Friday, August 8, 2008


The other day I talked about the Conspiracy Theory Effect and how sometimes the sum of two huge talents isn't greater than the parts. But there are always exceptions to the rule, right? Occasionally, when two stars collide the result is explosive in all the right ways. (Country doesn't count. From Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty to Tammy Wynette and George Jones to Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, the genre has a long tradition of stars who moonlight as commercially and creatively successful duet partners.) Read on.

  • "What's It Gonna Be?" Busta Rhymes featuring Janet Jackson: I've never been much of a Janet fan. She strains to be sexy, as if she's trying to say, "Look, I'm all grown up--and I have (great) sex!" Janet, you're fortysomething now. Move on. Here we get her in just the right dose (small), and Busta Rhymes' characteristically brilliant rap helps make Janet's wildest dream (to actually sound sexy) come true.
  • "I Knew You Were Waiting For Me"/"Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves" Aretha Franklin & George Michael/Aretha Franklin & Eurythmics: The Queen of Soul meets the King and Queen of Blue-Eyed Soul. A pair of royal flushes.
  • "Runaway Train" Elton John & Eric Clapton: A gospel-blues throwdown from 1992's The One, one of Elton's better latter-day albums. I wish he and Eric would put their kinda lame solo careers on hold long enough to record an entire CD together.
  • "I Don't Do Duets" Patti LaBelle & Gladys Knight (see custom YouTube video below): Another pair who should record an entire album together. On this collaboration from Patti's Grammy-winning 1991 Burnin' CD, Gladys, who has never had a weak vocal moment in her life, inspires Patti to reign in her over-the-top tendencies. Patti had another mmm, yes moment on the same album with "I Hear Your Voice," a heartbreaking electro-soul ballad produced and co-written by Prince (more on him below).
  • "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)"/"What Kind of a Fool" Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer/Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb: Barbra does disco and Barry with equal gusto.
  • "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"/"Leather And Lace"/"Two Kinds of Love" Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers/Stevie Nicks & Don Henley/Stevie Nicks & Bruce Hornsby: Stevie might be the greatest harmony singer in rock. If she ever gets around to recording a duets CD a la Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Reba McEntire (it would be huge!), I'm so there.
  • Painted From Memory (CD) Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach: Memo to Elvis and Burt: Get thee to a recording studio with Dionne Warwick, pronto! Download: "This House Is Empty Now"
  • "Don't Give Up" Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush: Two singular, left-of-center talents unite to create a stunning, classic-sounding ballad that could have been the love theme to the The Grapes of Wrath.
  • "As"/"One"/"Whenever I Call Your Name"/"I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" Mary J. Blige & George Michael/Mary J. Blige & U2 (above)/Mary J. Blige & Sting/Mary J. Blige & Elton John: Mary has a way with the Brits. The highlight here is "One," which she and U2 initially performed on the Hurricane Katrina relief TV telethon in 2005 and then recorded for her The Breakthrough CD. She brings a soulful hurt and anger to the song and illuminates the lyrics in a way U2 never did on their own song.

An honorable mention must go to singer-songwriter-producer Prince for helping to make Sheena Easton ("Sugar Walls"), Kate Bush ("Why Should I Love You?"), Madonna ("Love Song"), Celine Dion ("With This Tear") and the aforementioned Patti LaBelle look even better. Too bad his and Michael Jackson's attempt to meld their individual genius in the '80s fell apart due to their two--and too--huge egos.

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