This latest Top 11 takes a look at some of the best songs recorded by rock and rock/pop duos over the years.
“Tis the only comfort of the miserable to have partners in their woes.”
– Miguel de Cervantes
- “One Toke Over the Line” by Brewer & Shipley
During the Nixon administration, Vice President Spiro Agnew called Brewer & Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line” “blatant drug-culture propaganda” when it was released. He was probably right, but the controversy helped the tune reach the Top 10 in 1971. In 2012 Michael Brewer told Rock Cellar how he came to write “One Toke” with Tom Shipley.
“We were playing a little club in Kansas City, we had to do several sets a night and we were getting ready to go on for our last set. We stepped outside, shall I say, for a breath of fresh air [laughs]. And we came back in and Tom said, ‘Man, I’m one toke over the line,’ and it just cracked me up, I thought it was hysterical.
Just right on the spot, I started singing, ‘One toke over the line, sweet Jesus’ and then we went on stage. The next day we got together and we were sayin’, ‘What was that we were messin’ with last night?’ In about an hour we had a song, just entertaining ourselves.”
The song was even performed on The Lawrence Welk Show. “That was on at exactly the same time the Nixon administration was coming down on us because of the song and Lawrence Welk referred to it as a ‘modern day spiritual.’
“I do remember that it had a third verse and since they wanted to release it as a single, we had to go back into the studio and edit the third verse out because in those days, a single couldn’t be over three minutes and ten seconds long.”
The Lost Third Verse to “One Toke Over the Line”
I was born to give and take
And as I keep growin’
I’m gonna make some mistakes
The sun’s gonna set and the bird is gonna wing
They do not lie
My last wish will be just one thing
Be smilin’ when I die
“One Toke Over the Line” by Brewer & Shipley
- “River Deep — Mountain High” by Ike & Tina Turner
The lukewarm reception record buyers gave Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep — Mountain High” on its release in 1966 is said to have caused producer Phil Spector to retire from the music industry for two years. Its failure was not due to the lack of hard work; twenty-one musicians performed over two sessions just to get the music track. Spector then required Tina to repeatedly sing the lyrics over several hours until he was satisfied with the result.
“I must have sung that 500,000 times,” she said in Rolling Stone. “I was drenched with sweat. I had to take my shirt off and stand there in my bra to sing.”
“It was mass confusion,” background singer Darlene Love told The Independent. “This time it was all din, no music. Nobody’s heart was in it, except Phil’s. The name on the label would be Ike & Tina Turner, though for all we knew Ike was in Alaska when we did the session.”
“River Deep — Mountain High” by Ike & Tina Turner
- “Shout” by Tears for Fears
Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith formed the British duo Tears for Fears in 1981. Their signature songs are 1984’s “Shout” and its follow-up, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
In the liner notes for the album Songs From the Big Chair, Smith explains the appeal of “Shout.” “‘Shout’ is the obvious stadium thing. We consciously started with the chorus. It was kind of a singalong; a protest song — like ‘Give Peace A Chance,’ or ‘Hey Jude,’ even. It had a really in your face chorus. But we never imagined it would take off like that. We’re from Bath. We’re not part of any scene. We’ve never been fashionable, We’re quite insulated when we make records. What happens afterwards is really out of our hands. It’s not something you can really plan for. We certainly can’t. I don’t think we’re that clever.”
“Shout” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1985. Smith and Orzabal broke up in 1991 but reunited a year later and continue to perform together.
“Shout” by Tears for Fears
- “A Summer Song” by Chad & Jeremy
Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde’s debuted in America with 1964’s “Yesterday’s Gone.” Its follow-up, “A Summer Song,” was more successful, reaching No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 later that year. On the duo’s website, Stuart recalls, “We never thought ‘Summer Song’ could possibly be a single. It was just a pretty, romantic song. Or so we thought . . . you never can tell, can you?
“We were just a couple of folkies really, even though I played in rock bands to pay the rent. And the concept of doing the odd ballad now and then was validated by McCartney’s singing ‘Till There Was You.’ All in all, it made for quite a grab bag of styles. Two characters in search of a musical identity!
“But the really scary part was yet to come. After you’ve written a hit song, what happens next? You write another one; at least that’s the theory. After getting lucky two times in a row, I started to feel like I was on a surfboard for the first time having caught a wave entirely by accident. Everyone’s watching and I have no idea what to do next! ‘Come on kid! Write another hit!’ Not as easy as you might think.”
Stuart explained the song’s appeal in the Central New Jersey Home News. “What it blundered into is being one of those archetypal summer songs where you don’t have the girl, and no, no, no, and then you have the rain. It had a lesson of angst in the final analysis. It’s a perfect summer romance song where you have to go home for the summer, and the girl with whom you’ve had a steamy romance has to go back to Pittsburgh, or wherever.”
“A Summer Song” by Chad & Jeremy
- “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher
Sonny Bono was a songwriter and record producer for Phil Spector when he wrote “I Got You Babe.” Bono and then-wife Cher scored a No. 1 hit in 1965 with what would become their signature song.
“Sonny woke me up in the middle of the night to come in where the piano was, in the living room, and sing it,” Cher told Billboard. “And I didn’t like it and just said, ‘OK, I’ll sing it and then I’m going back to bed.’ So I was never a very good barometer.”
Topping the charts changed everything for the duo. “Jesus, it was everything that we were living for. It was what we were breathing for. It was our goal to do it. We struggled and struggled and struggled because of the way we looked . . . we looked different than anyone else. We got thrown out of every place. We couldn’t get in . . . we looked so strange to everyone.
“We had songs that didn’t do anything, and then all of a sudden we had all these songs on the [chart]at one time. What happened was there were songs we made before, so when ‘I Got You Babe’ became famous, they released the songs that we had done before ‘I Got You Babe.’ So everything was just released at one time.”
“I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher
- “We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” by Seals & Crofts
Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were a popular soft rock duo of the 1970s. Their songs were often informed by their Bahai faith. Their 1973 hit “Hummingbird” was a metaphor for Baha Ulla, the prophet who founded Bahai in the Middle East in the 19th century.
“We May Never Pass This Way (Again),” also released in 1973, reached No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song contains the lyrics, “Like Columbus in the olden days, we must gather all our courage.” That reference made Seals reluctant to re-release the song.
“The song was written a long time ago, and when I went to school, I was taught that Columbus was a good guy,” Seals told the Los Angeles Times. “I never really stopped to think about the controversy that’s developed over him recently. The song wasn’t intended to glorify a slave owner, it was addressing the kind of courage it took for him to go out at a time when they thought the world was flat. Whether they did it for greed or ignorance or whatever, they did it. Now we’ll have to change the lyrics. God knows, I know the Indians and aboriginal peoples are the backbone of the world, and it was not intended to belittle them in any way.”
“We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” by Seals & Crofts
- “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates
Daryl Hall and John Oates recorded a string of hits from the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s. “Rich Girl,” released in 1977, became a Top 40 hit. Hall revealed in American Songwriter that was song was not about a girl at all. Its subject was a friend of Hall’s ex-girlfriend, Sara Allen.
“‘Rich Girl’ was written about an old boyfriend of Sara’s from college that she was still friends with at the time. His name is Victor Walker. He came to our apartment, and he was acting sort of strange. His father was quite rich. I think he was involved with some kind of a fast food chain. I said, ‘This guy is out of his mind, but he doesn’t have to worry about it because his father’s gonna bail him out of any problems he gets in.’
“So I sat down and wrote that chorus. [Sings] ‘He can rely on the old man’s money / He can rely on the old man’s money / He’s a rich guy.’ I thought that didn’t sound right, so I changed it to ‘Rich Girl.’ He knows the song was written about him.”
“Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates
- “World Without Love” by Peter & Gordon
In 1963, Paul McCartney was dating supermodel Jane Asher, whose parents allowed the Beatle to stay in the guest room of their home. Asher’s brother, Peter, shared the top floor of the house with McCartney; a lucky break, as Asher had formed the acoustic duo Peter & Gordon with Gordon Waller and was looking for songs.
“I had heard a lot of songs in progress and so on,” Asher explained in Musicguy247. “One of them was ‘World Without Love,’ which he explained to me wasn’t finished. It had no bridge. The Beatles weren’t going to record it because John didn’t think it was right. I think they offered it to Billy J. Kramer or somebody else. So it was kind of an orphan song but I liked it.
“So then, cut to when we got our record deal — when we signed the deal and got a date. I went back to Paul and said, ‘If that song is still looking for a home, we would love to sing it’ and he said fine, you can have it. So he gave us the song, and just in time for the recording session, wrote the bridge as well. So we added it to the list. It was really, as I say, a homeless song that we kind of gave a home to and very fortunate for us it was there, because it turned out to be a number one record.”
Released in February 1964, “World Without Love” became the duo’s signature tune. In 2013 McCartney’s demo of the song was released on YouTube.
“World Without Love” by Peter & Gordon
“World Without Love” Demo by Paul McCartney
- “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” is the most successful example of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production technique. The Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, reached No. 1 with the song in February 1965 during the heart of Beatlemania.
In his memoir, The Time of My Life, Medley describes working with Spector. “He was brilliant in the studio. You only have to listen to ‘Lovin’ Feeling’ today and know that he was a genius. When Phil did the music tracks he wouldn’t let anybody in the studio except us. Bobby could have been there but chose not to come. But I was there and I was like a sponge, soaking up everything I could. He wouldn’t let anyone else in the engineer booth because he didn’t want any other producer to know how he was doing what he did.”
Medley told the Naples Daily News that the duo was surprised by the song’s success. “We didn’t think it was going to be a hit at all. We thought it was too long. It was too slow. I was singing too low. There was a million things wrong with it for the times. But I think all the things that were wrong about it ended up making it kind of a special record. So I think it worked for us.”
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers
- “Surf City” by Jan & Dean
Before the Beach Boys had a national hit, they had formed a friendship with fellow surf-rockers Jan Berry and Dean Torrence. When Brian Wilson offered the duo an unfinished song, “Surf City,” they eagerly snapped it up.
“Brian started to write ‘Surf City’ and then somehow got sidetracked onto ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.,’ Torrence recalled in Rock Cellar in 2015. (no link) “He liked ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ better than ‘Surf City’ and they were kind of alike. He picked ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ to be the one that he was actually going to spend most of his time on and kind of threw the other one in a drawer.
“Luckily for us, he knew we were looking for songs and he said, ‘Well, I’ve got this one here, this would work for you very well.’ And he handed us a song that was probably at least fifty percent done. At least the structure was done and I think most of the melody at least was done. They hadn’t finished writing it completely so he just said, ‘You finish it.’ OK, we’d gladly finish that sucker.”
Berry finished writing the tune, which became the first No. 1 surf record. Torrence says the success of the song infuriated Wilson’s father Murry, the band’s manager. “Brian tried to explain, ‘Dad, don’t we have a publishing company? That was a song that probably I was never going to get back to. I have ten other songs I’m working on and I lost interest in this song. So here’s a group that comes along, has a No. 1 record, and it’s our publishing. How can that be bad?’
“His dad said he didn’t want us to ever be around the studio when the Beach Boys were recording because he called us ‘record pirates.’ It was just Murry, he didn’t understand and that’s why he did get let go. He wasn’t sophisticated enough once the hits started to be the manager and the producer.”
“Surf City” by Jan & Dean
- “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel
Released in 1969, “The Boxer” was one of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s biggest hits, reaching No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. While the song is written about a battered pugilist, Simon told Playboy that it is largely autobiographical.
“I think I was reading the Bible around that time. That’s where I think phrases such as ‘workman’s wages’ came from, and ‘seeking out the poorer quarters.’ That was biblical. I think the song was about me: everybody’s beating me up, and I’m telling you now I’m going to go away if you don’t stop. By that time we had encountered our first criticism. For the first few years, it was just pure praise. It took two or three years for people to realize that we weren’t strange creatures that emerged from England but just two guys from Queens who used to sing rock ‘n’ roll. And maybe we weren’t real folkies at all! Maybe we weren’t even hippies!”
“I knew ‘The Boxer’ was great. For one thing, it’s a style that is our strong suit,” Garfunkel recalled in Blue Railroad. “Whenever we did those folky, running things, the syllabication is ideal for what we had learned. We were tapping into something that went way back for us, and something we could get a blend on. So I always knew, whenever it was that kind of thing, I had a particular feel that I could do really well, and match Paul and make the whole thing ripple and articulate it just right.”
“The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel