Whether using their celebrity status to challenge the political status quo, creating music that charts the birth (and death) of a relationship, or simply remaining iconic duos that define their era, the biggest power couples in music have truly made their mark on our culture.
15: Madonna and Tupac Shakur
One of the most unexpected and unpublicised power couples in music (we’ll call them a “subtle power couple”), Madonna and Tupac Shakur reportedly dated in early 1994. In a letter unearthed in 2017 (dated 1995, when Shakur was serving time in prison), the rapper cited racial double standards as the reason for ending their relationship. Feeling that, if he continued the relationship, he’d be letting down the very people who helped grow his career, Shakur noted that, in contrast, Madonna would be viewed as “open and exciting” for dating a black man. We can only imagine what kind of genre-crossing music these two powerhouses could have produced together.
14: James Taylor and Carly Simon
Two of the world’s most notable singer-songwriters, James Taylor and Carly Simon met at the fittingly named Troubadour in Los Angeles, in 1971, and were married the next year. Releasing duets as late as 1979 (Devoted To You, from Simon’s album Boys In The Trees), the couple’s relationship made it through the decadent 70s, during which time they were among the Laurel Canyons scene’s biggest power couples in music. Taylor’s struggled with addiction (and dalliances with infidelity) led to their separation in 1981, followed by a frosty divorce two years later. Though many suspected Taylor was the ever-speculated subject of her iconic put-down song You’re So Vain, the songwriter herself has quashed the rumour, while confirming that actor Warren Beatty is at least one of the culprits.
Must hear: Devoted To You
13: Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore met in 1981, when they were both part of New York City’s No Wave scene. Forming a relationship and a band (Sonic Youth), the pair became one of the stand-out power couples in music, leading an alt-rock revolution. They tied the knot in 1984 and their marriage survived the full trajectory of the band (an anomaly in the music industry). Their working and romantic partnerships simultaneously came to an end in 2011; a month after announcing their divorce, the pair declared that Sonic Youth, too, had disbanded.
Must hear: Bull In The Heather
12: Jack & Meg White
Jack and Meg White met at a restaurant in Detroit, Michigan, where Meg was working as a chef. The two began dating, and Meg decided to learn drums. Jack liked her style, they started playing gigs together and the rest, as they say, is history. Or not. A classic case of artists embellishing – or lying outright about their personal backgrounds (looking at you, Bob Dylan) – Jack and Meg White fabricated an alternative history for their group. They were siblings, not lovers, they said, despite having married in 1996, a year before they debuted as The White Stripes. The band’s third album, White Blood Cells, released in 2001, marked the beginnings of their widespread success, which only continued with 2003’s Elephant. After divorcing in 2000, Jack and Meg’s professional relationship only seemed to become stronger and more fruitful. The pair remained co-workers and released two more well-received albums before announcing The White Stripes’ split in 2011 “ to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band”. Mission accomplished.
Must hear: Well It’s True That We Love One Another
11: Bob Dylan and Joan Baez
Joan Baez was instrumental in launching Bob Dylan’s career in the early 60s. After meeting Dylan and seeing him perform, Baez, already a well-established folk star, invited the young singer to share the stage with her on numerous occasions, often coming to Dylan’s defence when her audiences expressed their distaste at his harsh, nasal vocals. The pair dated for a few years before their break-up was immortalised in film by DA Pennebaker, whose 1967 documentary, Dont Look Back, sees Dylan barely acknowledging Baez while she tours the UK with him in 1965. Though details of their romantic partnership remain shrouded in mystery, Baez penned Diamonds And Rust about their time together, while the pair remained close and continued touring and performing together for years after their split.
Must hear: Diamonds And Rust
10: Johnny and June Carter Cash
A love so legendary it has been immortalised in both film (Walk The Line, 2003) and song (by Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit in their 2015 single Emmylou, not to mention by Jonny and June themselves), Johnny and June Carter Cash’s tumultuous 30-plus-year relationship cemented them as the original (and greatest) power couple in country music. The pair recorded and toured together throughout their lives, notably winning Grammy awards as a duo in both 1968, for Jackson, and 1971, for If I Were A Carpenter. When June died, in May 2003, she left the world with a promise from Johnny that he would continue working. The Man In Black went on to complete 60 songs in the last few months of his life, before passing away on 12 September, just months after June’s death, having never recovered from the heartache of losing the love of his life.
Must hear: Jackson
9: Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull
Before the supermodels, there was the folk singer. Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull’s 60s courtship reportedly inspired some of The Rolling Stones’ greatest songs (including Sister Morphine, co-written by Faithfull), and one of rock music’s most notorious rumours (Mars bar, anyone?) Arguably one of the first power couples in music, their relationship was highly publicised from the start, but, as Jagger’s fame continued to grow and the Stones began to take over the world, Faithfull struggled with drug addiction and mental health issues. While the couple split in 1970, they have both enjoyed long-standing careers, and their relationship continues to epitomise Swinging 60s London chic.
8: Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash
For an affair that lasted just two years, Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash’s relationship continues to cast its shadow over popular music. For one, it was during a party at her house that David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash first jammed together, leading to the formation of Crosby, Stills And Nash, arguably the Laurel Canyon scene’s superstar outfit. The songs they went on to write about each other, meanwhile, not only trace the rise and fall of their own relationship, but speak to millions who go through the first flushes of love, only to find themselves facing heartbreak. Nash’s Our House, written for Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young’s 1970 album, Déjà Vu, chronicles the couple’s happier times homemaking and songwriting over a shared piano. Mitchell’s River, from the following year’s Blue, charts her struggles with domesticity and some of the feelings that led her to end their relationship; while travelling Europe on her own, Mitchell broke things off with Nash via telegram. Outside of their countless achievements beyond this period, the pair left behind a dialogue through song that transcends the mythology surrounding Laurel Canyon in the late 60s/early 70s, even as it embodies everything that makes the scene so compelling and influential.
Must hear: River
7: Ike and Tina Turner
While this duo are known for their electric performances and R&B hitmaking, behind the scenes Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship was a toxic affair. From choosing a new name for her at the start of her career, in 1960, to maintaining publishing royalties for both of their compositions when they split in 1978, Ike did his best to control Tina, both personally and professionally. After years of abuse, Tina went on to have an incredibly successful solo career, including re-recordings of some of the duo’s biggest hits, including Nutbush City Limits, proving to the world – and to Ike – that she is a force to be reckoned with.
Must hear: Nutbush City Limits
6: Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love
The power couple to defeat all power couples in music throughout the 90s, the Nirvana frontman and Hole frontwoman began an intense, whirlwind romance early in the decade. After a few months of dating, Love was pregnant with their daughter, and the pair married in Hawaii in 1992. Cobain and Love explored some collaborations during their brief marriage, with Cobain singing (uncredited) backing vocals on Softer, Softest and Asking For It from Hole’s 1993 breakout album, Live Through This. While Love never featured on any of Nirvana’s recordings, she did inspire Cobain in his writing, and once claimed on Twitter that Heart-Shaped Box was written about her genitalia. Very romantic.
Must hear: Heart-Shaped Box
5: Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne
Outstandingly, the couple that has outlasted the majority of the lovebirds on this list includes a man who once bit the head off a bat live on stage. Sharon Levy and Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne met when Levy was 18 and working for her father, Don Arden, who was managing the band at the time. After marrying in 1982, the couple went on to have three children, and Sharon took over management of Ozzy’s solo career (a position she holds to this day). Their status as one of the biggest power couples in music remains undimmed: the pair’s dysfunctional relationship has somehow stood the test of time, persevering through addiction, abuse, infidelity and even the family’s own MTV reality show.
At the height of their fame, Swedish supergroup ABBA consisted of two married couples, Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus (married in 1971, pre-Eurovision success), and Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson (married in 1978, at the peak of ABBA’s stardom). Before Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie, Lindsey, Mick, John and Christine fuelled the fire of Rumours, ABBA channelled the trials and tribulations of working, living, and loving together into shiny, emotion-laden Euro-pop. Performing as a foursome as early as 1970, the group’s compositions followed the trajectory of their core relationships, from sweet harmony togetherness (1974’s Honey, Honey) to parting ways (1980’s The Winner Takes It All). Impressively, the group separated fairly amicably in the 80s, each member accepting that their future relationships and career endeavours lay outside of ABBA. Recently, plans were announced for a virtual reunion consisting of “Abbatars” performing a recorded TV special, and potentially touring the world as an ambitious alternative to ABBA themselves travelling and performing.
Must hear: The Winner Takes It All
3: John Lennon and Yoko Ono
No, they didn’t break up The Beatles, but John Lennon and Yoko Ono were responsible for a significant amount of shaking-up the press over the course of their very intense, very public relationship. From affairs and divorces to Bagism, Acorns For Peace and Bed-Ins, the Ono-Lennons cemented their reputation as one of the biggest power couples in music after they became the target of scrutiny from not only the press, but the FBI throughout the 70s. In true countercultural artistic fashion, the couple used the media’s obsession to their advantage, giving journalists up-close and personal access through bedroom press conferences while simultaneously sharing their message of peace and love to the watching world. Since Lennon’s untimely death, in 1980, Ono has continued their joint mission to spread peace, and celebrates Lennon’s birthday yearly with the illumination of her Imagine Peace Tower memorial near Reykjavík, Iceland.
Must hear: Give Peace A Chance
2: Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham
How could one of the key relationships that inspired Rumours, the ultimate break-up album, not make this list of the biggest power couples in music? Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks’ partnership has always been woven through their music, from their first venture, Fritz (a band that opened for a number of 60s legends, including Janis Joplin), to their career as a folky soft-rock duo named Buckingham Nicks, in the early 70s, and joining Fleetwood Mac in 1975. Though their on-off romance wasn’t built to last, it did give us the greatest pair of mutual kiss-off songs in music history: Buckingham’s bitter classic Go Your Own Way and Nicks’ vastly underappreciated response, Silver Springs.
Must hear: Go Your Own Way
1: Beyoncé and Jay-Z
Heading our lists of the biggest power couples in music, Beyoncé and Jay-Z have held the title for the past two decades. Though the pair tend to lead a very private life away from the prying eyes of the press, speculations and curiosity have always followed their relationship. After collaborating on R&B classics including ’03 Bonnie & Clyde (their first release together) and Crazy In Love, tabloids and fans alike wondered whether Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s personal relationship extended beyond their musical one. The duo married in 2008, but continued to avoid publicly discussing their relationship until Beyoncé’s game-changing album Lemonade was released in 2016, and a reference to a “Becky with the good hair” exposed Jay-Z’s alleged infidelity to the world. Mr and Mrs Carter have since worked things out and continue to use their status for good, calling upon government officials for justice and racial equality amid rising tensions in the US.
Must hear: Crazy In Love
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