There’s something incredibly special about duets in country music. Typically, they’re two iconic forces coming together for a string of hits. You mention one and the other comes to mind. It’s Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, and so on and so forth. It’s a neverending list of timeless classics.
There’s an undeniable chemistry when the two come together. No matter what, the two will create a magical moment.These moments — everything from “Pancho & Lefty” to “Islands in the Stream” — are cherished by every country music fan. You join in on the chorus and know them by heart.
Still, there’s a wealth of lesser-known gems that slip through the cracks and rarely make “Best Country Duets of All-Time” lists. Typically, they throw you back in time. They’re like Polaroid photographs. Within the first verse, you have a solid grasp and remember every line.
Here are 10 forgotten country duets you should listen to right this instant.
In 1985, Dan Seals and Marie Osmond cut the chart-topping “Meet Me In Montana.” It’d mark as Seals first Number 1 hit and Osmond’s second (and first in over a decade after ’73’s “Paper Roses”). Though written by Paul Davis, the narrative mirrored Seal and Osmond’s pursuit of a being a country star and acclaimed actress. For Seals, “Meet Me In Montana” fit directly in his wheelhouse. The corners were smoothened with a soaring soft-rock feel and light ambiance that offered access to crossover success. Still, there were plenty of country touchstones like the pedal steel and Seals’ and Osmond’s full and bright harmonies.
“It’s Such a Small World,” found on Rodney Crowell‘s 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt, kicked off a string of Number 1 hits Crowell. Recorded with his then-wife Rosanne Cash, found the couple delivering some of the best vocals of their career. They were rich and polished while maintaining an earthy texture. There’s a Roy Orbison-esque rockabilly quality to the mid-tempo tune. The song tells the story of two former lovers looking to rekindle the flame. The catch though is that they’re both completely frank about the situation knowing it’ll only be for a single night.
Tanya Tucker and T. Graham Brown’s 1990 hit “Don’t Go Out” is as gritty and textured as Tucker and Brown’s raw vocals. They harness a coarse emotional distress as they plead with one another to quit searching for prospective lovers to replace each other. Originally, the song was written and recorded (but unreleased) by the short-lived country duo of Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd (Foster & Lloyd) as “Don’t Go Out With Him.” Of course, Tucker and Brown morphed it into a back and forth between lovers who are at odds with one another. They bank on that tension and amplify it with sharp guitar licks and a revving engine that never lays off the gas pedal.
“The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'” was the first song on Travis Tritt‘s sophomore album, It’s All About to Change. For it, he recruited Marty Stuart, one of the song’s writers, the other being Ronny Scaife. Unlike most listed here, Tritt and Stuart don’t exchange lead vocal duties in a nice and clean way. Rather, Stuart comes in a handful of lines, joins Tritt and the rambling chorus and offers up a mean electric guitar solo. It feels incredibly organic this way — as if the two worked up the honky-tonker just minutes before hitting record.
Keith Whitley and Earl Thomas Conley first worked up “Brotherly Love” in 1987, but wasn’t released until 1991. Found on Whitley’s first posthumous album Kentucky Bluebird and Conley’s Yours Truly, “Brotherly Love” had the two country crooners exchanging stories that chronicled the highs and lows between brothers. The two delve into sibling rivalry, jealousy and understanding. Through it all, they perfectly narrate the bond between one another. It’s uniquely specific but universally common.
Though he’d been self-releasing music since the early ’70s, Chris LeDoux found breakout success in 1992 with the album Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy. Some of that can be attributed to LeDoux’s friend, Garth Brooks‘ cameo role on its’ title track. Written by Brooks and Mark D. Sanders, “Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy” finds both LeDoux and Brooks at their most humorous and laidback. It’s undeniably charming and catchy while still sporting LeDoux’s cowboy country tact and traditions.
Even though it had staying power on the country charts and even received some moderate crossover success, Clint Black and Wynonna Judd‘s “A Bad Goodbye” feels like the most forgotten duet listed here. Still, it very well may be the best. It finds Black and Judd at their most serious, emotionally charged and serene. They see the writing on the wall on the breakup ballad. They know it’s over, but don’t want to leave the other feeling the hurt and pain that comes with a split. They’re not in love, but there’s still remnants of a love. There’s beauty and grace in that sadness.
In 1997, Anita Cochran was joined by Steve Wariner for the piano-driven ballad “What If I Said.” Found on her debut album, Back to You, Cochran wrote the soft and elegant love song. It narrates the story of friends who are defeated by unhappy relationships with others. Cochran and Wariner play each other’s confidants who they’re able to vent with. They’re both apprehensive while tip-toeing around the hypothetical idea of crossing the friendship boundary, but ultimately know they’re meant for each other.
In the early 2000s, Jamie O’Neal and Mark Wills were two of country music’s budding stars. With the criminally underrated “I’m Not Gonna Do Anything Without You,” the two combined forces for the soulful country ballad. It gave both space to display their powerful vocal ranges without either going overboard. While maybe not as emotionally charged as others, there’s warm chemistry between O’Neal and Wills that provides a glow to the slow dancing sway of “I’m Not Gonna Do Anything Without You.”
In 2001, the then-married Lorrie Morgan and Sammy Kershaw released a joint album called I Finally Found Someone. “He Drinks Tequila,” written by the Shawn Camp and Michele McCord, was a fun-loving and humorous Spanish-tinged number that showed the couples’ playful side. Like so many Kershaw hits of the ’90s, it was set in a trailer park and highlighted the quirks of him and the queen of his double-wide trailer. It’s not as well known as “You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly” by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty and “In Spite of Ourselves” by John Prine and Iris DeMent, but it’s in the same territory.