This post has surfaced due to a musical dispute with some friends, as the title ‘best collaboration’ often meets with criticism and/or debate. But rather than a simple issue of personal taste, this list features some of those collaborations that have been forgotten or under-appreciated. Some are songs while others are entire albums. A reminder that the list is entirely subjective and open to suggestions or debates, as is the order in which they appear.
1. Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash- Girl from the North Country
Possibly the two greatest singers and songwriters, this is my all-time favourite collaboration, combining the two most distinct musical voices of the 20th century. Cash’s deep voice works well with Dylan’s country/folk/blues vocals to sing about a girl they used to love. Originally written and performed by Dylan, he later re-recorded it with the vocal brilliance of Cash. One of the many collaborations of these two.
Album: Nashville Skyline (1969)
2. Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong- The Great Summit
Armstrong’s gravelly voice coupled with the Duke’s magic fingers (which are skilled enough to deter any amateur piano player) produce a great piece of art on The Great Summit. Featuring works such as Duke’s Place, Lucky so and so, and Drop me off in Harlem, the vinyl of this duo produces a great intimate sound, palatable for beginning or established jazz fans.
Album: The Great Summit (2001)
3. Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart- Blind Leading the Blind
This little known ditty was created purely for the 2004 remake of the Michael Caine classic Alfie. While the original featured the great sax tunes of Sonny Rollins, Stewart’s and Jagger’s up-tempo song feels transported from the 60s. You’d never guess it was composed in 2004. Only picked up by chance encounter with the remake. While the theme song Old Habits Die Hard won the Grammy, Blind Leading the Blind was the greater tune.
Album: Alfie- Soundtrack (2004)
4. James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti- It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World
With lyrics labelled ‘biblically chauvinist’ by Rolling Stone magazine, Brown’s ode to the male sex is nonetheless performed brilliantly with Opera great Pavarotti, combining two distinctly different yet fantastic music styles- soul and opera. Initially recorded in 1966, the duo teamed up in 2002 at a concert in Italy, singing this number together.
Album: No album as yet
5. Sonny Rollins and The Rolling Stones- Tattoo You
On the Stones’ 16th studio album, Jagger and the boys grab Rollins’ irresistible sax sounds and inject the sax player’s mastery into Slave, Neighbours and Waiting on a Friend. Rollins goes uncredited on the album unfortunately.
6. Hugo Friedhofer and Alfred Newman- The Bravados Soundtrack
An iconic spaghetti western, composers Newman and Friedhofer offer contrasting yet complimentary styles to bring about a haunting, ominous theme for The Bravados Soundtrack.
Album: The Bravados Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1958)
7. Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney- Several
Costello is on his way to Sydney next year, and while his collaborations with Burt Bacharach are perhaps the most notable, his collaboration with McCartney prove excellent. These two have had a long history of collaborations, including So Like Candy, Playboy to a Man, The Lovers that never Were, Shallow Grave, and Mistress and Maid, among others.
Albums: Flowers in the Dirt (1989), Mighty Like a Rose (1991), Off the Ground (1993), Spike (1989), and All this Useless Beauty (1996).
8. Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot- Bonnie and Clyde
This is on my list more for kitsch and novelty value than anything else. The duo perform a pseudo-pop ensemble in ode of Bonnie and Clyde. After finding the vinyl on sale, which has a nostalgic psychedelic cover, I listened through from Bubble Gum and Comic Strip to Intoxicated Man and Docteur Jekyll et Monsieur Hyde. Viva Gainsbourg!
Album: Bonnie and Clyde (2009)
9. Metallica and the San Francisco Orchestra
An odd entry, though my taste is eclectic. The heavy metal band Metallica fuses its aggressive guitar playing and pseudo-satanic lyrics with the sounds of orchestra, producing a haunting sound in the process. Inspired by Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra at Royal Albert hall in 1969.
Album: S&M (Symphony and Metallica) (1999)
10. Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk- Miles and Monk at Newport
All jazz is, in effect, one long tune of collaboration. As such it is difficult to isolate particular albums or artists that are ‘better’ than others. Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, for instance, celebrated the collaboration of many great jazz artists. One of my favourites, however, is Monk and Davis’ collaboration at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 and 1963. As with all jazz, the best (or perhaps only) way to listen to the sound is through the authentic vinyl, which captures the intensity and genius of the musicians. Davis and Coltrane are the winning ticket on Side 1, whereas Pee Wee Russell and Charlie Rouse add plenty of gusto to Monk on Side 2.
Album: Miles and Monk at Newport (1964)
11. Eric Clapton and The Beatles –While my Guitar Gently Weeps
Written by George Harrison, featuring Clapton on lead guitar (uncredited). Great lyrics, great sound.
- I look at the trouble and see that it’s raging,
- While my guitar gently weeps.
- As I’m sitting here, doing nothing but ageing,
- Still, my guitar gently weeps.
Album: The White Album (1968)