Tony Bennett was born in 1926, served in World War II and began his singing career during the era of big bands. He’s explored a few different musical styles, but he’s known mainly for being a crooner of jazz-based tunes. Stefani Germanotta, who goes by the stage name Lady Gaga, debuted in the early twenty-first century as an ultra-modern dance-pop diva and quickly became known for outrageous onstage- and public antics like appearing in a dress made entirely of meat.
Lady Gaga is also sixty years younger than Tony Bennett. All told, the idea of any sort of a collaboration between the two probably seemed like fodder for an at-best mediocre Saturday Night Live sketch. Except that against all odds, the pairing worked. With Lady Gaga performing in the style that Tony Bennett has always been known for, as a duo they’ve recorded two albums together, the most recent of which, Love for Sale (2021), went Top 10 in the US and the UK in addition to receiving six Grammy nominations. The two have also performed sold-out shows together, as well as co-starring on the TV special One Last Time, which just aired on CBS.
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga have to be one of the most successful mix-matches in music history (if not the most successful). And that had us thinking about… the exact opposite: Music artists who it seems were destined to work together at least once, either because they had a very similar style or were closely connected on some personal level (there are probably more examples of this to be found in country, hip hop and even jazz, but for now we’re going to stick to rock, pop and R&B).
So without further ado, here are nine musical collaborations to which the universal response was probably: “It’s about time!”
#9 – BRANDY/MONICA
In 1995, Brandy and Monica were two popular teenage R&B solo singers with four Top 10 singles each. The relative similarity in their styles (right down to going by only their first name) made it appear as though a pairing of the two on a record could be quite lucrative. That it certainly was: the duet which the two recorded together, “The Boy is Mine,” became an instant classic, becoming the first single in the US since The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” in 1964 to jump to number one from outside of the Top 20 (“The Boy is Mine” went also went Top Five in the UK, Australia and at least five other countries).
#8 – JIMMY PAGE/DAVID COVERDALE
According to Wikipedia, the pairing of former Deep Purple and Whitesnake lead singer David Coverdale and guitar god Jimmy Page (under the name Coverdale/Page) in 1993 came about because both happened to be signed to the same label (Geffen). However, anyone who had been following the saga at the time could tell you there might have been one other major factor: namely, Robert Plant. The former Led Zeppelin frontman had been publicly talking smack about Coverdale while apparently passing on offers to reunite with his former bandmate Jimmy Page, leaving the two to form what may have been rock’s ultimate “the enemy of my enemy” partnership (although it only lasted for one album, after which Jimmy Page did finally work with Robert Plant again).
#7 – CHRIS CORNELL/EDDIE VEDDER
If the teaming of Jimmy Page and David Coverdale was in any way rooted in having a common foe, this one was the exact opposite: a collaboration which came about over wanting to pay tribute to a mutual friend. Specifically, Andrew Wood, the late frontman for the Seattle band Mother Love Bone, several of whose surviving members went on to form Pearl Jam. In 1990 they collaborated with Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell (who had also been close friends with Wood) for the one-time band project Temple of the Dog. Eddie Vedder, who at the time was just starting out with Pearl Jam, ended up singing a duet with Cornell on the hit single “Hunger Strike” (the album didn’t really take off, however, until a couple of years later after Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the whole Seattle scene had all become huge).
#6 – MICHAEL JACKSON/JANET JACKSON
It only took a couple of singles from her 1986 breakthrough album Control to make Janet Jackson the second-all-time most successful solo Jackson, behind only her older brother Michael Jackson. A duet between the siblings seemed like an obvious move, but this being Michael Jackson naturally he held off until such time as he would be able to present the project as a world-altering event. It actually ended up being out of this world, as the video for Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson’s 1995 duet “Scream” was set on a spaceship (it was also budgeted a seven million dollars, making it the most expensive music ever at the time). “Scream” also entered the Billboard chart at number five, making it the highest-ever-debuting single at the time.
#5 – ROD STEWART/BRYAN ADAMS/STING
Canadian rocker Bryan Adams never got much respect from music critics during the Eighties, but that didn’t stop such revered vocalists as Joe Cocker, Bonnie Raitt and Roger Daltrey from recording his songs. Surprisingly absent from that list was Rod Stewart, with whom Bryan Adams shared a very similar raspy vocal style. The two finally did sing together on a record in 1994 with “All for Love,” the song which Bryan Adams (and two other collaborators) had written for that year’s film version of The Three Musketeers (in keeping with the theme, a third vocalist, Sting, also appears on the record). “All for Love” went Top Five in at least eighteen countries, and the teaming of the three superstar musicians was in a small way historic.
#4 – ALICE COOPER/TWISTED SISTER
Many hard rockers since the early Seventies have cited Vincent Damon Furnier aka Alice Cooper as a major influence, certainly not least of all Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider. The two have always shared a number of key similar traits, from the wearing of heavy make-up while performing to asserting that offstage they were really moralistic family men. Snider invited Alice Cooper to duet with him on “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” (the title was an obvious sendup of the Beach Boys’ “Be True to Your School”) on Twisted Sister’s 1985 album Come Out and Play (Billy Joel, Clarence Clemons and Brian Setzer all also play on the track).
#3 – BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN/JOHN MELLENCAMP
By far the most recent on-record pairing on this countdown – it came out just a couple of months ago – also ironically involves two of the oldest participants listed here (among those who are still alive). When he first broke through in the early Eighties, John Mellencamp (originally known as John Cougar) could kind of be regarded as the American Midwest’s answer to Bruce Springsteen. While it seems like there’s always been mutual admiration between the two, in 2021 the Boss finally joined his Indiana counterpart for the somber-but-optimistic single “Wasted Days,” on which both sing and play guitar (the song is apparently just the first of three tracks on which Springsteen appears on Mellencamp’s forthcoming album Strictly a One-Eyed Jack, which is scheduled to be released in January of 2022).
#2 – WHITNEY HOUSTON/MARIAH CAREY
Whitney Houston instantly became the sweetheart of pop R&B in 1985, but was challenged for the title after Mariah Carey debuted in 1990 and took off just as quickly. The two spent much of the Nineties going head-to-head on the charts, though any personal animosity there may have been between them (all but expected of artists typically labeled “divas”) was not largely reported. In 1998, when they teamed to record a duet of “When You Believe” from the animated film The Prince of Egypt, speculation naturally rose regarding their personal relationship. Both insisted that there’d never been a rivalry and even that they were friends, but the press made still claims that there had been undeniable friction between the two during the project (maybe the song should’ve been called “Who You Believe”).
#1 – BOB DYLAN/TOM PETTY
A small country could just about contain all of the musicians since the early Sixties who cite Bob Dylan as a major influence, but from the very first singles that the public heard from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (“Breakdown” and “American Girl”) in 1976-7, it was obvious that the young singer had a very strong resemblance to Dylan’s distinct vocal style. It took a decade for an extended collaboration between the two to happen, but it was worth the wait when Petty and the Heartbreakers became Dylan’s backing back for his 1986 tour. That same year the two collaborated on the theme song for the movie Band of the Hand. By the time they joined George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys a couple of years later, Dylan and Petty were all but considered a package, singing in unison (“Everybody… got somebody… to lean on… “) on the group’s first single “Handle With Care.”
9 Musical Collaborations That Were Pretty Much Inevitable article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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