You probably know that Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson were one of the most successful songwriting teams of the past 50 years. Their many hits include "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need To Get By" and "I'm Every Woman." But you may not know that Ashford & Simpson are also the most successful recording duo in the history of Billboard's soul chart, which is currently called Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
Nineteen duos rank among the top 500 R&B hit-makers in chart history in chart researcher Joel Whitburn's indispensable book Hot R&B Songs 1942-2010. Ashford & Simpson isn't the only married couple on the list. Ike & Tina Turner, whose marriage was as turbulent as Ashford & Simpson's was harmonious, rank #2 among soul duos.
Nick Ashford died last Aug. 22. Ike Turner died Dec. 12, 2007.
Ashford & Simpson were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002, but they never won a Grammy, either for songwriting or recording. That doesn't seem right. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if one day the Recording Academy votes Ashford & Simpson a Special Merit Award, either a Lifetime Achievement Award or Trustees Award.
Whitburn's top 500 list also includes four sibling duos: The Brothers Johnson, K-Ci & JoJo, BeBe & CeCe Winans and (surprise) the Everly Brothers. (A lot of pop acts crashed the R&B chart in the 1950s and early 1960s.)
Two giant solo stars came out of soul or hip-hop duos: Tina Turner and Will Smith.
Here, to help celebrate Black Music Month, is a complete list of the duos to rank among the top 500 R&B hit-makers in Hot R&B Songs 1942-2010. At the end of each entry, I tell you where that act ranks among the top 500.
1. Ashford & Simpson. The husband-and-wife team had nine top 10 R&B hits, from 1978's "Don't Cost You Nothing" to 1989's "I'll Be There For You." Their biggest hit was the joyous affirmation "Solid," which reached #1 R&B in 1984. Ashford & Simpson wrote all nine of these songs. Top 500 ranking: #88.
2. Ike & Tina Turner. The husband-and-wife team had six top 10 R&B hits, from 1960's "A Fool In Love" to 1971's classic "nice and rough" cover of CCR's "Proud Mary" (which won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group.) Ike Turner wrote the first five of these hits, which serves as a reminder of his musical talent. (It has been completely overshadowed in recent decades because of his well-chronicled abuse of his wife.) Tina Turner went on to have six top 10 R&B hits of her own. Top 500 ranking: #179.
3. OutKast. "Andre 3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, the top-ranking male duo on the list, have had six top 10 R&B hits, from 1996's "Elevators (Me & You)" to 2004's exhilarating "Hey Ya!." Three of these hits won Grammys. Two others were drawn from albums that did. Their biggest R&B hit was "Ms. Jackson," which reached #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. Top 500 ranking: #187.
4. Peaches & Herb. The duo had five top 10 hits, from 1967's "Close Your Eyes" to 1979's tender "Reunited," which reached #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. Herb Fame was the "Herb" on all five hits, but there were two different "Peaches" on these hits: Francine Barker and Linda Green. Top 500 ranking: #212.
5. The Brothers Johnson. Brothers George and Louis Johnson, the top-ranking sibling duo on the list, had four top 10 R&B hits, from 1976's "I'll Be Good To You" to 1980's party-minded "Stomp!" Both of these songs hit #1 R&B, as did 1977's psychedelic soul smash "Strawberry Letter 23." Top 500 ranking: #243.
6. Sam & Dave. Sam Moore and Dave Prater had seven top 10 R&B hits, from 1966's "You Don't Know Like I Know" to 1968's "I Thank You." Two reached #1 R&B: "Hold On! I'm A Comin'" and the classic "Soul Man" (which won a Grammy for Best R&B Group Performance). Isaac Hayes, a future Oscar-winner for Theme From Shaft, co-wrote all seven of these hits. Top 500 ranking: #269.
7. K-Ci & JoJo. Brothers Cedric and Joel Hailey had four top 10 R&B hits, from 1996's "How Do U Want It," a 2Pac hit on which they were featured, to 1999's "Tell Me It's Real." Two reached #1 R&B: "How Do U Want It" and 1998's "All My Life." The brothers had amassed 10 top 10 hits as founding members of Jodeci. Top 500 ranking: #319.
8. BeBe & CeCe Winans. The brother-and-sister team has had four top 10 R&B hits, from 1989's "Lost Without You" to 1992's "It's O.K." Two reached #1 R&B: "Addictive Love" and a remake of the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There," which featured Mavis Staples. Both of the #1 hits were drawn from the duo's album Different Lifestyles, which won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album. CeCe Winans teamed with Whitney Houston for an additional top 10 hit, 1996's "Count On Me" (from Waiting To Exhale). Top 500 ranking: #325.
9. Daryl Hall & John Oates. The duo had two top 10 R&B hits in 1982-1983: "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" and "One On One." "I Can't Go For That" reached #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. Top 500 ranking: #334.
10. Rene and Angela. Rene Moore and Angela Winbush had four top 10 R&B hits, from 1985's "Save Your Love (For #1)" to 1986's "You Don't Have To Cry." Two reached #1 R&B: "Save Your Love (For #1) and "Your Smile." Rene and Angela co-wrote all four songs. Winbush went on to land five top 10 R&B hits of her own. Top 500 ranking: #337.
11. The Everly Brothers. Don and Phil Everly had six top 10 R&B hits, from 1957's "Bye Bye Love" to 1960's "Cathy's Clown." They co-wrote the latter song, which reached #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. They also topped both charts with "Wake Up Little Susie" and "All I Have To Do Is Dream." They won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. Top 500 ranking: #353.
12. Ying Yang Twins. D'Angelo "D-Roc" Holmes and Eric "Kaine" Jackson had four top 10 R&B hits, from 2003's "Get Low," a Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz hit on which they were featured, to 2006's "Ms. New Booty," a Bubba Sparxxx hit on which they were featured. Their biggest hit as lead artists was "Wait (The Whisper Song)," which reached #3 in 2005. Holmes and Jackson co-wrote all four songs. Top 500 ranking: #374.
13. Yarbrough & Peoples. Calvin Yarbrough and Alisa Peoples had five top 10 R&B hits, from 1981's "Don't Stop The Music" to 1986's "I Wouldn't Lie." "Don't Stop The Music" and 1984's "Don't Waste Your Time" both reached #1 R&B. Top 500 ranking: #395.
14. Zhane. Renee Neufville and Jean Norris, the top-ranking female duo on the list, had five top 10 R&B hits, from 1993's "Hey Mr. D.J." to 1999's "Jamboree," a Naughty By Nature hit on which they were featured. Ashford & Simpson were co-writers on 1997's "Request Line." Top 500 ranking: #419.
15. Changing Faces. Charisse Rose and Cassandra Lucas had three top 10 R&B hits: 1994's "Stroke You Up," 1995's "Foolin' Around" and 1997's "G.H.E.T.T.O.U.T." The last-named song reached #1 R&B. R. Kelly wrote all three songs. Top 500 ranking: #427.
16. "D" Train. James "D-Train" Williams and Hubert Eaves III had one top 10 R&B hit: 1984's "Something's On Your Mind." Williams had a second on his own: 1987's "Misunderstanding." The two men co-wrote both hits. Top 500 ranking: #433.
17. D.J. Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. D.J. Jeffrey Townes and Will Smith had three top 10 R&B hits from 1988 to 1991: the universally relatable "Parents Just Don't Understand," "A Nightmare On My Street" and "Summertime." "Parents…" and "Summertime" both won Grammys for Best Rap Performance. "Summertime" also reached #1 R&B. Smith has gone on to land three more top 10 R&B hits on his own. Top 500 ranking: #453.
18. Mobb Deep. Kejuan "Havoc" Muchita and Albert "Prodigy" Johnson never had a top 10 R&B hit. Their highest-charting hit was 50 Cent's "Outta Control," on which they were featured. It reached #11. Their highest-charting hit as lead artists was "Got It Twisted," which reached #23 in 2004. Top 500 ranking: #462.
19. The System. Mic Murphy and David Frank had five top 10 R&B hits, from 1983's "You Are In My System" to 1989's "Midnight Special." Their biggest was 1987's "Don't Disturb This Groove," which reached #1 R&B. They co-wrote all five of these songs. Top 500 ranking: #467.
The Fine Print: Whitburn's list of the top 500 R&B artists combines hits by Wham! with George Michael's solo hits. As a result, George Michael/Wham! ranks #307 on the list. I asked Whitburn's ace researcher Paul Haney to break it down for us. Haney reports that, strictly on its own, Wham! wouldn't place in the top 500, and that without the duo's points, George Michael would rank #380.
If you enjoyed this report, you may be interested in two of Whitburn's books: Hot R&B Songs 1942-2010 and Top 10 R&B Hits 1942-2010. Whitburn's website is www.recordresearch.com.