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Friday, November 9, 2012

The Music Duo - The Historical Evolution

In my opinion, the first of the great male musical duos was the Everly Brothers. Phil and Don took two minute pop-songs with close harmonies, catchy melodies and tight production to the top of the pops in the fifties and early sixties. I'm certain there were singing duos before the Everly Brothers, but I do not count any acts before the advent of rock and roll for ease of reference, Kay Kaiser and Ish Kabibble, for instance. I do not recognize Kaiser and Kabibble as a legitimate singing team, as Kaiser was a band leader and Ish was a coronetist. Big band singers are sometimes tough to call.

So, for the sake of argument, The Everlys, Phil and Don, set the template for all the rock and roll duos to follow. The sixties followed with its share of duos - Sam and Dave, Jan and Dean and Simon and Garfunkle come to mind. Sam and Dave and Jan and Dave moved away from the "close-harmony" thing, with S&D going the Motown route and J&D driving around the coast with the Beach Boys sound. Simon and Garfunkle went ethereal with Simon's deep-thinking lyrics and Artie's angelic vocals. Then there were the Righteous Brothers - who weren't really brothers and probably weren't that righteous.

The British Invasion in the mid-60's gave us Peter and Gordon and Chad and Jeremy, two interchangeable duos - complete with horn-rimmed glasses, with P&G getting the edge with Lennon and McCartney songwriting winning over C&J's appearance on "The Dick Van Dyke Show".

Peter and Gordon - close British winners over Chad and Jeremy...

Flo and Eddie, once the leaders of the Turtles and members of Frank Zappa's "Mothers of Invention", brought their own special hippie magic to the musical duo genre in the late 60's. I'm certain there were more male duos of import in the sixties, but once one has played the Flo and Eddie card, it is wise to simply move along.
The Seventies brought a new breed of duo - I like to call it "The Bearded Age". With groups like Seals and Croft, Loggins and Messina and England Dan and John Ford Coley (England Dan was the brother of Jim Seals of "Seals and Croft. I always thought it would have made more sense to go with "Seals and Seals", or "The Seals Brothers", or simply "The Seals" and let John Ford Coley play with Dash Croft in "Coley and Croft", which has a much more western-era ring to it. Or "Dash and John Ford Coley". The possibilities are endless. Why the brothers Seals broke up, I'll never know, but I prefer to blame Flo and Eddie.). Times grew sensitive in the seventies and the duos harvested dozens of mellow pop and acoustic songs. It was a gentler time.
Hall and Oates shuffled their way onto the scene in the late 70's and further muddied the pop-duo waters by bringing pastel into the picture. Stepping on the wide-lapeled coattails of all the duos that had come before them, in the eighties, H&O became the biggest-selling duo in the history of recorded music - even bigger than Kay Kaiser and Ish Kabbible. And they weren't afraid of taking sassy photos. Or grow an 80's porn-mustache. Or roll their jacket sleeves up and get a delicately feathered pompadour haircut.
The 90's brought along Extreme, with their angsty, one-hit "More Than Words", which they sang into one microphone. Cute. The 90's also gave us pop-duo-scandal, when Fab and Rob of Milli Vanilli were accused of not singing a syllable on their records after they swept up the "Best New Artist" Grammy Award. Apparently, great abs, thigh-length dreadlocks and piercing gazes weren't enough to save the group and one of them eventually walked into the sea until the bubbles stopped and lives with Jesus now.

Milli Vanilli - also not afraid of a sassy photo.
In a splendid twist of serendipity, the great age of the pop duo came to an end in the 90's and the era was capped off with the duo "Nelson". The twin, tow-headed sons of Ricky Nelson formed their own pop band and had a hit. I think. They looked pretty, anyhow, with their long-flowing tow-headed locks and apparently played their own instruments and sang their own vocals. Take that, Millie Vanilli.
I say serendipitous because not only was their father a teen-idol in the fifties and early sixties, like his co-idol teammates, The Everly Brothers, Gunner and Matthew Nelson were also real-live brothers like the legendary Everlys. I can think of no more splendid manner with which to achieve closure to the subject and all other duos, including "The Jer and Tag Show" will simply have to wait until the update for the new millennium. 
Will simply have to wait...

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