When we think of collaborations in music, it is easy to point to those with legendary status like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury with “Under Pressure.” But ebbing in the annals of music are a few of the most unexpected joint efforts, which sometimes provide a surprising delight or are otherwise quickly swept under the carpet.
Musical collaborations can bring the most disparate of artists together to create something altogether new. They invite contemporary artists to work with legends, allow two genres to meet, or simply bewilder us.
Rather surprisingly, the track “Steel Bars” from Michael Bolton’s 1991 album Time, Love and Tenderness was cowritten by Bob Dylan and Michael Bolton. Even more astounding is that Dylan instigated the collaboration. A bashful Bolton received a phone call from a member of Dylan’s entourage explaining his wish to work with Bolton. Within a couple of recording sessions, “Steel Bars” was born.
In typical Michael Bolton fashion, “Steel Bars” is a power ballad of the highest degree. Based on the music alone, you would not know that Dylan was anywhere near it. Of course, the track is a love song.
It seemingly warmed the heart of Bob Dylan toward Michael Bolton. After the songwriting session had finished, Bolton was told: “Bob likes you, and he wants you to come back.” However, for better or worse, the two have not collaborated on a song since then.
Victoria Beckham had huge commercial success with the Spice Girls. But after their initial demise, she embarked on an intermittent solo career. Somehow, she convinced critically acclaimed rapper Nas that it would be a good idea for him to feature on “Full Stop,” one of her tracks.
Sadly, not even Nas could save this track for the ex–Spice Girl because it was on her unreleased album Open Your Eyes. Due to Victoria’s general disdain for the direction of the album, she ordered that it would never be released. However, much to Victoria’s dismay, the album was leaked to the Internet, and we are left with the pieces of a mind-boggling music collaboration.
The Cure has been a staple of gloomy post-punk throughout their long-running and successful tenure. Blink-182 gave us teenage pop punk laden with toilet humor and silly gags—like these words on the track “A New Hope”: “I’d even walk naked through the deserts of Tatooine.”
Yet surprisingly, Robert Smith, The Cure’s lead vocalist and guitarist, elected to feature on the track “All of This” by Blink-182 to produce an unexpected collaborative effort. (The members of Blink-182 were longtime fans of The Cure.)
The song came from Blink-182’s 2003 eponymous album, which showed a degree of maturity next to their more infantile output. It also paved the way for a darker tone within their music.
“All of This” is a melancholy ballad and a far cry from the juvenile pop punk for which Blink-182 was famous. It melded a newfound sound for Blink-182 with the iconic sound of The Cure. Together, they were surprisingly quite successful.
Infamous rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Ike Turner and alternative electronica band Gorillaz curiously joined forces in 2005 for the song “Every Planet We Reach is Dead” from the Gorillaz album Demon Days.
Gorillaz consists of both virtual and non-virtual members. Remarkably, it was Brian Burton, the non-virtual producer of the album, who reached out to ask his acquaintance Ike Turner to perform alongside the band. Ike agreed.
On the collaborative song, Turner performs an eerie piano solo which adds to the already atmospheric tone. But Gorillaz is chiefly responsible for the overall sound.
True to Gorillaz’s sound, the song is a tranquil piece with heavily effected guitars, synthesizers, and serene vocals. Therefore, it is a mystery as to why Burton thought that Ike Turner would be suitable for the track. The song is worlds away from Turner’s usual upbeat rock ‘n’ roll musical sensibilities.
Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme is never one to shy away from music collaborations. Having allied with the likes of Iggy Pop and John Paul Jones, Homme is accustomed to sharing the limelight.
However, his prior collaborations have usually been within the framework of rock. Therefore, it was unexpected when Homme featured on queen of sartorial shock and pop icon Lady Gaga’s track “Perfect Illusion” from the album Joanne in 2016.
Rather unsurprisingly, Homme plays guitar on the Mark Ronson–produced single “Perfect Illusion.” But Homme does not bring much of his rock distinction to the song because the track is a pop song through and through.
Then again, Lady Gaga is wholly a pop singer. Her associated sound clearly took the reins for this collaboration and created a catchy dance track with a small amount of Josh Homme’s guitar-playing scattered among the poppy bulk.
Jack White, one-half of The White Stripes, came together with the opposite side of the musical spectrum Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J of the rap-metal collective known as Insane Clown Posse to produce the lone song, “Leck Mich Im Arsch.” Astonishingly, Jack White instigated the collaboration when he met Violent J by chance at an airport. There, White professed his love for the rap group and asked to do a collaboration.
After the collaboration was confirmed, Jack White said, “We could’ve done a song with Megadeth, and it wouldn’t be as talked-about as us working with you guys.” Even stranger than the two producing a song together, the track is based on a sampled Mozart canon of the same name, which translates to “Lick Me in The Ass.” Perhaps in some parallel universe, this all makes sense. But in this one, it remains one of the strangest music collaborations in human history.
The self-professed creative genius Kanye West had the driving force of psychedelic rockers Tame Impala (Kevin Parker) contribute to the 2018 album Ye. West has done many unexpected collaborations in the past, having previously worked with the likes of Jamie Foxx and Daft Punk. However, adding Kevin Parker to that list seems a stretch of the imagination even for West.
In an interview with Billboard, Parker revealed that he was told that “Kanye wanted something psychedelic.” Subsequently, creative director Willo Perron, a long-standing collaborator with West, brokered the deal.
Parker didn’t know exactly which song he contributed to because he was told that his parts were on another song. However, he can be heard on the track “Violent Crimes.” Surprisingly, Parker dons the drum kit for the song even though a guitar or synthesizer would have been a more likely approach for the multi-instrumentalist.
Unfortunately, Parker’s contribution fades slightly into the background of a thoroughly unexpected collaboration.
When the world of popular music meets the world of Hollywood, there is seldom anyone who audibly benefits and the collaboration between actor Mickey Rourke and musician David Bowie is no exception. The onetime collaboration occurred on the song “Shining Star (Makin’ My Love)” from the thoroughly ’80s-sounding and self-described “awful” 1987 David Bowie album Never Let Me Down.
Rourke’s contribution to the track inexplicably came in the form of a rap about “a dummy run gang” that “blew heads out of shape for the name of Trotsky, Sinn Fein [and] Hitler.” The song had the stereotypical ’80s electronic drum kit and synthesizer to match.
Rourke’s rap is the shining crown of a woefully misjudged collaboration. Therefore, it is no wonder that producer Mario McNulty elected to rerecord the album and feature it in a collection of David Bowie albums to be released later in the year.
The quintessential outlaw country singer Johnny Cash recorded a collaborative piece with another rather disparate icon of music, Clash front man and punk rock legend Joe Strummer. The song that united the two was actually a Bob Marley number: “Redemption Song” from the posthumous 2003 Johnny Cash album Unearthed.
Producer Rick Rubin worked with Cash on a series of albums in the latter years of the musical legend’s life, and the albums consist mostly of covers. During that time, Cash and Strummer recorded “Redemption Song.” Tragically, both artists died less than a year after their collaboration, and the track was placed on the aforementioned collection.
In hindsight, the song is quite elegiac because Cash, Strummer, and Marley are no longer alive. However, as both Cash and Strummer were the archetypal rebels of music, their dual farewell with this protest song provides a somewhat fitting legacy for the two collaborators.
Pop star Ke$ha joined forces with the “godfather of punk” Iggy Pop after reputedly “wearing him down” in 2012. For better or worse, the world received the song “Dirty Love” from the 2012 Ke$ha album Warrior.
Iggy Pop is no stranger to collaborations as David Bowie featured heavily in the production process of his 1977 album Lust for Life. Remarkably, Ke$ha earned the privilege of working with the shirtless legend, too.
The appropriately named “Dirty Love” is a rock-inspired pop song, and Iggy Pop sings accompanying vocals to the track. Perhaps the song did not intend to take itself too seriously as suggested by the raunchy vocals: “Cockroaches do it in garbage cans, rug merchants do it in Afghanistan.”
At one point on the track, Ke$ha compares the taste of champagne to the taste of pee. Okay, that is enough music for today. Fortunately, the collaboration was no more than just an album track. Nevertheless, it was unexpected.
I have recently graduated from university where I studied English and Creative Writing. I am also an aspiring musician.