Twenty-Five Great Star-Studded Collaborations
Posted Mon Sep 21, 2009 12:14pm PDT by Rob O’Connor in List Of The Day
As one of the 250,000 most important people in the music business, I was sent a press release alerting me that a supergroup of unknown proportions was soon being unleashed on the public. Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, Jim James of My Morning Jacket and M Ward of M Ward would be releasing an album featuring songs where they would be playing with each other at the same time. Monsters of Folk, they would call it, annoying true folkies everywhere.
Of course, this made me think of how–many years ago–there was this group called Temple Of The Dog where various members of then popular grunge bands got together and recorded songs that sounded exactly like the bands they were in. Before that, there were people like Crosby, Stills, Nash and (eventually) Young who had all been in other bands and decided to play together and make tons of money.
Then I thought of all kinds of variations on the theme. Generally, I wanted to avoid collaborations where it was the performers’ main gig. So out went Simon & Garfunkel, Buckner and Garcia (no, not Richard Buckner and Jerry Garcia, but two guys who recorded “Pac Man Fever”). Then it just started getting goofy–and therefore more fun. Then I jumbled the list any which way, since ranking them really seemed beside the point. How do you judge Temple of the Dog against the love and languor of Barry Gibb (of the Bee Gee’s) and Barbra Streisand (of Barbra Streisand), two incredibly famous performers who were about to become their own Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup?
Anyhow, there have been hundred if not thousands of great collaborations, but I was looking for the ones where pure magic occurred. That said, I’m waiting to see if Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson pull any rabbits out of their hats.
25) Robert Plant And Alison Krauss: Mr. Led Zeppelin meets Ms. Grammy-Winning Bluegrasser and together record an album that makes people who normally wouldn’t take note. It’s a bit like waking the dead. Or convincing meat eaters to try “imitation” bacon. Or getting dog lovers to embrace cats. It’s also closer to Krauss’ home territory than Plant’s Zeppelin heritage. Then again, Plant’s pre-Zep heritage features lots of folk music. Maybe he should’ve given Conor Oberst a call.
24) Barry Gibb And Barbra Streisand: The weirdness here isn’t that these two got together. It’s that they got together when Barry Gibb was one of the most popular musicians in the world and Barbra was doing pretty good for herself as well. When do these people find the time?
23) Paul McCartney And Michael Jackson: Before he bought Paul McCartney’s old Beatle songs, Jackson teamed up with McCartney because that was what successful performers liked to do at the time.
22) David Bowie And Bing Crosby: “The Little Drummer Boy” has always been a song just begging to be recorded by musical legends. Bowie already proved he could transform into anyone and be happy. Bing had watched his prime earning years subside quite a bit as wave after wave of pop music changed the musical climate. I’m telling you, the 1980s was one strange decade.
21) Paul McCartney And Stevie Wonder: It’s almost as if you could rent Paul McCartney in the 1980s. He’d end the decade working with Elvis Costello. But here he’s singing with Stevie Wonder a song about racial harmony that would inspire Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy to attempt singing careers. One of them still has a hugely successful career.
20) Mick Jagger And Bette Midler: You’d think Mick Jagger had such a bad home life with the Rolling Stones considering how many years he spent trying to get a solo career, a film career, anything please! But nothing ever took off, so he’s been “stuck” with Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones and making more money than most of us will ever dream of. But even the incredibly successful have moments where they sing their old hits–“Beast Of Burden” here–with other people. (Jagger sang another person’s tune when he teamed up with David Bowie for the unforgettable duet).
19) Temple Of The Dog: Featuring members of the Seattle telephone directory, Temple Of The Dog was interesting in that way that it took members of different bands and then made an album that sounded like those bands. It wasn’t like these guys got together to make Mambos.
18) Jack White & Loretta Lynn: Jack White is turning out to be this generation’s Paul McCartney? Elvis Costello? Rick Rubin? He’s a guy you go to because you’re not sure what the music business is anymore and you’d like to work with someone who’s actually heard your music before and can actually find a way to update it without making you sound like a loon and is currently in the music business. Jack White, ask for him by name.
17) Nick Cave And Kylie Minogue: Nick Cave could never be a real pop star on his own. He’s too dark, too “cult”-like. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t occasionally fantasize about what it would be like. Kylie Minogue, on the other hand, always wanted to further dirty up her image. Cave would also duet with PJ Harvey, but that was a violation of the Musical Redundancy Laws. The Unions had a fit!
16) Johnny Cash And Rick Rubin: Some people hate Rick Rubin’s productions. I’m not one of them. The simple fact that he got Johnny Cash to record so much material before he left the planet is good enough for me. We should all have such youngsters looking after us in our later years.
15) John Denver And The Muppets: At least John Denver knew who he could work with.
14) Eminem And Elton John: Eminem’s known to be a bit loose with his language when it comes to gay folks and Elton John is–get this!–gay! Put the two of them together for a snowy weekend in New England and they’ll either end up married or having written a hip-hop musical. For now, we have to be content with having had them perform together.
13) Whitford-St. Holmes: Someone recently told me this blog has peculiar biases towards certain acts. I’m willing to admit that this project between Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford and the Ted Nugent band’s Derek St. Holmes doesn’t get much attention anymore. But at the time it made people wonder if there wouldn’t be a Greenwood-Rudd or Hodgson-Richrath project to deal with.
12) Aerosmith And Run DMC: Aerosmith were basically considered finished at this point. They’d rocked their way to obscurity by over-drugging and were about to pay a big price. Then this happened. At this point, Steven Tyler probably would’ve collaborated with his landlord if it meant covering the rent. So, not only does he get to revive an Aerosmith classic, he gets to revive the band and seem musically and socially relevant because now he’s not just a 1970s hard rocker, but a guy who’s got his finger on the pulse of the next generation. And Run DMC? I don’t know what was in it for them. I guess a hit is a hit.
11) Warren Zevon And REM: Warren Zevon’s career was pretty much in the crapper. He’d drank himself to oblivion. And since no hip-hoppers wanted to doll up “Werewolves Of London,” he ended up working with REM as the Hindu Love Gods and got his songs on college radio.
10) Al Kooper Super Session: I guess Al Kooper figured no one was going to buy an album with just him on it. So, he got famous friends like Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills to come by the studio and work on such inspired fare as “Albert’s Shuffle” and “Harvey’s Tune” by bassist Harvey Brooks. For additional fun, there’s 11 minutes of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch.”
9) The Dirty Mac: John Lennon of the Beatles, Eric Clapton of the Cream, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones on bass and Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums. If only they’d recorded an album. Then again, some things are best left unsaid. Unless you dream of a “Keith’s Boogie” taking up side two.
8) Class Of ’55–Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash: Reuniting old friends should mean lots of old stories and fond memories. Except this group includes Jerry Lee Lewis. Which is like adding hot sauce to a recipe.
7) Johnny Cash And Bob Dylan: Somewhere in the vaults–on the bootleg scene–exists a double album’s worth of tunes between these two American Legends. The results are rarely legendary, but they’re interesting.
6) John Lennon And Yoko Ono: Not everyone loved Yoko Ono, but John Lennon sure did and in the end that was the vote that counted. With or without her, Lennon would’ve gotten weird. He had those inclinations. She just freed them up and said “Sure.”
5) Crystal Gayle And Tom Waits: Who would put ol’ gravel voice with a commercial country singer like Crystal Gayle? Francis Ford Coppola thought it sounded neat. And you really wouldn’t want to throw Waits in with Kim Carnes or Marianne Faithfull. Redundancies in the workforce can lead to violations of the Musical Redundancy Laws. You do NOT want that.
4) Dionne Warwick And Burt Bacharach: Since Burt Bacharach refuses to sing and refuses to write lyrics, he has to team up with lots of people. Hal David became his most popular word writer and Dionne Warwick became his most famous singer, hitting the charts with “Walk On By,” “What The World Needs Now Is Love” (which first became a hit for Jackie DeShannon) and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose.” Bacharach would later team up with Elvis Costello and other unexpected folks–as you will soon see.
3) The Traveling Wilburys: You figure Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty always wished they’d been in the Beatles. Roy Orbison was surprised and glad that anyone remembered him (talk about “one day you’re in, the next you’re out,” try the music biz). George Harrison had been in the Beatles and was glad that was over. And Bob Dylan–seriously–who knows what Bob Dylan’s ever thinking? Together, they were the success that all those Ringo Starr All-Star Bands aren’t–meaning, they had genuine hits. By record industry standards this meant they existed.
2) Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: David Crosby had been in the Byrds, Graham Nash, the Hollies, while Stills and Young argued with each other in the Buffalo Springfield. Put them all together and you have what sounds like a law firm until they harmonize. Then it’s clear. Lawyers don’t harmonize like that. No matter what the settlement.
1) Burt Bacharach And Dr. Dre: Now Burt Bacharach has collaborated with lots of people. Dionne Warwick, as we noted, was among his more inspired decisions, as she gave voice to his melodies. But eventually Bacharach decided to move up in the world and work with a doctor. Would you go against medical advice?