The 20 Top Music Collaboddities of All Time
At the end of Shock Value, the new album by superstar Hip Hop/Pop producer Timbaland, there are a handful of tracks crammed in that feature collaborations with various Rock bands/artists, from The Hives and Fallout Boy to She Wants Revenge and Elton John. While the rest of the album features expected teamings with Nelly Furtado, Justin Timerblake, 50 Cent and Missy Elliott, the incorporation of Rock (given Tim’s deft Hip Hop/Dance-floor touch) is the most startling thing about the album.
Then came the news last week that Prince of Gloom and AltRock icon Robert Smith of The Cure was teaming up with Ashlee Simpson on her forthcoming album (she’s also joined by unlikely, but still less shocking collaborators like Kenna and Tim Rice-Oxley of British popsters Keane).
The current issue of Spin is also on the collabo tip. In honor of Modest Mouse joining forces with Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, the mag compiled a list of the greatest collaborations of all time, citing everything from Bob Dylan and The Band to Danger Mouse and Cee-lo (aka Gnarls Barkley).
But what about the great collaborations that make absolutely no sense at all. Either done as a novelty, a chance to work with a hero outside of their usual genre or with the honest feeling that such a collab will result in something special and unique, the following odd couplings are some of the strangest partnerships in the history of popular music.
1. Bing Crosby/David Bowie
Rock star Bowie took time out from the Glam and the drugs and legendary crooner Crosby stopped beating his kids long enough to create one of the more surprising Christmas classics of the past 50 years. Their craftily arranged take on “Little Drummer Boy” (recorded for Bing’s Merrie Olde Christmas TV show) worked so amazingly well, the recording and video footage is run as often as those Rankin/Bass holiday specials every season.
2. Michael Caine/Madness
After finding stateside success with “Our House,” the Ska-turned-Pop vets released the miserable, Ska-free album, Keep Moving, which featured the song, “Michael Caine.” The rest of the lyrics to the song appear to have nothing to do with the legendary British actor, but Caine intones “I am Michael Caine” before each chorus in a deadpan voice. Part of me thinks they would have named the song after whichever actor agreed to participate. It probably could have just as easily been called “Anthony Hopkins,” if future Dr. Lechter had returned a phone call.
3. KRS One/R.E.M.
R.E.M.’s “Radio Song” from Out of Time is a great track by itself. For no logical reason, the band enlisted legendary MC KRS One to lay down some choppy raps/shouts. It’s a random additive that seems an afterthought and, frankly, ruins the song. KRS One is one of the greatest MCs of all time, but this collbaboration did nothing to enhance his reputation. Rap and College Rock, apparently, don’t mix. For an example of this working right, see Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing,” with guest Chuck D.
4. Billy Bragg/Wilco/Woody Guthrie
Aggit-folkie Billy Bragg and Wilco proved on Mermaid Avenue (and its sequel) that they are capable of making great music together. But the great twist here is that long-dead Folk legend Woody Guthrie also participated — in the form of some discarded lyrics Guthrie’s family graciously turned over to be used for the project.
5. Brittany Murphy/Paul Oakenfold
It seemed destined to fail from the start. The space-cadet actress – who went from the cute nerd in Clueless to the scrawny weirdo in 8 Mile and other movies – was tapped by Dance music kingpin Paul Oakenfold to record “Faster Kill Pussycat.” Even weirder, it worked. Brittany can sing! The single hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart and No. 7 on the U.K. singles chart in 2006. Now if she’d just eat a sandwich.
6. Mike Patton/Norah Jones
On the debut from his latest (of many) side bands, Peeping Tom, Patton – the epitome of whacked-out musical eclecticism – enlisted, along with many other guests, your mom’s favorite singer, Norah Jones. The mellow chanteuse stepped up her game and got into her morality-challenged character, delivering the line, “What makes you think you’re my only lover?/Truth kinda hurts, don’t it, motherfucker?” like a femme fatale seductress.
7. America/James Iha/Adam Schlesinger
Apparently, Soft Rock superstars America are suddenly “cool,” something I never thought I’d ever see in a gazillion years (Air Supply, you’re up next). Helping with their relevancy makeover on the recent comeback album, Here & Now, was former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist Iha and Fountains of Wayne’s Schlesinger, plus Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller and other hipsters. The oldtimers also tackle the Nada Surf song, “Always Love,” but the chic makeover doesn’t seem to have set the world on fire. You can take the boys out of the Soft Rock, but you can never take the Soft Rock out of the boys.
8. Pet Shop Boys/Dusty Springfield
A couple of young Electro-Pop chart-busters team with Soul/Pop hero on “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” and provide a surprising, wildly successful single that benefits both artists (PSBs got another hit; Dusty got a comeback career-boost). Even after Springfield’s death, the duo continued to perform the song live, with Dusty’s vocals spliced back in.
9. Allen Ginsberg/The Clash
Though not as shocking as if the Clash had enlisted, say, Dr. Seuss for a cameo, the Beat legend’s appearance on Combat Rock’s “Ghetto Defendant” enhanced that album’s great, exploratory clash of culture. The album also featured guest spots by legendary graffiti artist Futura 2000 and Country artist Joe Ely.
10. Elton John/Eminem
In order to show the world that he wasn’t homophobic, Eminem got Elton John to agree to sing his song “Stan” with him at the 2001 Grammy Awards. Despite the awkward hug at the end of the performance, it actually seemed to distill some of the heat Em was taking over lyrics that used words like “fag” in a derogatory way.
11. Steve Burns/The Flaming Lips
Anyone with kids likely knows Steve Burns as the striped-shirted former host of the cartoon/live-action show, Blue’s Clues. When he left that gig, Burns set out to finish a solo album of Indie Pop music he’d been working on, so he enlisted the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd to help out. The result was surprisingly effective, Lips-ian Orch Pop that shocked anyone used to seeing him cozy up in his “Thinking Chair” on Nickelodeon. Burns (again with help from Drozd) crossed back over to kiddieland recently with “I Hog the Ground,” a kids’ song and video currently airing on pre-schooler TV net Noggin.
12. Bill Hicks/Tool
Comedians often used to open Rock concerts, but these days, safety is probably an issue, as hecklers waiting to see Slayer probably have little patience for some douche telling “You ever notice how …” jokes. Prog-Metal kings Tool loved the brilliant comedian Bill Hicks so much, they couldn’t resist taking him on the road with them. After Hicks’ death in 1994, Tool paid tribute to Hicks’ brilliant comedic mind on their album Ænima – the song “Ænema” refers to Hicks’ “Arizona Bay” gag (he hoped California would fall into the ocean, creating the new “Arizona Bay”) and the closing track features samples from Hicks’ humanstic yet acerbic act.
13. Paul McCartney/Super Furry Animals
Though Lennon is often seen as the “experimental guy” and McCartney the “Pop guy” of The Beatles, Paul in actuality was the first in the band to get excited about the prospect of experimentation and Avant Garde music. Legend has it McCartney bumped into one of the members of Welsh Avant Pop group Super Furry Animals and they talked about recording and mixing. Not long after, band members’ received tapes of unreleased Beatles recordings and were told to remix the shit out of them. McCartney also added found sound, samples and field recordings. The resultant Liverpool Sound Collage is the strangest thing ever credited to McCartney, a fascinating soundscape of random noise and head-spinning collages.
14. Noam Chomsky/Chumbawamba
The controversial intellectual Noam Chomsky has been shouted-out by Rock stars like Pearl Jam and U2 and has put out records on the Punk Rock-lovin’ Epitaph and Alternative Tentacles labels. The hero of the smart and disenfranchised, Chomsky teamed with Chumbawamba, who had a hit with “Tubthumpin’” (you remember: “I get knocked down/But I get up again”) but whose work as anarchists has always been a driving force. In 2002, they teamed up for the split-CD release, For A Free Humanity: For Anarchy, featuring music from the band on one disc and spoken-word from Noam on the other. It, shockingly, was not a chart-topper.
15. Anyone/The Muppets
Is there anything more peculiar than seeing your favorite Rock star pop up on a kids’ show and yuck it up with some puppets? Sesame Street and The Muppet Show have managed to nab some of music biggest stars over the past almost 40 years or so. Seeing R.E.M. cheesing up the already cheesey “Shiny Happy People” as “Furry Happy Monsters” was cute, but also remarkably disturbing for all of us who grew up rooting for R.E.M. as a music world underdog. The Muppets have also jammed with Little Richard, Aerosmith, Wyclef Jean, Melissa Etheridge, Moby, Willie Nelson, Ziggy Marley, Alicia Keys, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and innumerable others who probably should have known better, but did it for the kids anyway.
16. William Shatner/Joe Jackson/Ben Folds
As if this trio wasn’t bizarre enough (hell, Shatner singing at all is a pretty weird thing), the song they teamed up on was “Common People,” a tawdry tale by BritPop legends Pulp. The song appeared on the Folds-helmed Shatner album, Has Been. The strangest thing of all — it’s actually really good.
17. David Allan Coe/Pantera
While they certainly share that outlaw “spirit,” musically, there’s not a direct line from Coe’s low-down, dirty Outlaw Country and Pantera’s anvil-heavy Metal (even if they did once have a song called “Cowboys From Hell”). That didn’t stop them from trying, as the quartet (Phil from Pantera was off being broody, apparently) put together a self-titled album as Rebel Meets Rebel, which sadly didn’t see release until after the tragic death of guitarist Dimebag Darrell.
18. Fat Boys/The Beach Boys
This one had disaster written all over it from the get-go. Ancient ’60s Rock band who sang about surfing and ’80s Rap trio known for hyperventilating beatboxing and their hefty size team up to cover a song that had no real lyrics in it. For reasons only the devil knows, “Wipe Out” became a hit, running on MTV constantly and making the Top 12 on the singles charts. Sadly, a trend was not started. Oh, how we were dying to hear that Biz Markie/Paul Revere and the Raiders collaboration on Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good.”
19. Nelly/Tim McGraw
There are surely more disparate forms of music (Death Metal and Gospel, for example), but Country music and Rap would appear to be on far opposite ends of the spectrum. That hasn’t stopped some from trying to connect the dots. The laughable Cowboy Troy gave it a shot, with some commercial success (proving Country fans will buy just about anything the marketing teams deem “Country”), but Nelly and Tim McGraw’s “Over and Over” single was a bona fide sensation, embraced by the Country world to the point where Nelly scored a No. 3 single and nominations for two CMT Awards. Country Rap ballads swept the nation. Or maybe not.
20. Anyone Dead/Anyone Alive
Natalie Cole’s “duet” with her father Nat King Cole on “Unforgettable” was ghoulish, but quaint – “Aww, the little girl misses her daddy.” Perhaps record company’s eyes lit up with that song’s success. Execs probably said, “Hey, we don’t even need new stars, let’s just keep the dead ones alive in the name of commerce.” Tupac Shakur and Nortious B.I.G. have been resurrected to become cottage industries, as producers take studio leftovers and match them up with today’s hitmakers. The Beatles’ took a Lennon song, fleshed it out and made it their own for their big Anthology release several years ago. Sinatra appeared in concert five years after his death at Radio City Music Hall — as a hologram! Elvis’ old musician pals paid “tribute” to the King by staging a concert where Presley appears on a video screen as the band plays live. Seems death is only a bump in the road when it comes to maintaining an eternal career in the music industry. Watch for Kurt Cobain to join Courtney Love on tour in the next 15 years. Hologram-style, of course.
If you have a better idea — there’s a ton more of them out there (Metallica and that orchestra, Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page, Nas and Olu Dara and …?) — list them in the comments.
— Mike Breen