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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Give it a listen: 10 bold and unlikely musical collaborations

With unlikely duo Sting and Shaggy recently releasing a reggae album, we look at the long lineage of interesting musical collaborations

British rock singer and actor David Bowie performs with American pop singer Bing Crosby for the TV special, 'Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas.' Getty 
British rock singer and actor David Bowie performs with American pop singer Bing Crosby for the TV special, 'Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas.' Getty 

Just because it sounds like a good idea, doesn’t mean that it actually is. This is the case when it comes to the sketchy history of collaboration in modern pop music. Scan through the archives, and you will likely hear a collection of objectionable noise rather than fully realised projects. A lot of this has to do with songwriters being a mercurial breed, the creative clashes at play resulting in a mixed bag of tunes ranging from the brilliant to the banal – here are 10 collaborations, from singles to albums, that run the gamut of both styles and taste.

44/876 by Sting and Shaggy (2018)

Here is the latest interesting pair-up. Other than both artists appearing under the same letter category in your local music store, there isn’t much else that Shaggy and Sting seem to have in common. Where the latter is resting on his laurels after two decades of reggae-pop hits, including Oh Carolina and It Wasn’t Me, Sting has been creatively restless, releasing his low-key folk influenced album 57th & 9th and performing on stage in Broadway. But after a chance meeting at an industry event in the US, both guys got along so well that what began as a playful project became a fully-fledged album of reggae-lite jams that were recorded in Jamaica.

‘Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy’ by David Bowie and Bing Crosby (1982)

After a decade of enthralling audiences with experimental pop albums, David Bowie had enough of being viewed as a musical curiosity and wanted to be a bona fide pop star. However, appearing in this Christmas single with classic crooner Crosby wasn’t necessarily the best way of going about it. Bowie reportedly hated the carol Little Drummer Boy, and his nonplussed expression throughout the television recording really says it all. That said, the collaboration went on to amass a certain cult status, and then Bowie achieved his goal of pop success with the following year’s album Let’s Dance.

‘Bring the Noise’ by Anthrax and Public Enemy (1991)

While the jury is still out on whether this track is the actual birth of what would be known a decade later as the nu-metal genre, this far-out collaboration between fierce political rap group Public Enemy and one of heavy metal’s hardest shredders Anthrax began with the latter band expressing their admiration for the former. After a few conversations, they decided to do a metal cover of Public Enemy’s 1987 track Bring The Noise. So good was the result that both bands released the new version on their respective albums and then toured the world together.

‘Duets’ by Elton (1993)

There is a reason why not a single one of these tracks get a mention in any of Elton John’s tours. The concept is strong enough: British pop-star John inviting artists he admires to the studio to record a series of covers of works by some of most respected names in pop music. However, the album is a total misfire due to the lack of chemistry John shares with his guests. Ironically, it is when John lets go and has fun, such as in the bluesy The Power with Little Richard and the rollicking Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with RuPaul that the album actually sings.

‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Kylie Minogue (1995)

Sometimes you’ve just got to go along for the ride. At this stage, Kylie Minogue was recovering from the disappointing sales of 1991’s Let’s Get to It, and with nothing really left to lose, she took the opportunity to sing a duet with fellow Australian brooder Nick Cave for the brilliantly haunting Where the Wild Roses Grow. Over gothic and baroque instrumentation, the song is basically a dialogue between a murderer and his victim. Minogue may never record something as daring again, but the track earned her special cachet among the indie-rock crowd that continues until this day.

‘Has Been’ by William Shatner and Ben Folds (2004)

Some things come from so far left field that initial judgment is suspended because the brain simply doesn’t know what to think. That was the case with this bizarre and rather dazzling album by actor and Captain Kirk himself William Shatner and singer-songwriter Ben Folds. The latter piano man took a back seat on the project by producing and arranging the album’s plaintive balladry, rugged folk and jazz. All the while, Shatner is not so much crooning as he is delivering his vignettes and impressions on life in melodic spoken word. Nearly 15 years on, Has Been remains a minor gem.

‘Collision Course’ by Jay-Z and Linkin Park (2004)

The title of this ill-fated EP really speaks for itself. At only 21 minutes long, this collection by rapper Jay-Z and rockers Linkin Park failed to live up to its billing of being a full-blown collaboration. While the album was described as a mash-up of styles, it is more a bunch of songs shoehorned together without any semblance of songwriting nuance. The real irony here is that both artists have managed to blend both genres together well in their own solo projects. When together in the studio, however, they sound poles apart.

‘Scream’ by Chris Cornell (2009)

There is a viewpoint that states that a hallmark of a great voice is that they can take on any genre. That idea hits a truly bum note with Chris Cornell’s critically savaged solo album Scream. A lot of the problems behind it stem not so much from Cornell’s decision to perform R’n’B songs, but rather the move to get producer Timbaland to lead the project. His penchant for tricky and clattering beats left Cornell marooned throughout this failed release.

‘Lulu’ by Lou Reed and Metallica (2011)

One of rock music’s most reviled albums. The murmurings of impending doom began when both artists announced the collaborative project. With both sides known for a stubbornness bordering on the insolent, it was interesting to see who would win the tug of war. As it turned out, neither. There is no semblance of a collaboration on the record – instead it all sounds like two separate albums fused together through sheer will. Loud, brash and slightly nightmarish, Lulu should be sold with a warning sticker.

‘Wake Me Up’ by Avicii and Aloe Blacc (2013)

There was a time when dance and pop music didn’t seamlessly blend like they do today. We need to thank Swedish dance producer Avicii, who died last month in Muscat, for changing that. An established live performer at the time, Avicii wanted to temper his beat-heavy festival sound with something more nuanced for debut album True. He found the sweet spot with lead single Wake Me Up, which juxtaposed the soulful crooning of US soul singer Aloe Blacc in the verses with a thunderous synth-driven chorus. Fans may have booed it during its first live performance in Miami, but its chart-topping success went on to set the mould for dance music to come.

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