My Favorite Collaborations

I want to thank T. S. of Carlsbad, CA for the following question: “What are your top (five or so) collaboration songs?” I love this question. Not only had no one ever asked me this question before, I had not even asked myself this question before! Asking me to list my favorite artists, albums or songs is to invite yourself into a tortuous and long (and likely unwanted) monologue. But favorite collabs? Never even thought about that.

A few came immediately to mind. But I knew I needed to ponder that further and even listen to potential candidates. And, of course, I needed the right criteria. Essentially the criteria are what I’m excluding from “collaboration.” Songs “featuring” another artist are excluded, as “featuring” songs have been the norm for pop music over the past 20 years. Also, they’re more of a specialist performing a specific individual task than a true collaboration. I’m also not including jazz and blues songs, at least in this round, with one exception. For the most part I see these collaborations as being about album projects rather than specific songs. And I’m excluding made for TV collaborations.

Other than that, “my favorite” means just that. These aren’t necessarily the “best” – even if such a thing is possible to assess. They’re simply the ones I like the most.

So here they are – My Favorite Collaborations.

Scream Michael and Janet Jackson – A cathartic release of pent-up frustration (“STOP PRESSURIN’ ME!”) set to industrial beats courtesy of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Sung by a couple people named Jackson you may have heard of. It’s one of Michael’s best vocals and his sister isn’t too shabby, either.

Smooth Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas – ’70s Latin-Rock guitar legend meets ’90s alt-rock singer and the result is one of the most iconic songs in pop history[1]. This is what happens when collaboration becomes alchemy.

Hunger Strike Temple of the Dog – The band was a one-time collaboration of Seattle rockers[2] that would eventually go on to become Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. But wait! There’s more! Eddie Vedder dropped in on his way to audition for what would eventually be Pearl Jam and helped Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell work out the vocals for this song. You have to love it when something unplanned comes together.

You’re All I Need to Get By Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – It would be a deplorable act to not have one of their duets on a list of great collaborations. This track is full of sweet, powerful, joyous emotions – AND Marvin Gaye. Case closed.

When Love Comes to Town U2 and B.B. King – I don’t think B.B.’s ever sounded better.

Mediterranean Sundance Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucia – From the remarkably beautiful 1977 album Elegant Gypsy, this is my one jazz exception. Jazz fusion (Di Meola) meets flamenco (de Lucia) in an intricate duet of world-class acoustic guitarists.

Honorable Mention

My Mistake Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye – This is a beautiful song but it’s a collaboration in name only. Diana and Marvin hated each other to the point of being incapable of being in the studio together! As a result, Berry Gordy had their vocals recorded separately and then mixed them together as to sound like a duet. Marvin and Diana sound so wondrous “together” that it’s worth imagining them singing while looking plaintively into each other’s eyes.

Cry Me a River and SexyBack Justin Timberlake – These are here because of the producer Timbaland. As a producer, he adds such a distinctive sound to the songs he works on that he, in effect, makes himself a collaborator[3]. Nowhere is that more clear than these two songs – songs that have as unique a sound as any songs in pop music history. That guy Timberlake is pretty good, too.

Other Notables

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty

Immigration Man Graham Nash/David Crosby

I Knew You Were Waiting for Me Aretha Franklin and George Michael


[1] It’s #2 after The Twist on Billboard’s rankings of the top songs of the first 50 years of its Hot 100 singles chart. The Onion satire mag once joked that Smooth won the Grammy 13 years in a row.

[2] To make a tribute album for a deceased musician friend.

[3] In a similar fashion, Norman Whitfield’s production for The Temptations is such a distinctive element in such songs as Cloud Nine; Runaway Child, Runnin’ Wild; and Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone that these could be seen as collaborations.

Explore posts in the same categories: Mindless Rant or Intelligent Commentary

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