Got any suggestions for good songs for two people to sing with each other (in a casual, non-performance context)?

Mary Anne and I like singing together. Last week, we were trying to come up with songs in which two people alternate parts, with some overlap. We're especially interested in showtunes of that sort.

There's “Confrontation” from Les Mis, except I don't know it well enough to sing it (even with a lyric sheet) and I'm not all that fond of it. (Though Mary Anne likes it a lot.) There's “I Know Him So Well” from Chess; unfortunately, Mary Anne knows the London studio recording, while these days I mostly know the American Broadway cast recording. (It's been many years since I've sat down and listened to the London recording all the way through; I really ought to do that again. We got rather tangled up when we tried to sing “You Want to Lose Your Only Friend” and I didn't realize, until M pointed it out halfway through, that we were singing different versions.)

There are plenty of songs that have two voices, but most of them don't have anywhere close to equal distribution of the voices. I love “I See the Light” from Tangled, but Rapunzel sings the entire first half of the song solo (and I think M doesn't like that song as much as I do). I love “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” from Evita, but (ignoring the extended introduction sung by Eva), most of the song is solo; Che's gorgeous part is only in the choruses. And M doesn't know that show anyway. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” has some of the same kind of thing going on with the “turn around” bits; that's fun too, but I'd prefer something with more for the second voice to do.

It's certainly possible to do non-duet songs as duets. For example, the canonical version of “Good King Wenceslas” in my head is the one described in The Dark Is Rising, so M and I split the verses that way sometimes. And we should probably learn the Glee arrangement of “Don't Stop Believin'.”

Oh, and of course there's always rounds; we like those. But except for the ones I know really well, I do better on rounds when there's another voice (ideally a strong one) singing the same part as me.

Anyway, we're especially interested in songs that are written as a dialogue or other back-and-forth, with some bits solo and some bits with the same lyrics in unison (or harmony) and some bits with different lyrics overlapping.

We looked at a couple of online lists of “greatest duets,” but most of them were songs I didn't know (a lot of them were songs I had never even heard of), and often in genres I don't know much about. I'd be more interested in songs from musicals or folksongs than, say, rock or blues.

Any suggestions?

10 Responses to “Duets?”

  1. Vardibidian

    Yeah, there are a bunch from the swing era and post-WWII popular music. Some were written for two voices and some were adapted that way—pick up either of the Ella and Louis albums. You could try Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, which is lots of fun, or even better A Fine Romance. Also–You’re Just in Love!


  2. jacob

    You might look at South Pacific — my understanding is that there was concern that Ezio Pinza’s voice would overshadow Mary Martin’s, so a lot of the songs are written for them to sing back-and-forth, rather than together.

    There’s an early Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer song called “Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love” that does a nice back-and-forth-and-then-together thing. I particularly like the melody that Tracy Grammer sings.

    How about The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”? The intro is all for one voice, but the main song is back-and-forth. And very appropriate to the season. 🙂

  3. https://me.yahoo.com/a/1gqJMlIepJSaDpLrKK.g7p.M1f9q#163d8

    Especially if you are nowhere close…”Sixteen Going On Seventeen” from the Sound of Music might be fun!

  4. debbie.notkin

    “I Remember It Well” (I hope that’s the actual name) from Gigi. One of the very few songs that (humorously) portrays a long-standing relationship.

    I think the pineapple song from the stage version of Cabaret is pretty well-balanced, but I’m not as sure about that one.

  5. Jed

    Thanks, all!

    Danima: Good idea. In retrospect, that does seem like an obvious choice, doesn’t it? I don’t remember why we didn’t do that one. (It’s kinda hard to find a non-skeezy recording of it, but singing it together is different.)

    Vardibidian; Good ideas—thanks!

    Huh—I don’t think I’ve ever seen/heard all of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” That’s delightfully silly. And I wonder if the subtext is a class thing; I had always thought it was just about minor pronunciation differences, but “You pronounce things with a different class accent than mine” is a more interesting idea. (And that reminds me of the Berrymans’ “Crab Canape.”)

    I only knew “A Fine Romance” from Swing Time, in which Rogers sings most of it and then there’s a non-song interlude and then Astaire sings the rest; hadn’t thought of it as a duet. Interesting to hear Fitzgerald and Armstrong do it more duet-y.

    Huh—Wikipedia says Judi Dench sang “A Fine Romance” as the theme song for a British sitcom she starred in, with the same title! That sounds worth looking up. …YouTube to the rescue! That looks charming, although it might be a bit too much humor-of-embarrassment for me. But funny. “I don’t have any small talk; I don’t even have any medium talk!” (And it’s available for streaming from Netflix!)

    Anyway. Hadn’t heard “You’re Just in Love” before; nice. (Though each voice’s solo part goes on for a while; I think we’d rather have shorter solo bits.)

  6. Jed

    Jacob: Nice ideas.

    Going through the songs from the original-Broadway-cast version of South Pacific (with Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin), I think most of them aren’t duets, except for “Twin Soliloquies” and “Dites Moi.”

    I like “Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love” (especially the harmony/duet aspects) but hadn’t thought about singing it. Might be worth learning.

    Somehow that reminds me that there must be Gilbert & Sullivan songs that would work well—though I think the solo parts are usually relatively long in those.

    I love “Fairytale of New York” but I don’t think I’d be comfortable singing it with someone—that “You’re a bum / you’re a punk” verse is just a little too hard-edged, though it works well in the context of the recorded song.

  7. Jed

    Yahoo person: Heh—cute idea. But it’s really more like two solo half-songs than the kind of duet I’m looking for. Still, bonus points for it being the only song I can think of that includes the word “roues.”

    Debbie: I saw Gigi years ago, but didn’t remember “I Remember It Well” at all. Good song; thanks for the suggestion!

    What I find especially interesting about that song is that it predates “Remember” from A Little Night Music by about 15 years, so I’m guessing the former song was still prominent in the popular psyche when Sondheim was writing the latter.

    But wait! The plot thickens! In 1954, four years before Gigi, Sondheim wrote a song (for a musical called “Saturday night”) called “I Remember That,” which similarly features a couple remembering their first date differently.

    But even that may not be the whole story. Sondheim notes: “I may have cribbed the idea unconsciously, as Lerner had apparently written a version of his song with Kurt Weill for a show called Love Life in 1948, a show which I saw.”

    …I haven’t seen Cabaret on stage, so I hadn’t seen the “pineapple song.” Cute!

  8. Vardibidian

    Do you know the Johnny Mercer song Friendship? It’s incredibly corny, but it definitely is that back-and-forth thing with short lines and a tiny bit of harmonizing. Speaking of Judy Garland (which we were, if you click through) one of her signature tunes is “A Couple of Swells”, which generally has the two voices mostly singing together, rather than trading lines, but I have no idea why–it would work extremely well with more line trading. Here’s Judy with the underrated David Wayne.


  9. tcornes

    People Will Say We’re In Love – Oaklahoma
    Do I Love You? – Cinderella
    Almost Paradise from Footloose the movie
    It’s Cold Outside
    U Got the Look by Prince
    Under Pressure by Queen
    Sisters are doin’ For Themselves by Aretha Franklin
    I’ve Got You Babe
    Don’t Give Up by Phil Collins and Kate Bush
    You’re the One that I want – Grease

    Not a love song, but my brother and I used to alternate verses
    The Perfect Nanny – Mary Poppins


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