10 alternative duets from the ’90s that deserved more recognition
Duets are all the rage these days, and largely without the intention of releasing said duet as a single. Case in point: YUNGBLUD’s recent sitdown with Avril Lavigne to blaze through her hit “I’m With You.” That’s just all about making it go viral.
But there was a time when duets were truly something special—two artists coming together who you just never thought would, and they’d not only leave behind three minutes of brilliance but a hit song, too.
And we’re not talking about an artist who features someone on their song, perhaps throwing down a rap on the bridge or even just singing background vocals. We’re talking two artists coming together to really make something and it’s completely 50/50 (or pretty close anyway). Here are some ’90s duets that completely fell through the cracks and simply shouldn’t have.
Weezer/Rachel Haden – “I Just Threw Out The Love Of My Dreams”
One of the standout B-sides from Weezer’s Pinkerton, this duet grabbed the already-enraptured Weezer fans’ attention and held it tightly as can be. Clocking in at less than three minutes, it’s completely ’90s alt-rock perfection. Rachel Haden is actually front and center, with Rivers Cuomo and the gang basically being her backing band. That is until the singer’s unmistakable vocals merge with hers for an enthralling closing. Haden’s resume is sprawling, from her early days as the daughter of a jazz bassist playing bass in her own band with her sister to stints with the Rentals, the Martinis and even touring as part of Jimmy Eat World. She’s ’90s royalty, really.
Thom Yorke/Drugstore – “El President”
Speaking of ’90s royalty, who was more exalted than Radiohead’s mercurial lead Thom Yorke? This lustrous, sweeping song still stands tall today, with Yorke lending his considerable cache, and voice, to the largely obscure London band Drugstore. That band’s lead singer Isabel Monteiro starts the whole thing off, but it’s when Yorke takes the baton that things really begin to move the listener. A tribute to a former Chilean president who was ousted 25 years earlier in a coup d'etat doesn’t scream love song—which duets often are, or at least were—but this acoustic gem is a keeper just the same.
Iggy Pop/Kate Pierson – “Candy”
“Candy” was an instant hit. Many might not think so, but it was. Hell, it was the biggest mainstream hit of Iggy Pop’s considerable career, seeing him reach the Top 40 in the United States for the first and only time. This is the lead singer of the Stooges, folks—the “Godfather of Punk.” What’s more, the single was the second one released off his ninth solo record, Brick By Brick. Chalk it up to the inclusion of B-52’s darling Kate Pierson, whose quirky vocals hoisted Pop’s downtrodden ones upon her vivacious shoulders and carried the thing. It’s no “Love Shack,” but in many ways, it’s damn close.
John Mellencamp/Me’Shell Ndegeocello – “Wild Night”
Probably the biggest hit on this list, this cover of a modest hit for Van Morrison peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1994 when John “former Cougar” Mellencamp tackled it, ably assisted by funk purveyor and bassist Me’Shell Ndegeocello. She plucks the bass ferociously as the video that accompanied the single begins, while a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover girl (Shana Zadrick) quite literally dresses for the camera. It’s all very ’90s, but to be fair, the single is off Mellencamp’s Dance Naked LP. Unsurprisingly, the song proved to be the biggest hit off the record.
Joan Jett/Paul Westerberg – “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love”
Joan Jett did bring her Blackhearts along for this one-off with Replacements head honcho Paul Westerberg. It all came together for one reason: to be included on the soundtrack for the big screen adaptation of the popular underground comic book Tank Girl, starring Lori Petty. Sure, it’s the very “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love” some of you may be recalling as you read this—a Cole Porter ditty from the Roaring ’20s that Ella Fitzgerald had a hit with: “Birds do it, bees do it/Even educated fleas do it…” If you can find the slapdash soundtrack of this mess of a movie that actually cast Ice-T as a mutant kangaroo, there are worse ways to kill an afternoon.
Natalie Merchant/Michael Stipe – “To Sir With Love”
Talk about two ’90s icons joining forces. Before exiting 10,000 Maniacs, Natalie Merchant brought the enigmatic R.E.M. frontman onstage to perform this classic for 1993’s MTV Rock ’N’ Roll Inaugural Ball. It took off like such a rocket that it was later included as part of their Campfire Songs compilation. A true ’60s gem, the song was initially recorded for the Sidney Poitier film of the same name by famed singer Lulu and was legit the best-selling single of 1967. Yes, the year. There’d be many memorable covers of it over the years, from the Jackson 5 to the cast of Glee, but the ’90s had a particular fondness for it, with Soul Asylum, the Trashcan Sinatras and Susanna Hoffs, among many of that decade to perform it. But this one is the one.
The Chemical Brothers/Noel Gallagher -–“Let Forever Be”
Having already worked together on “Setting Sun,” the spine of Brit-rock royalty Oasis, Noel Gallagher, returned to the studio with English big-beat aficionados the Chemical Brothers for this welcome reunion. Gallagher co-wrote it with them, but even more noteworthy is the fact that the ditty managed to make it to dance floors stateside. Gallagher brings the Beatles vibe yet again, but over a Chemical Brothers composition sure to make you move to this very day.
The Crystal Method/Richard Patrick – “(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do”
Nick Cave/PJ Harvey – “Henry Lee”
A match made in alt-rock heaven, “Henry Lee” was released on a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds record, where they mined a traditional folk song for all of its history and lugubrious wonder. Who better to ably assist Nick Cave in this regard than PJ Harvey? She had all sorts of street cred at the time, plus could do the haunting thing with the best of them, matching Cave vocal for vocal on a song that can be traced all the way back to the 18th century. She’d later do the same dance with Radiohead’s Yorke, but this is the Harvey duet that remains worth digging up.
Limp Bizkit/Method Man –“N 2 Gether Now”
Oh, Fred Durst. What a headlock you had on the zeitgeist for a moment there. On the follow-up to Limp Bizkit’s breakthrough debut, Three Dollar Bill, Y’all, this track was tacked on in the 11th hour to “add some flava.” It sure as hell does, even while Significant Other finds the band expanding their sound. More hip-hop, less rock ’n’ roll seemed to be the order of the day, and it worked. The sophomore effort debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. We all remember Significant Other for “Nookie,” of course, but there were other nuggets on there. And when a duet with Method Man stands taller than one with Staind’s Aaron Lewis (“No Sex”), you just know it’s something special.