herself was by far the biggest talent in this sorrowful group, but none of them were as good as (to cross into another genre) Ian & Sylvia. [Note from me in 2015: I was thinking here of the Flack/Hathaway duets, which I didn’t care for. Flack on her own was a force, if not The Force. Hathaway wasn’t my style, but I recognize how good he was and the tragedy of his early death.]

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
Eurythmics
(Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart)
1983
Annie Lennox has a truly outstanding voice, and in Eurythmics she was also a formidable artistic partner. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) gave us two iconic ’80s hits: the title track and “Love Is a Stranger.” Here’s a rumor I remember from 1983: Lennox’s transsexual look in the “Love Is a Stranger” video alarmed some radio programming heads, who demanded to know her gender before they would play the single. Which reminds me, I somehow managed to leave Ms. Lennox off my Ladies of the ’80s post, even though “Love Is a Stranger” is one of my favorite songs of that era.

Eurythmics were no fluke, as on later albums they produced “It’s Alright, Baby’s Coming Back,” “Here Comes the Rain Again,” “Sexcrime (Nineteen Eightyfour),” and “Would I Lie to You Baby?” which I think is their finest moment. The band dominated the middle of the decade, but didn’t last into the next one. Lennox and Dave Stewart long ago split up, personally and professionally. Two things Lennox has done in her solo career have caught my attention: the covers album Medusa (particularly her interpretations of Neil Young and Procul Harum) and her Mick Jagger impersonation on “I Want a Man.”

Nerd alert: Lennox wrote “Into the West” for the third Lord of the Rings movie.

Poolside
Nu Shooz
(Valerie Day and John Smith)
1986
Nu Shooz are here only because they’re from Portland and because Valerie Day and John Smith are still together and still performing. They had a hit with “I Can’t Wait,” which is an excellent warm-up number before you start spinning the dance music. As for the rest of their stuff…I can wait.

Details
Frou Frou
(Imogen Heap and Guy Sigsworth)
2002
This one-off from two British musicians is noteworthy even before you get to the music: The couple is not romantically involved, and the woman not only does the singing, she also co-writes, co-produces, and plays some of the instruments. Imogen Heap’s voice is not as powerful as Annie Lennox’s, but it’s more expressive, like Tina Turner’s without Turner’s Wagnerian wallop. Some of the tracks on Details are pleasant (“Hear Me Out”), some are Gary Numan-like electronic excursions that are humanized by Heap’s voice (“Flicks”), one is upbeat despite its ambiguous lyrics (“Breathe In” – are they breaking up or what?), and one is every bit as melancholy as Pink Floyd, but with adult lyrics (“Psychobabble”):

You couldn’t be more wrong, darling
I never gave out these signs
You misunderstand all meaning
Snap out of it
I’m not falling for this one

I only like a few songs from this disc, but I like those a lot, and I wish there’d been a follow-up to this at times mesmerizing debut.

Supernature
Goldfrapp
(Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory)
2006
Time for more guilty pleasures! Goldfrapp is an electronic dance outfit for people who are just a tiny bit scared of Lady Gaga. Goldfrapp’s music is danceable, but not as frantically as Gaga’s. Goldfrapp is willing to chance some downbeat numbers, which might make her the thinking woman’s Gaga if you don’t listen to the lyrics. Both performers flaunt their legs, but they’re both built like sticks so it’s hard to say who is superior in this area. (Actually, it’s not hard to say: Tina Turner.) They cover some of the same thematic material; Gaga wants to ride my disco stick, Goldfrapp wants to ride a white horse. As David Byrne sang, “Everybody. Get. In. Line!

The main difference between the two women is Allison Goldfrapp’s voice, which must be one of Britain’s natural resources and the main reason I keep listening. “Felt Mountain,” the title track from the album before Supernature, is like a story by H.P. Lovecraft – nothing but atmosphere. She’s singing, but there are no lyrics. If there’s a radio station on Mars, “Felt Mountain” is in heavy rotation. “Do That to Me One More Time” is not.

Supernature has quite a few misfires, but I can recommend “Fly Me Away,” “Ride a White Horse,” and “Ooh La La.” (“Little Bird,” from their Seventh Tree  album, could’ve been a Magical Mystery Tour  outtake.) Ms. Goldfrapp is the co-author with Will Gregory of most the band’s songs and she has considerable influence on the videos, so I am placing the responsibility for the “Ride a White Horse” video on her shoulders. This footage must be seen to be believed. You might be tempted to bail after the first 30 seconds, but I urge you to hang in until 2:05 when The Underwearers climb out of a dumpster and form a zombie conga line behind her.

Volume One
She & Him
(Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward)
2008
I’ve tangled with these people before. I still haven’t succeeded in developing any affection for them. This is pretty much how I feel about another cult couple, Richard and Linda Thompson (I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, 1974).

Zooey Deschanel has a precious, little-girl voice that’s as warm as tin. M. Ward is too country and frankly kind of tame. (He is from Portland, though, so extra points there.) “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” sounds like the B side to something by Badfinger. Perry Como would’ve rejected “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” as too laid-back. “I Was Made for You” is simulated ’60s Girl Group. I couldn’t help tapping my foot to it, and I also couldn’t help asking myself who could’ve done this better. I finally settled on The Monkees.

Deschanel writes all the lyrics, and they give the illusion of meaning, which is more than I can say for Goldfrapp. But it’s still an illusion. I am interested in their covers, though. Ward’s lo-fi arrangement for “You Really Got a Hold on Me” is austerely beautiful, and they were gutsy to record “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Deschanel’s voice rises to the occasion on that one, so bravo, She & Him!

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody, whether your union is heterosexual, homosexual, multidisciplinary, or independent/undecided. And as for our current dog, The Notorious S.M.A.L.L., he’s been a solo act too long. We’re getting a puppy.

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