Before the critics started piling on the Lou Reed/Metallica collaboration, Lulu, they were wondering at the forces that brought this musical odd couple together. Well, that’s part of being an artist, isn’t it? To look for new situations that get you out of your routine and provoke new ways of working? It’s certainly worked for others in the past, and in fact, Lou Reed + Metallica doesn’t even strike me as the most unlikely or unexpected collaboration anyway.
Here are some examples of strange bedfellows making beautiful music together:
Tony Bennett & Bill Evans. The Great American Songbook singer meets the great American jazz pianist in a surprise 1975 collaboration. “My Foolish Heart” is just so, uh… oh, just listen to it.
Yo Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble. The gifted cellist began performing with musicians from Central Asia – from Uzbekistan, India, Iran, and other stops along the fabled trade route known as the Silk Road – in the 90s, and treated the music with the same respect and commitment as the classics.
Afrika Bambaataa & John Lydon. “World Destruction” was a 1984 collaboration between the seminal hip hop DJ and the artist better known as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. Rap-rock wouldn’t become a thing for another decade, but these guys set the bar high.
Cypress Hill & Tim Armstrong. The LA hip-hoppers joined up with the guitarist from Rancid on their hit song “What’s Your Number,” a likable 2004 update of the Clash’s song “The Guns of Brixton.”
David Karsten Daniels & Fight The Big Bull. I Mean To Live Here Still is a 2010 collaboration between the SF-based singer/songwriter and the Richmond VA-based post-jazz brass band. Unexpected, and unexpectedly brilliant, as poetic fragments by Thoreau become moody, beautiful and colorfully-scored songs. (And by sheer coincidence, the subject of my other show, New Sounds, tomorrow night at 11 here at WNYC and wnyc.org)
Frank Sinatra & Duke Ellington. Francis A and Edward K has somehow not gotten the attention of Sinatra’s other unusual collaborations with Count Basie and Brazilian legend Antonio Carlos Jobim. (We shall not speak of those late “Duets” albums with Bono, etc.) Recorded in 1967, this features the essential versions of “All I Need Is The Girl” and “I Like the Sunrise” and a not a single weak link.
David Bowie & The Philadelphia Orchestra. Eugene Ormandy conducted this odd pairing in a recording of Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf in 1978. It’s a straight reading of the score, but Bowie does a terrific job of narrating, coloring the different voices of the animal characters and sounding like he’s having a great time.
Kronos Quartet & Foday Musa Suso, Hamza El Din, et al. Pieces of Africa, released in 1991, remains a singular achievement – even in Kronos’s restless and eclectic catalog. A series of works written by leading composers from Sudan, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Tanzania, and beyond, it works both as an album of world music and as a statement of possibility for the modern string quartet.
Got a favorite collaboration between unexpected musicians? Leave a comment.