Duos before Don and Phil

The Everly Brothers are largely associated with the brother duets in country music, most of whom achieved notoriety during the 1930s. In pop music, duos were less common and somewhat temporary. For example, Frankie Lane recorded a number of duets that appeared on the Top 40 charts, especially with Jo Stafford. One of my favorites is “Hey Good Lookin’.”

In this song you can hear how one partner dominates then the other. The harmonization is fairly brief and because of the registral difference, Laine’s voice prevails in the sound mix to my ear. Other duet partners of Laine during this period include Jimmy Boyd and Buck Clayton. This suggests that each of these artists maintains a distinct persona and form what I call the temporary duo. A number of examples of these temporary duos emerge in the 1980s and later when two “stars” come together to record a duet, such as Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder with “Ebony and Ivory.” 

In the early 1950s, Les Paul and Mary Ford recorded a number of hits as a duo. She sang and he played guitar, but more importantly she harmonized with herself through Les Paul’s innovative double tracking recording mechanism. There’s at least one fan out there who claims Mary Ford as an influence in harmonizing technique. I have yet to find evidence that the Everly Brothers were influenced by Ford’s techniques, but certainly the pop music public was attuned to this style of harmonization.

The Everly Brothers came on to the scene in 1957. In the year preceding, there was only one duo that made it on to the Top 40 charts: Patience and Prudence. These pre-pubescent girls had two hits in 1956 and have been mostly relegated to the one-hit-wonder category.


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