Tony Bennett's new album Duets II this week becomes the third collection of duets to reach #1 on The Billboard 200. It follows Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company, which hit #1 the week after it swept the Grammys, and Reba McEntire's Reba: Duets, which debuted at #1 both the pop and country charts in 2007.
Kenny Rogers' Duets, which reached #85 in 1984, was one of the first hit albums to use that title. The compilation consisted of duets with Dottie West, Sheena Easton and Kim Carnes. But 15 years earlier, Marvin Gaye charted with a similar compilation of duets titled Marvin Gaye And His Girls. The album, which featured duets with Kim Weston, Mary Wells and Tammi Terrell, peaked at #183.
The trend toward Duets albums heated up in 1993, when both Elton John and Frank Sinatra released hit collections with that title. The title is now nearly as entrenched in the pop vocabulary as Greatest Hits or Unplugged.
The focus here is on artists who collaborate with many different partners on one album, which rules out album-length pairings of two artists (such as Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss).
Rap and hip-hop albums are so heavy on collaborations that many of them could be called duet albums. Given its title, the Notorious B.I.G.'s 2005 album Duets: The Final Chapter was a natural for this list, but his 1999 album Born Again was also collabo-heavy.
Here are 21 Duets albums that have made the top half of The Billboard 200. They're listed in descending order, based on their peak chart position. This isn't meant to be a comprehensive list of every duet album ever to make the top 100, but it's a good sampling.
(Note that five of these 21 albums have the word "friend" in the title. This points out one of the main attractions for artists in making these albums: They are, for the most part, working with friends; people they like and admire.)
1. Tony Bennett, Duets II. Bennett's third album of duets debuts at #1 this week. Bennett's pairing with Amy Winehouse ("Body And Soul") made the Hot 100 last week. A pairing with Lady Gaga ("The Lady Is A Tramp") may follow suit. This is a lock to win a Grammy as Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
2. Reba McEntire, Reba: Duets. McEntire's album debuted at #1 in September 2007. A pairing with Kelly Clarkson on Clarkson's 2005 pop hit "Because Of You" reached #2 on the country chart and #50 on the Hot 100. Duets with Justin Timberlake and Kenny Chesney "bubbled under" the Hot 100.
3. Ray Charles, Genius Loves Company. Charles' second album of duets debuted at #2 in September 2004 and finally hit #1 the following February after it won eight Grammys, including Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. "Here We Go Again," with Norah Jones, won for Record of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals. "Heaven Help Us All," with Gladys Knight, won for Best Gospel Performance.
4. Frank Sinatra, Duets. Sinatra's first album of duets debuted and peaked at #2 for three weeks in November and December 1993. His partners ranged from Liza Minnelli to Bono. Regrettably, Sinatra recorded his vocal parts separately from the other singers.
5. Tony Bennett, Duets: An American Classic. Bennett's second album of duets debuted and peaked at #3 in October 2006. The album, released in conjunction with his 80th birthday celebration, won a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. "For Once In My Life," a duet with Stevie Wonder, won a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals.
7. Frank Sinatra, Duets II. Sinatra's second album of duets peaked at #9 in December 1994. It won a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance. This was Sinatra's 58th and last studio album. His partners range from Lena Horne to Luis Miguel.
8. Elvis Presley, Christmas Duets. Presley's album peaked at #17 in December 2008. It featured the king, who died in 1977, paired, through studio wizardry, with contemporary country and gospel stars. Two tracks, "Blue Christmas" (with Martina McBride) and "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (with Carrie Underwood), made the country chart.
9. Elton John, Duets. John's album debuted and peaked at #25 in November 1993. It includes Elton's chart-topping duet with George Michael, "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me." Two newly-recorded duets made the Hot 100: "True Love" (with Kiki Dee) and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (with drag queen RuPaul singing Dee's part).
10. Jerry Lee Lewis, Last Man Standing. Lewis' collection debuted and peaked at #26 in October 2006. Such duet partners as Jimmy Page, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young showed up to pay their respects to the rock and roll pioneer.
11. Randy Travis, Heroes & Friends. Travis' collection peaked at #31 in November 1990. The album includes duets with artists ranging from Roy Rogers to Dolly Parton. "A Few Ole Country Boys," with George Jones, became a top 10 country hit.
12. Ray Charles, Genius & Friends. Charles' third album of duets debuted and peaked at #36 in September 2005. It consists of previously unreleased duets recorded between 1997 and 2004. His partners include Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige and Diana Ross.
13. Barbra Streisand, Duets. Streisand's collection debuted and peaked at #38 in December 2002. It stretches from Streisand's legendary 1963 teaming with Judy Garland on "Get Happy"/"Happy Days Are Here Again" to a pair of newly-recorded duets with Barry Manilow and Josh Groban. Two tracks were #1 singles: "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (with Neil Diamond) and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" (with Donna Summer).
14. Kenny G, At Last...The Duets Album. The saxophonist's album debuted and peaked at #40 in November 2004. Kenny G teamed with a broad range of artists, from LeAnn Rimes to Earth, Wind & Fire. He is joined by Arturo Sandoval on the title song.
15. Anne Murray, Duets: Friends & Legends. Murray's collection debuted and peaked at #42 in January 2008. All of Murray's partners were women, including Shania Twain, Celine Dion and Carole King. The album includes a studio-created duet with the late Dusty Springfield on "I Just Fall In Love Again."
16. Tony Bennett, Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues. Bennett's first collection of duets debuted and peaked at #50 in November 2001. It brought Bennett a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. Ten of the 15 tracks are duets, with partners ranging from Kay Starr to Diana Krall.
17. Aretha Franklin, Jewels In The Crown: All-Star Duets With The Queen. Franklin's collection debuted and peaked at #54 in November 2007. It stretches from her 1981 pairing with George Benson, "Love All The Hurt Away," to a pair of newly recorded duets with Fantasia and John Legend. It includes her #1 smash with George Michael, "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)."
18. Ray Charles, Friendship. Charles' first album of duets peaked at #75 in May 1985. It reached #1 on Top Country Albums. Two of these pairings became top 10 country hits: "We Didn't See A Thing" (with George Jones and featuring Chet Atkins) and "Seven Spanish Angels" (with Willie Nelson).
19. George Jones, Burn Your Playhouse Down: The Unreleased Duets. Jones' second album of duets debuted and peaked at #79 in August 2008. This was a sequel to Jones' 1995 duets album, The Bradley Barn Sessions (which peaked at #142). Leon Russell, Keith Richards and Vince Gill are among Jones' duet partners on this sequel.
20. Zucchero, ZU & Co. This album peaked at #84 in July 2005. The Italian rock star teamed with such notables as Sting, Tom Jones and John Lee Hooker to record new versions of his songs.
21. Kenny Rogers, Duets. This compilation on Rogers' former record label peaked at #85 in June 1984. The album includes eight duets with Dottie West, plus one duet each with Kim Carnes and Sheena Easton. The latter songs, "Don't Fall In Love With A Dreamer" and "We've Got Tonight," respectively, had been top 10 pop hits.