The 20 Best Musical Husband-Wife Duos

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The 20 Best Musical Husband-Wife Duos

It seems like it’d be really convenient to go into business with your partner, especially if your business is music. Each person is the other’s muse. The unspoken language and non-verbal communication becomes like ESP. Like JOHNNYSWIM (another talented husband-wife duo) told Paste back in 2014, you get to do interviews with the press from bed together. Of course, collaborations between married couples have been around since the days of traditional family bands. So, while only judging music made together while married (sorry Jack and Meg), here are 20 of the best husband and wife duos in music history.

20. Deb Talen and Steve Tannen (The Weepies)

The Weepies’ music even sounds like it was made by a married couple, only one that never fights and still holds hands and does weekly date nights. I’m sure at least two of those aren’t true, but there’s so much lovely harmony on their three albums that discordance would just be out of place. —Josh Jackson

19. Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel (Mates of State)

Ever since Jack and Meg became “brother and sister,” Gardner and Hammel have been the best married duo that included half of the couple on drums. The band formed in 1997 in Kansas with Gardner on keyboards, and they married four years later. If their marriage is like their music, things are fun on tour and back home in East Haven Connecticut. —Josh Jackson

18. Victoria Williams and Mark Olson (The Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers)

Founding Jayhawk Mark Olson left The Jayhawks after Tomorrow The Green Grass to play music with his new bride, Victoria Williams. It was a move to the folkier side of his former folk-rock band and great music to listen to while barefoot in a summer meadow (making them the cover subjects of our very first issue of Paste). After their divorce in 2006, Olson has since returned to play music with Jayhawk Gary Louris. —Josh Jackson

17. Paul Kantner and Grace Slick

Grace Slick was a decidedly loose woman back in the day, a rock ‘n’ roll vixen rumored to have bedded every member of Jefferson Airplane during the group’s tumultuous early career. Those were the days of free love after all, evenwhen it came with a cost. However, it was her union with the late Paul Kanter that provided the band with its most enduring songs, as well as those that emerged from their continuing collaboration as Jefferson Starship. Having made their mark during that fabled Summer of Love half a century ago, Grace likely decided that she did indeed need a certain someone to love and in that regard, she was apparently captivated by Kantner.

16. Buddy and Julie Miller

Mostly content to keep their recordings separate, the first couple of Americana finally joined forces on an album (simply titled Buddy & Julie Miller) in 2001, 20 years after they married. It’s a musical marriage that couldn’t be more perfect.

15. Richard and Linda Thompson

Richard Thompson’s solo career immediately following his departure from Fairport Convention was short-lived, circumvented by his personal and professional pairing with his soon-to-be wife Linda Peters. While Richard was obviously the one who dominated the marquee, Peters was a credible singer in her own right, having worked with many of the English folk elite. And when the pair took equal billing, she more than held her own, turning their six albums into instant classics. Many of the songs they provided—“I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight,” “Wall of Death,” “Down Where the Drunkards Roll,” “A Heart Needs a Home,” “For Shame of Doing Wrong” and “Dimming of the Day”—remain a crucial part of Richard’s current repertoire and, in fact, among the greatest songs in his catalog. Linda herself went on to pursue a modest solo career, but it’s her role as mother of their talented children—Teddy and Kami, in particular— that remains one of her greatest achievements. A 2014 album, aptly entitled Family, provided the impetus for Richard and Linda to reunite in the company of their offspring.

14. The Mastersons

Having made their mark initially as members of Steve Earle’s backing band, Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore can also claim a well-received dual dynamic that’s yielded three joint efforts, including their latest album, Transient Lullaby. Granted, they remain well below the radar, but their harmonies and heartland homilies represent the best in authentic Americana. Drawing from a wellspring of traditional tapestries, the two singers/multi-instrumentalists show they’re well equipped to go it alone and bring it on home.

13. Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo

Love may be a battlefield, but Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo proved that the personal and the professional can intertwine, even in the heady world of rock ‘n’ roll. It was Benatar’s name on the marquee but Giraldo’s guitar that powered her hits. The two continue to tour some 30 years after their hit-making prime, upping the ante for ‘80s nostalgia while taking equal credit for their retro replay. Radio might have abandoned them, but judging by a renewed round of promo and publicity, they’re clearly as inspired as ever.

12. Paul and Linda McCartney

Here again, a Beatle faced a backlash for partnering with his spouse. In truth, the couple only released one album that found them sharing the billing, that being Ram, one of his better early efforts. The fact that Macca insisted on making Linda a member of Wings affirmed the fact Linda wasn’t only his new muse, but someone he could put his trust in, as well. So while he clearly missed his relationship with John Lennon, she helped fill the void. His love for Linda gave him a family, a friend and a faithful collaborator, helping to heal the wound that resulted from the Beatles’ bitter estrangement. Linda’s rudimentary musical skills mattered little as far as Wing’s work was concerned, and besides, when Paul decided to bring his bride along for the ride, it turned out to be all the better as far as his inspiration and motivation.

11. Sam Phillips and T Bone Burnett

Although they’ve also since divorced, Phillips experienced something of a career renaissance in 1987 as Leslie Phillips when Burnett produced her album The Turning. She changed her name to Sam, married Burnett and her husband produced a series of amazing LPs in the 1990s, including her zenith, 1994’s Martinis and Bikinis. —Josh Jackson

10. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

The first couple of country music are an anomaly in Nashville these days—successful solo stars who work equally well in tandem. Now in the midst of the latest incarnation of their Soul2Soul tour (an outing that’s been a box office boom for the past 15 years), they’re also touting a new single, “Speak to a Girl,” which doubles as the first entry from an upcoming album of duets. The two have performed together in the past, but the new effort, due for release later this year, marks the first time they’ve recorded an entire album together. The late Rayna James and her bereaved beau Deacon Claybourne would likely nod with approval.

9. Exene Cervenka and John Doe

The first couple of punk helmed the band X in both its early and later incarnations, while also going on to pursue solo careers and an occasional odd pairing via the old timey trappings of the Knitters. Judging by most of the music they made, they were a tumultuous pair, one reason perhaps that their personal union lasted only five years. Nevertheless, the music they made set a fiery and frantic standard, and indeed, when it came to the rebirth of the San Francisco scene in the early ‘80s, X did indeed mark the spot.

8. Win Butler and Regine Chassagne (Arcade Fire)

A boy from Texas married a girl from Quebec and had a little band called Arcade Fire. Only four albums in, and they’re already one of the most remarkable husband and wife duos of all time. —Josh Jackson

7. Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiller (Over the Rhine)

Quietly crafting one of the best oeuvres in all of American music, the Ohioans at the heart of Over the Rhine have been together as a band since 1989 and as husband and wife since 1996. If you’ve never heard OtR, stop what you’re doing and listen to these two songs, the first because it’s timely, the second because it’s amazing. —Josh Jackson

6. Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan

Okay, so she doesn’t take the stage with Waits’s band, but their 1980 marriage and subsequent songwriting collaboration helped sew a patchwork of musical flotsam and jetsam onto the lounge crooner, transforming him into the carnival ringleader of Swordfishtrombone in 1983. If the piano had been drinking before, it’s been downright delirious ever since. —Josh Jackson

5. Tina and Ike Turner

The music was phenomenal. The marriage—not so much. Their turbulent domestic life (Tina accused Ike of being an abusive husband) has overshadowed their legacy, but there’s no denying the electricity the two had on stage. —Josh Jackson

4. Beyoncé and Jay-Z

It’s rare to find two musicians equally talented and happily married, each content in their solo careers while seemingly free of the pressure and animosity that often tears show biz couples apart. Still, naysayers apparently refuse to believe that success and matrimony can coexist, and there are those who insist on perusing Beyoncé’s latest album, Lemonade, for hints about an impending break-up. While the couple have yet to opt for co-billing on a single album, they have collaborated on occasion, most notably on the songs ”’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” Beyoncé’s hit “Crazy in Love,” “That’s How You Like It” from her album Dangerously in Love, and the songs “Déjà Vu” and “Upgrade U,” both taken from B’Day, her equally successful sophomore set. More telling was the evolution from their 2004 hit “Crazy in Love” to its belated follow-up “Drunk In Love” nine years later.

3. Sonny and Cher

The personification of hip hippiedom, the duo’s early efforts yielded a steady stream of mid-‘60s hits, none better than “I’ve Got You Babe,” an amorous anthem that summed up the sentiments of two carefree lovers short on wealth but forever entwined. From then until the early-‘70s. the chart-toppers kept coming, eventually morphing into an hour variety show that made them the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of America’s sweethearts. Cher eventually became a solo star, but their onscreen rapport, fuelled by her constant putdowns of her diminutive partner, concealed the fact that the relationship was headed for divorce. It took a long time for the pair to reconcile, and indeed, when both guested on Late Night With David Letterman their impromptu and emotional performance of “I Got You Babe” was so warm and sweet the years seemed to dissolve behind them. Sonny eventually turned to politics and was elected to the House of Representatives on the Republican side, an odd turn considering his early anti-establishment stance. He died in a skiing accident in 1998, and Cher’s tearful eulogy made it clear that she would always be in his debt.

2. Johnny and June Carter Cash

A match so musically and romantically glorious they made it into a movie. Johnny toured with The Carter Family in the early ‘60s, right around the time he became addicted to barbiturates and amphetamines. But it was June who helped overcome that addiction, and he proposed in
February of 1968 and married a week later. Though their biggest musical triumphs were solo, their collaborations were legend. June wrote “Ring of Fire” for Johnny and there is no better husband/wife musical moment than “Jackson.”—Josh Jackson

1. John Lennon and Yoko Ono

John and Yoko’s initial effort, Two Virgins, made little sense to anyone at the time, and the cover picturing the couple naked hardly helped. Subsequent efforts following The Beatles’ breakup did little to alter any negative opinion the Fab’s fans had for Yoko, and indeed, Lennon’s worst record of his immediate post Fabs period, Life in New York City, was made even more so by a second disc recorded in concert at the Lyceum Ballroom in London, spotlighting Yoko wailing in the company of an all-star backing band (George Harrison, Keith Moon, Billy Preston et al.). Double Fantasy, the duo’s final collaborative effort, showcased what the two could truly accomplish together, thanks to Lennon’s own songwriting contributions and Yoko’s growing recognition as an avant garde auteur. Their joint output may have garnered mixed reviews over time, but there would be no post-Beatles John without Yoko, and no internationally-acclaimed Yoko without John.