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Artist: Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville
Album: Cry Like a Rainstorm – Howl Like the Wind
Writers: Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Tom Snow
Don’t Know Much is perhaps one of the most famous duets ever recorded. Like many such songs, though, it was not written as a duet. It was first recorded by Barry Mann, who co-wrote it and released in 1980 on his self-titled album. It was a beautiful song from the beginning but sometimes it takes more than a beautiful song. It failed to chart and found little success.
But then Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville got ahold of it and the rest is history, right?
No, the song continued to flounder for almost a decade. Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers recorded it in 1981. He was a bit more successful than Barry Mann, reaching no. 88 on the Pop Charts.
In 1983, Bette Midler took a shot at it, placing it on her album No Frills. She retitled it as “All I Need to Know.” Her version went to no. 77 no the charts.
Although some people might prefer any one of these versions, I find it hard to ignore Arron Neville’s voice and just how perfect he and Ronstadt were together. According to Dynamic Duets: The Best Pop Collaborations from 1955 to 1999, even songwriter Tom Snow agreed, saying “When I first heard Aaron Neville’s voice on the opening line of the song, I knew I was hearing a hit.” Snow was also a co-writer with John Pitchford on the song “After All,” recorded by Peter Cetera and Cher and released in 1989. It was a no. 6 hit and was used in the soundtrack of the movie Chances Are, starring Ryan O’Neil, Cybill Shepherd, Robert Downey Jr., Mary Suart Masterson, and Christopher McDonald, earning the song an Oscar nomination. Unlike Neville and Ronstadt, however, Cetera and Cher recorded their parts separately.
Snow was having a good year. Ronstadt and Neville released their version of “Don’t Know Much” in 1989. It was released on the album Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind, and billed as Linda Ronstadt Featuring Aaron Neville. The album went Triple Platinum and I Don’t Know Much was finally a huge hit, going to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling over a million copies. The next single, in early 1990, “All My Life,” was a no. one hit. It may be no coincidence that these two huge singles were the songs that were both duets between Neville and Ronstadt.