Arts

The top 10 most powerful and influential married couples in pop music history

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They’re the Bogie and Bacall of the hip-hop era. When Jay-Z and Beyoncé pull into Gillette Stadium Sunday for their “On the Run II” tour, they’ll be towing an astounding amount of cultural capital. The most successful rapper of all time, Jay has perfected personal branding: “I’m not a businessman/I’m a business, man,” as he once made clear. Queen Bey, meanwhile, has been named Forbes’s most powerful woman in entertainment in two of the past three years, and it’s easy to envision her standing astride of that title, 50-Foot Woman-style, for years to come.

When two iconic artists merge, they make powerful music together. Here’s a subjective ranking of the Top 10 musical power couples of all time.

Legendary musician Lou Reed (R) and his artist wife Laurie Anderson (L) hold a media conference at the Sydney Opera House on May 28, 2010. The New York based couple are the curators of Vivid LIVE, part of the Vivid Sydney Festival of light, music and ideas that runs until June 20. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images) 05PowerCouples
Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images/file 2010

10. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson

From the moment of their unlikely pairing in the early ’90s, the late rock poet Lou Reed and the New Wave performance artist Laurie Anderson were the mama and papa bears of the downtown New York aesthetic. Together they wielded a formidable amount of influence from the margins. When Anderson accepted her partner’s posthumous induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2015, she explained the three rules for living well that they’d agreed upon: Don’t be afraid of anyone. Get a good B.S. detector. And always be tender. The first two sound like bids for power. The third is advice on how to use it.

9. John and Alice Coltrane

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Though the modern world thinks about power mostly in terms of money — Who’s the CEO? Who has the biggest boat? Who donated the most? — the Coltranes represented another, age-old kind. Both the great saxophonist and his second wife seemed to have a direct pipeline to the Almighty spirit, in all its forms. Coltrane’s masterpiece, “A Love Supreme,” epitomized music’s wondrous ability to lead us to a higher consciousness. After his death in 1967, Alice carried on by uniting her Hindu beliefs with a meditative style all her own.

Tammy Wynette sings with George Jones in Nashville.
AP Photo/The Tennessean
Tammy Wynette sings with George Jones in Nashville.

8. George Jones and Tammy Wynette

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Frank Sinatra once famously called George Jones the second-best singer in America. Tammy Wynette was billed as the “First Lady of Country Music.” While the two Nashville stars were married, from 1969 to 1975, they were country royalty, recording smash-hit duets — “Take Me,” “We’re Gonna Hold On” — that romanticized a relationship soon revealed to be something less than storybook.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 09: Tim McGraw and Faith Hill attend the 45th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 9, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images/file 2011

7. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

These two country superstars named their recent joint outing the Soul2Soul tour, which says plenty about how they apparently still feel about each other, more than 20 years into their marriage. They released their first album of duets, “The Rest of Our Life,” last November, and if they do plan to spend all of their remaining days together, they’ve got the makings of a nice little nest egg: The first 70 dates of the Soul2Soul tour grossed a reported $79 million.

Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
Terry McGinnis/WireImage
Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.

6. Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love

The Nirvana frontman was only 27 when he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1994, and his wife’s own career in music and the acting world has been overshadowed ever since by her erratic personal life. Yet as celebrity couples go, few have inspired the kind of tragic, defiant glamor of these two, who got married on Waikiki Beach — she in a dress that once belonged to the early film actress Frances Farmer, he in a pair of green pajamas.

Tina and Ike Turner in 1966.
AP
Tina and Ike Turner in 1966.

5. Ike and Tina Turner

As a young bandleader, in 1951 Ike Turner recorded “Rocket 88,” often cited in the ongoing debate about which was the first rock ’n’ roll song. (It was credited to Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats.) Ike was a well-established performer and talent scout when he welcomed a 16-year-old singer named Anna Mae Bullock into his band in 1960. Turner renamed her Tina, made her the star of the show, and dubbed their backup singers the Ikettes. In an interview in 2001, years after they’d split and Tina had become a solo superstar, Ike said, “Look, let’s be real blunt about it. There is no Tina Turner.” Not, he meant, without him.

Entertainers Sonny, right, and Cher sing during taping of "The Danny Thomas Special" in Los Angeles, Ca., on Jan. 21, 1966. (AP Photo)
ASSOCIATED PRESS/file 1966

4. Sonny and Cher

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One left music to become a congressman, and the other is set to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. In 1964, however, they were just an aspiring, little-known LA duet known as Caesar and Cleo. It wasn’t until they rechristened their act Sonny & Cher that the young lovers, born Salvatore Bono and Cherilyn Sarkisian, became household names. In the 1970s, Sonny and Cher hosted a hit variety show on CBS. After divorcing, he reemerged as a national political figure while she became one of pop’s biggest divas, and an acclaimed actress to boot.

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, as seen on the CMT program “Johnny Cash: American Rebel.”
Courtesy of CMT
Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, as seen on the CMT program “Johnny Cash: American Rebel.”

3. Johnny and June Carter Cash

Born to “Mother” Maybelle Carter, a core member of the historic Carter Family of country music singers, June Carter was performing in the family tradition by age 10. She’d been married twice by the time she met Johnny Cash in the early 1960s. Legend has it that June co-wrote “Ring of Fire” about her attraction to Cash, who was himself in another marriage at the time. Johnny and June wed in 1968 and went on to enjoy one of the great true romances, until their deaths just four months apart in 2003.

CARDIFF, WALES - JUNE 06: Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles perform on stage during the "On the Run II" tour opener at Principality Stadium on June 6, 2018 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images For Parkwood Entertainment) 05PowerCouples
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images/file 2018

2. Jay-Z and Beyoncé

“Only thing that’s on my mind is who gonna run this town tonight?” By 2009, when Jay-Z, with Rihanna and Kanye West by his side, posed that question, the Bed-Stuy native born Shawn Carter had already been a rap kingpin for almost a generation. He’d also quietly married a young woman named Beyoncé Knowles, who’d left the pop group Destiny’s Child for a rocket-fueled solo career. Almost a decade later, as Mr. and Mrs. Carter head to Foxborough on the heels of the Maryland show that brought out a certain former first couple, Jay-Z is still a mogul, running a streaming service, a sports agency, and plenty more. But there’s little doubt about it at this point: It’s his better half who runs the world.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono arrive at The Hit Factory, a recording studio in New York City, in August 1980.
AP Photo/Steve Sands, File
John Lennon and Yoko Ono arrive at The Hit Factory, a recording studio in New York City, in August 1980.

1. John Lennon and Yoko Ono

If the Carters (the R&B/hip-hop Carters, that is, not the country Carters) keep dominating the culture as they have in recent years, they may soon find themselves topping a future list like this one. For now, it’s still tough to compete with the Beatles’ own power couple. As a twosome, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were powerful enough to replace the world’s greatest band as the central fact in Lennon’s life. They were powerful enough to promise world peace, and to bring weirdo art to the mainstream. And almost 40 years after Lennon’s shocking murder, Ono is worth a reported $600 million. All you need is love, and maybe a little weight to throw around.

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.