The Greatest And Most Unexpected Musical Collaborations Of All Time
When great artists work together, amazing things can happen. Remember when Aerosmith allowed Run-DMC to do a rap cover for “Walk This Way?” Classic. Or how about that time Santana enlisted Rob Thomas to sing on “Smooth?” Also a classic. We love when artists get together to create something new – especially when they work with someone outside of their genre. Not all interesting collaborations work out, however (we’re looking at you, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J). Read on to re-discover some of the greatest music collaborations of all time and maybe discover some you might not have heard!
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – The Beatles + Eric Clapton
George Harrison wrote “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in 1968 following The Beatles’ trip to India to study Transcendental Meditation. The song reflected the disharmony between band members, who were not too enthusiastic to record the song.
As a result, Harrison invited his good friend Eric Clapton to collaborate on the project. Clapton overdubbed some of the lead guitar, though he wasn’t formally credited for his contribution on the album. Harrison and Clapton collaborated frequently during the late ’60s. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went on to become one of the most highly-regarded musical collaborations of all time.
"Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around" – Stevie Nicks + Tom Petty
Stevie Nicks was pretty popular in her own right following her departure from Fleetwood Mac. Known for this and her ability to write her own songs, she wasn’t too pleased to replace one of her own songs with someone else’s for the 1981 album Bella Donna.
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Nicks sang on it. After the fact, she couldn’t have been too upset since “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” became one of her best songs.
"Walk This Way" – Aerosmith + Run-DMC
Run-DMC’s 1986 cover of “Walk This Way” became one of the most revolutionary music collaborations of all time, introducing hip-hop to mainstream audiences and reviving Aerosmith’s career. But it almost comes as a surprise that neither party was on board at first. In fact, Run-DMC hadn’t even heard of Aerosmith!
Joseph Simmons and Darryl McDaniels rapped over the intro to “Walk This Way,” which was originally recorded in 1975 for Aerosmith’sToys in the Attic. They hadn’t even heard the original lyrics before producer Rick Rubin had the great idea to bring in Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to re-record the song for the cover.
"One Sweet Day" – Mariah Carey + Boyz II men
“One Sweet Day” dominated radio airwaves in 1995, spending 16 weeks at number one on the Billboard. The song is a tribute to lost loved ones. Mariah Carey began working on the song after her sister was diagnosed with HIV and her friend David Cole passed away.
Carey found out that Boyz II Men had a similar concept in the works and they decided to do the song together.”One Sweet Day” became an international success and proved how R&B dominated music in the ’90s.
"Under Pressure" – Queen + David Bowie
When Queen invited David Bowie to Mountain Studios in Switzerland in 1981, they initially wanted him to sing backup vocals on the song "Cool Cat." Instead, what they ended up creating would become Queen’s second number-one hit and Bowie’s third.
The formal credits for “Under Pressure” are messy, to say the least. Bowie claims that much of it was written before he was brought on, but Queen conjectures that a lot of the song was Bowie’s doing. Regardless, they’ve created one of the most recognizable bass lines in rock history. In regards to “Cool Cat,” Bowie’s vocals were never used.
"Say Say Say" – Paul McCartney + Michael Jackson
In 1983, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson got together to work on “Say Say Say.” It was a match made in musical heaven, with Jackson being at the height of his popularity and McCartney going solo following the Wings’ breakup. Jackson reportedly wrote most of the lyrics, while McCartney played several instruments on the track.
Jackson was happy to work on this track with McCartney, who he had briefly collaborated with on “The Girl Is Mine” off Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller. Jackson stayed with McCartney and his wife Linda at their home. In his autobiography Moonwalk, Jackson has said that the collaboration boosted his confidence.
"Smooth" – Santana + Rob Thomas
Newer generations got a taste of Santana when their 1999 song “Smooth” came out. The song was originally conceived by the prolific songwriter Itaal Shur and was called “Room 17.” Then Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas was given the track, wrote new lyrics, and titled the song “Smooth.”
Thomas wrote the song with his wife Marisol Maldonado in mind. “My Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa” was a reference to Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” which references Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem.” “Smooth” spent 12 weeks at number one, becoming Santana’s first chart-topping song since 1971’s “Black Magic Woman” (which peaked at No. 4).
The Traveling Wilburys
George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty got together to form one of the greatest collaborative rock music outfits in history, the Traveling Wilburys. Harrison had the idea to form a new band when working on 1987’s Cloud Nine, which was co-produced by Jeff Lynne.
When thinking about who they’d bring in, Harrison chose Bob Dylan and Lynne chose Roy Orbison. Petty got involved that same year after he and his band, the Heartbreakers, had finished touring as the backup group for Bob Dylan. “Handle with Care” is on their debut album,The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, which won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1990.
“Stan” – Eminem + Dido/Elton John
Rapper Eminem enlisted English singer Dido for “Stan,” the third single off Eminem’s 2000 album The Marshall Mathers LP. It’s only fair after all, since “Stan” features samples from Dido’s 1998 hit “Thank You.” The song is a dark tale of a person named “Stan” who is supposed to be Eminem’s biggest fan. The song was wildly successful and is considered one of Eminem’s signature songs.
Eminem at the time got a lot of flak over his lyrics, with people claiming he was homophobic. At the 2001 Grammy Awards, Eminem performed “Stan” with Elton John in Dido’s place in an attempt to alleviate the criticism.
"Get Lucky" – Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams + Nile Rodgers
2012’s “Get Lucky” briefly brought disco to the modern-day mainstream and ended up winning Record of the Year at the 56th Grammy Awards. “Get Lucky” took over a year to make. French house duo Daft Punk met Nile Rodgers of the band Chic in the late ’90s and invited him to recording sessions for Random Access Memories, on which “Get Lucky” appears.
Rodgers helped develop a suitable guitar part for "Get Lucky." Later, Williams shared some of his own material with Daft Punk, which was coincidentally inspired by Rodgers. This was a collaboration that was meant to be.
"Beat It" – Michael Jackson + Eddie Van Halen
When people think of Michael Jackson, they don’t instantly think of rock. But 1982’s "Beat It" is dance-rock song that became one of Jackson’s most popular songs off the Thriller album. "I wanted to write a song, the type of song that I would buy if I were to buy a rock song," Jackson reportedly once said.
When producer Quincy Jones contacted Eddie Van Halen for a guitar solo, the rocker thought it was a prank. After he realized it wasn’t, he performed the solo for free, claiming that he did it as a favor just because he wanted to (even though everyone told him he was an idiot for not getting paid).
"Ain’t No Mountain High Enough" – Marvin Gaye + Tammi Terrell
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell teamed up for one of the quintessential Motown duets in history, but it was actually another duo that wrote “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson wrote the song in 1966. Dusty Springfield wanted to record it, but they refused, hoping the song with give them their big break into Motown.
In 1967, Tammi Terrell recorded her parts alone and Marvin Gaye’s vocals were added later. The song became a top-20 hit and sparked more songwriting opportunities for Ashford and Simpson. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” regained popularity in 1970 when Diana Ross was asked to re-record it.
Lulu – Lou Reed + Metallica
After Lou Reed performed with Metallica at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Concert in 2009, the Velvet Underground singer and the heavy metal band decided to record an album together. The result was 2011’s Lulu, which was based on two plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind. Reed delivered spoken word over instrumentals composed by Metallica and Metallica’s James Hetfield supplied some backing vocals. The album veered more towards the avant-garde, to say the least.
Lulu received mixed reactions, many of them negative. Lars Ulrich told Spin that the reaction was “more spiteful than anyone was prepared for,” whileReed told Telegraph, “This is for people who are literate.”
"State of Shock" – Michael Jackson + Mick Jagger
The biggest track off Michael Jackson’s fifteenth studio album Victory was “State of Shock” from 1984. The song was quite an unlikely collaboration for him and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Michael Jackson and guitarist Randy Hansen wrote the song, but Jagger wasn’t Jackson’s first choice to join him on the track. In fact, by then Jackson had already been working frequently with Queen’s Freddie Mercury.
“State of Shock,” sung with Mercury, was slated for the Thriller album, but never came to fruition due to conflicting schedules. Jackson ended up putting it on Victory a couple years later and decided to record it with his brothers and Mick Jagger.
Mirror Ball /Merkin Ball – Neil Young + Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam have been big fans of Neil Young, whose "Rockin’ in the Free World" they’ve reportedly covered over 100 times while on tour. They began playing together in the early ’90s after meeting at a Bob Dylan tribute convert at Madison Square Garden in 1992. When Pearl Jam and Neil Young finally got in the studio together, the beautiful result was Young’s Mirror Ball and its companion album, Pearl Jam’s Merkin Ball, both from 1995.
"I just started thinking about them, who they were and who I was and we tried four songs," Young told NME about working with Pearl Jam.
"I’m Your Angel" – Celine Dion + R. Kelly
After R. Kelly dropped “I Believe I Can Fly,” it almost made sense that he’d do a duet with North America’s songstress, Celine Dion. “I’m Your Angel” is an R&B-influenced pop ballad written and produced by R. Kelly himself (though the song writing is technically credited to ‘Robert Kelly’). The song is on Dion’s These Are Special Times album and Kelly’s R. album.
Upon its release, “I’m Your Angel” peaked at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed for six consecutive weeks. Kelly’s musical prowess combined with Dion’s power vocals made for one of the most successful singles of winter 1998.
Elton John + Bernie Taupin
English lyricist Bernie Taupin is known for his longtime collaboration with Elton John.The two started working together in the late ’60s and early ’70s, after they both answered an advertisement in the New Musical Express that was seeking songwriters.
Taupin usually writes the lyrics and John will compose music to it. That has been their process for many years and it wasn’t until recently that Taupin started joining John in the studio. Their partnership has produced some of John’s greatest hits including, "Rocket Man," "Crocodile Rock," "Tiny Dancer," "Bennie and the Jets," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," and more.
Them Crooked Vultures
Another great (albeit lesser-known) musical supergroup is Them Crooked Vultures. Formed in 2009, the band includes Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, and Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age.
In 2010, the band performed its first two singles, “New Fang” and “Mind Eraser, No Chaser,” as musical guests on an episode of Saturday Night Live. Their self-titled debut album dropped in 2009. Them Crooked Vultures won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance for “New Fang” in 2011. After their first album, however, the band has been on an indefinite hiatus despite hints of them getting back together.
"Setting Sun" – The Chemical Brothers + Noel Gallagher
English electronic duo The Chemical Brothers helped bring dance music to the mainstream in the late ’90s, but a collaboration with Oasis’s Noel Gallagher really brought them to the forefront.
In 1996, they recorded "Setting Sun" which topped the UK singles chart. Gallagher sang the vocals for the song and was inspired by an Oasis song titled "Comin’ On Strong." Both songs were reportedly influenced by "Tomorrow Never Knows" by The Beatles. Gallagher worked with The Chemical Brothers again for another hit, 1999’s "Let Forever Be," which helped break out the duo into US mainstream culture as well.
“Accidental Racist” – Brad Paisley + LL Cool J
Brad Paisley and LL Cool J really had good intentions when they teamed up for the song “Accidental Racist” on Paisley’s 2013 album Wheelhouse. This was indeed a truly unlikely collaboration and the attempt to help eradicate racism was perhaps too much for these two artists to accomplish.
Paisley told Entertainment Weekly at the time: “I just think art has a responsibility to lead the way, and I don’t know the answers, but I feel like asking the question is the first step, and we’re asking the question in a big way.” Ultimately, many people took issue with the song and its lyrics.