B.B King and Eric Clapton, MF DOOM and Madlib, The Velvet Underground and Nico… Music history is filled with fantastic collaborations that offered up some fantastic albums and songs. But these collabs aren’t always a hit, even if they’re made up of two great artists (just look at Lou Reed and Metallica). Today we’re not necessarily focusing on the worst. Instead, we’ll be taking a look at some of the strangest collaborations in music history.
Jay-Z & Linkin Park – Collision Course
The nu-metal and hip-hop crazes of the late 90s and early 2000s saw the rise of plenty of popular bands and artists, from Korn to Slipknot and Eminem to Kanye West. One of the standout features of nu-metal was its willingness to experiment with fusing metal with hip-hop. This experimentation led to the creation of a number of rap-metal fusion acts like Limp Bizkit and the Ice-T fronted Body Count. Korn’s ‘Family Values’ tour even united Rammstein and Ice Cube (though, unfortunately, they never actually performed together).
With the success of this rap-metal phenomenon, it only made sense to unite two of the heaviest hitters of their respective genres on a collaboration album… right? It was presumably this line of thinking that saw the release of the Collision Course EP: a project that brought together the hard-hitting criminal rhymes of Brooklyn’s Jay-Z and the introspective whiny angst of Linkin Park.
Unfortunately, the EP wasn’t exactly a great success. Rather than writing a full review, veteran music critic Robert Christgau simply gave the album a bomb emoji as a rating. A couple of positive reviews peppered the onslaught of negativity from the critics, but the fans weren’t too enthused either. While the EP has fallen into relative obscurity, we’ll still admit that Numb / Encore is a banger.
Metallica & Lou Reed – Lulu
What could be better than combining the offbeat singer-songwriter talents of an ageing hippie and the metal thrashing madness of metal’s favourite sellouts? Quite a lot, it turns out. When Metallica announced that they’d be working to release a full collaboration album with the Velvet Underground frontman a few eyebrows were raised, to say the least.
Metallica had been through a bit of a rough patch in the years leading up to the release of Lulu. Load, Reload, St. Anger, Death Magnetic… it had been dud after dud from the Bay Area thrashers. Nevertheless, fans were intrigued by Lulu’s concept, perhaps Reed would breathe new experimental life into Metallica’s tired tunes, just maybe. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
While critics had mixed feelings about the album, fans of both Reed and ‘Tallica were horrified. The metal instrumentation combined with Reed’s strained vocals and weird – borderline pretentious – lyricism was an abject failure in the eyes of most people that only got worse when James Hetfield gruffly sang about being a table. No, that’s not a mistype or an in-joke, he quite literally sings the lyrics “I am the table”. Needless to say, Metallica has never really lived down Lulu’s legacy.
Elton John & RuPaul – Don’t Go Breaking My Heart from Duets
Back in 1993, one of Britain’s most beloved pop legends, Sir Elton John, decided it was high time he released a collaboration. Rather than collab with just one artist, Elton's duets saw him perform with musical superstars like Little Richard, Leonard Cohen, George Michael and… RuPaul?
In the mid-90s, RuPaul Charles was perhaps the world’s most famous drag queen – even before the success of Drag Race. His 1993 smash hit Supermodel (You Better Work It) became a club staple and rocketed him to mainstream success. Inspired by his campy club work, Elton John decided that a duet with RuPaul was an absolute must.
On the album, Elton and RuPaul duet on one of the Rocketman’s most popular tracks: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. This hyper-camp rendition of the Elton John classic is fun, quirky and surprisingly good. Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn’t quite hit the mark. Even so, this rendition of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart is almost guaranteed to get just about any party started with an injection of genuine camp fun.
Kurtis Blow & Bob Dylan – Street Rock from Kingdom Blow
Kingdom Blow is not a good album. Despite coming from the mind of one of the founding fathers of hip-hop, the album is well and truly a dud in almost every sense possible. Paling in comparison to Blow’s earlier projects, most rap fans would do well to give Kingdom Blow a miss. There is, however, one saving grace: the most bizarre feature in hip-hop history.
While only a quick feature rather than a true collaboration, we still thought this track needed a mention. By the mid-80s, when this record was released, you’d struggle to say that Bob Dylan was at the top of his career. Blood on the Tracks, often considered his magnum opus, had been out for more than a decade and the kids were far more interested in rap and metal than folk. Perhaps it was this disconnect from the youth that encouraged Dylan to start rapping.
The opening track on Blow’s 1986 album, Street Rock, features the unmistakable raspy tones of Dylan right at it’s very opening. A couple of bars of sung lyrics from Bob Dylan doesn't immediately signal failure for a hip-hop track, but the fact that Dylan actually decides to rap on the track makes this one a disaster. He may only feature for 10 seconds of the nine-minute track, but his almost cringe-inducing impact is certainly felt. We’re very thankful that this was his first and only foray into rap music.
Eddie Murphy & Michael Jackson – Whatzupwitu from Love’s Alright
Eddie Murphy’s stand-up performances and roles in films like Beverly Hills Cop and Coming To America made him one of the most highly regarded entertainers of the 1980s. Murphy was on top of the world and his 1985 track Party All The Time – produced by none other than Rick James – was a modest success, reaching number 2 on the US Billboard Top 100 chart. Not content with accepting that his musical success was just a fluke (hint: it was), Murphy continued his music career into the nineties with the King of Pop himself.
Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy’s video for Whatzupwitu from Murphy’s third studio album Love’s Alright is just as bizarre as the song title. The video sees Murphy and Jackson dancing around the sky with heavy use of bad 90s CGI while the Harlem Boys Choir eventually joins them to sing the immortal lyrics “What’s up? What’s up? What’s up with you?”.
We want to know how this track came to fruition. Jackson had recently released Dangerous, an album that contained smash hits like Black or White and Remember the Time, and was working on HIStory that would bring with it the likes of You Are Not Alone and Earth Song. It was hardly a low point in Jacko’s career, but he still found himself spinning through the sky with Murphy in what was eventually voted MTV’s worst video of all time.
Do you have a musical idol that you’d love to collaborate with even though it might not be an instant hit? Then get down to Kore Studios and record your standout track to get their attention.