The greatest myth about artists is the image of the creative genius, forging a path through the unknown. All great artists are keenly aware of both the history of their medium, and the current trends within it, and they all recognise and are willing to learn from greatness in others. So it is no surprise that so many of them snap up the chance to work with one another, especially in a shared medium like music – and it is no surprise that so often the meeting of creative minds leads to something better than either would have come up with alone.
The Blues Brothers began as a joke project – a Saturday Night Live skit with Dan Ackroyd (a long-time fan of the blues) and John Belushi. But it was so successful it spawned an excellent album and a cult movie, gathering together some of the greatest blues and soul legends of all time. We’ll come back to these kinds of supergroups later, but Everybody Needs Somebody is too great a crowd-pleaser to leave in the middle of the list.
Let’s look at a few more fan projects. Walk This Way could have been a straight cover, but Run-D.M.C. took it further, turning it into a landmark moment in rock history, by sharing the stage with original band Aerosmith. The collaboration is credited with spawning a whole new genre of rock hip-hop. And when Led Zep frontman Robert Plant joined forces with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss for an album of covers that included the sublime Everly Brothers song Gone, Gone, Gone, the result was pure alchemy.
The world of jazz is naturally full of collaborations, but some are more unexpected than others. Robert Glasper found himself frustrated with the insular nature of the jazz world and produced an album of collaborations with non-jazz artists, including the title track Black Radio, with vocals by the ever-versatile Mos Def. And the Propellerheads’ sneaky jazz satire History Repeating creates a fine synthesis between electronica, big band and the legendary stylings of Shirley Bassey.
Which leads us the most unlikely pairing in the whole list. Who would have thought you could create something magical by mixing the Godfather of Soul with Italian opera? But with It’s a Man’s World it turns out the unmistakable outpourings of James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti blend perfectly. I really should hate this, but it’s just impossible.
Another fertile source of musical inspiration comes from the collaboration between mainstream bands and world music. Two examples here are Mumford and Sons’ collaboration with Senegalese singer Baaba Maal on There Will Be Time, and a wonderful live performance from the WOMAD festival by Echo and the Bunnymen with the Drummers of Burundi of Zimbo.
Live performances can lead to the most exciting collaborations of all, because they are entirely unrehearsed. When veteran blues guitarist Buddy Guy invited a local celebrity, 8-year-old guitarist Quinn Sullivan, to play with him in an improvised jam session during a concert, he clearly did not know what to expect. The unfettered joy on his face when he realises he is witnessing something out of the ordinary is truly heartwarming. He went on to play with Sullivan on an album and in further concerts.
We’ll segue into side projects with the aid of another supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys, a pastiche band put together by George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. The project was something of a joke but as you would expect from so many talents, End of the Line is perfect. Another pastiche side project comes in the form of 25 O’Clock by the Dukes of Stratosphear, psychedelic alter-egos of the band XTC. And let’s also enjoy Pythia, a symphonic metal band formed by Emily Ovenden, better known as one of the Mediaeval Baebes. As an added bonus, Sword of Destiny is also a collaboration with shameless ham Brian Blessed.
Capping the list, we’ll finish with one of the most famous collaborations of all, and another song that spawned a genre: the collaborative benefit single. These are almost uniformly appalling, but for all its overblown lyrics and self-satisfied hand-slapping, I maintain that Do They Know It’s Christmas? is a genuinely great song. So thank God it’s them instead of you.
The A-List playlist:
The Blues Brothers: Everybody Needs Somebody
RUN-D.M.C + Aerosmith: Walk This Way
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Gone, Gone, Gone
Robert Glasper Experiment ft. Mos Def: Black Radio
Propellerheads ft. Shirley Bassey: History Repeating
James Brown & Luciano Pavarotti: It’s a Man’s World
Mumford & Sons with Baaba Maal, The Very Best and Beatenberg: There Will Be Time
Echo and the Bunnymen with Drummers of Burundi: Zimbo
Buddy Guy with Quinn Sullivan: Untitled
Traveling Wilburys: End of the Line
The Dukes of Stratosphear: 25 O’Clock
Pythia: Sword of Destiny
Band Aid: Do They Know It’s Christmas?
The B-List playlist:
Art Of Noise ft. Duane Eddy: Peter Gunn
Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris: This Is Us
David Byrne & St. Vincent: Who
Avicii: Hey Brother
Toto ft. Miles Davis: Don’t Stop Me Now
Shakti & John Mclaughlin: La Danse Du Bonheur
Morales & Jan Garbarek: Parce Mihi Domine
David McAlmont & Michael Nyman Band: Friendly Fire
Diamanda Galas & John Paul Jones: You’ve Got To Move
Boogie Woogie Twins (Dr. John & Jools Holland): Untitled
Guru’s Wildcard Pick:
The Glove: Sex-Eye-Make-Up
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