10 of the All-Time Greatest Pop/Rock Collaborations


As we reported last week, apparently Ke$ha is collaborating with her “idol” Iggy Pop for a song on her upcoming album. Our initial response to this was pretty much like everyone else’s, involving a combination of the letters “W,” “T,” and “F,” but the more we think about it, the more we’re coming around to the idea that the track could actually be pretty great. After all, it’s hardly the first pop/rock collaboration, and some of the results of pairing up pop singers and rock stars over the years have been thoroughly excellent. We’ve pulled together a few of our favorite such collaborations after the jump — as ever, let us know (nicely) what we’ve missed.

Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson — “Candy”

Iggy has previous experience in this area, of course. He did a killer collaboration with Peaches a few years back — although, in fairness, it’s probably a stretch to call someone who released a record called Fatherfucker a pop star — and also did a pretty great duet with Debbie Harry on “Well Did You Evah!,” but our all-time favorite is this collaboration with Kate Pierson of the B-52s. We’ve always been particularly impressed with Iggy’s vocals on this — you really could believe that he’s been inside for 20 years — and the contrast between his reflective rumble and Pierson’s sad but impassioned responses makes this a surprisingly moving piece of work.

The Flaming Lips and Ke$ha — “2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)”

And, indeed, Ke$ha has a track record with this kind of thing, too. We were rather apprehensive when we heard that she’d be collaborating with The Flaming Lips for their Record Store Day release Heavy Fwends, but the result is curiously compelling in its own strange way.

Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue — “Where the Wild Roses Grow”

Arguably the definitive rock/pop collaboration, this was a surprise hit around the world — not bad for a kinda scary and hitherto determinedly underground songwriter and a pop star whose commercial fame was largely confined to the UK and her native Australia, singing a tender ballad about the former caving in the latter’s head in with a rock.

Manic Street Preachers and Traci Lords — “Little Baby Nothing”

Fun fact: the Manic Street Preachers wanted Kylie Minogue to provide the vocals for this track, which was written a good five years before “Where the Wild Roses Grow.” Sadly, Kylie was not moved by the appeals of a then largely unknown bunch of spray-painted Welsh Situationists, and thus they turned to porn star and occasional John Waters starlet Traci Lords to provide candy-coated vocals for this song about perceptions of women in popular culture. Perhaps it was for the best: the unlikely collaboration worked a treat.

Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant — “To Sir with Love”

This is probably stretching the “pop” and “rock” categories a bit — after all, Stipe is hardly your average Jack Daniel’s-swigging rock star, and Merchant isn’t exactly Ke$ha. But still, despite their close friendship, there’s a distinct contrast between their styles, and it’s that contrast that makes this duet — performed at an inauguration ball for Bill Clinton, incidentally — a beautiful piece of work.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl — “Fairytale of New York”

Poor Kirsty MacColl. Her untimely death in 2000 robbed the music world of a real talent, and this track — a collaboration with The Pogues at their MacGowan-helmed best — is a fine way to remember her.

Michael Jackson feat. Eddie Van Halen — “Beat It”

The fact that for some reason Eddie Van Halen’s record label thought that it’d be a really bad idea for their artist to appear in one of the most successful videos of all time means that even now, people are surprised to hear that it was Eddie who provided the noodly guitar bit in the middle of this all-time classic. But it is indeed he who plays the trademark tapping solo that soundtracks the video’s fight scene. The solo stands out like a sore thumb, to be honest, but it’s such an iconic part of the track that it’s impossible to imagine “Beat It” without it.

Lenny Kravitz and Vanessa Paradis — “Be My Baby”

Kravitz wrote most of the music on Paradis’ 1992 self-titled breakthrough album, and also played most of the instruments. If you’re a fan of ’60s-influenced bubblegum pop, the whole thing’s pretty great, but we’re particularly partial to this song. (It’s not the only pop collaboration for which Kravitz was responsible, either — he also co-wrote “Justify My Love” with Madonna, who did not deign to give him a writing credit.)

Sonic Youth and Madonna — “Into the Groove(y)”

Speaking of Madonna, this isn’t technically a collaboration, but it’s so good that we had to bend the rules a little to include it. Cheekily retitling themselves “Ciccone Youth,” Sonic Youth cast their cover of “Into the Groove” as an imagine collaboration, intercutting Madonna’s sampled vocals with Thurston Moore’s laconic drawl and some big, nasty-sounding guitars. The result is all kinds of awesome.

David Bowie and Bing Crosby — “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy”

Recorded when Bowie was doing his best to come back to Earth and Crosby was a month from death, this is one of music’s weirder collaborations (and in a world where Fred Durst can collaborate with Lil Wayne, that’s saying something). And yet somehow, despite its inherent strangeness and the fact that Bowie apparently hated the song, it works.