Music Features

Staff Playlist #9: Collaborations

Now that we've run out of complete decades to make playlists out of, we're having the engage our brains a bit more. This month we're looking at collaborations and the magical moments where great artists come together to make something even better than the sum of their parts. This isn't mean to be a definitive list of the best ever alliances, they're just tracks that we love. We'd be interested to hear your thoughts on our choices and even for you to make a selection or two of your own, get in contact using the Disqus form at the bottom of the page or via Twitter. That way, this playlist can be a collaboration between us and you - do you see what we did there?

As always, you've got the ability to listen to the playlist too, so check it out on, Grooveshark, 8tracks or Spotify (now available in the US of A). Above all, enjoy!

Sonic Youth - Death Valley '69

Arguably, this was where the band found their identity and it's one of the essential parts of their back catalogue (it was my point of entry into the band, and it was pretty much love at first listen). Yet it's actually the presence of performance poet Lydia Lunch that makes it what it is – Kim Gordon may be a bona fide alternative rock icon, but she's always been too cool and collected to turn in a performance as terrifyingly unhinged as Lunch does here. Mark Davison

Louis Armstrong - Summer Time (with Ella Fitzgerald)

As duets go, Summer Time by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald is an amazing listen. Armstrong’s bluesy trumpet and Fitzgerald’s unmatched inflections exude honesty, passion and incredible ability. Modern day soul, neo-blues and R&B don’t some close to the power of these two, which doesn’t only enhance its beauty, but remarks heavily on what little we expect from popular music these days. Sean Caldwell

Crystal Castles - Not In Love (feat. Robert Smith)

There's a case to be made for this track being far more symbolic than simply a meeting of minds; it's a passing of the baton. Few bands embody the original spirit of The Cure like Crystal Castles and, fittingly, Not In Love is the best thing Crystal Castles have put their name to as well as being the greatest track Smith's featured on for well over a decade. Not In Love is a pop song in spirit (Crystal Castles could do with more of this sort of focus elsewhere) but that doesn't mean it can't be thrilling and abrasive. As the bridge hurtles towards the chorus, the tension rises before being released in an explosion of pure, cathartic noise. Sublime. Joe Rivers

Heavenly - C Is The Heavenly Option

By the early ‘90s, twee pop was beginning to lapse into self-parody, as the genre’s more ridiculous aspects got the better of it. This duet is a transatlantic partnership of two twee pop pioneers: Heavenly singer Amelia Fletcher (formerly of Talulah Gosh) and Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening, founder of K Records; Fletcher’s sickly-sweet croon versus Johnson’s deep, out-of-tune croak. Their call and response narrates a magazine multiple-choice personality quiz, with a pseudo-rap breakdown by Fletcher (while Johnson makes disturbing gurgling noises). It’s deeply quirky, but catchy nonetheless, and fittingly, these layers of silliness mask the quintessentially twee theme of emotional immaturity. Stephen Wragg

Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood - Some Velvet Morning

If you ever wondered where the recent Cat’s Eyes project took its inspiration from, look no further than the classic brawn/glamour pairing between Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. Straight out of some altered universe, Some Velvet Morning was eerily psychedelic – a nugget of sixties chamber pop that enmeshed Sinatra’s quintessentially tender voice with Hazlewood’s lascivious braggadocio to create an arousing splendor of sight and sound. Her heavenly segments, which drift with flower power imagery, sharply transition with Hazlewood’s barren purgatory like a hazy late-afternoon daydream. It needn't be explained. One of the oddest songs to ever grace the Billboard charts, its elusive mythological allusions on the meaning of love continue to mesmerize as much as befuddle. Juan Edgardo Rodriguez

Os Mutantes - A Minha Menina

The vibrant Tropicália movement that emerged in late 1960s Brazil celebrated the art of collaboration. For many, the definitive album of the era is itself a collaborative project - Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis - which features most of the scene's key players, either duetting or performing each other's compositions. This wonderful song isn't on the Tropicália album, but it is a collaboration - Jorge Ben, who actually wrote it, contributes vocals and acoustic guitar to the recording. As well as being a cracking summer tune, this also provides a great starting point for those new to the Tropicália movement. David Coleman

Manic Street Preachers - Your Love Alone Is Not Enough

The Manics' crunchy chords fit perfectly with the sexy vocals of The Cardigan's Nina Persson. The song is about regret, recrimination, and - judging by the YouTube video - looking good in high boots. Angel Aguilar

Atlas Sound - Walkabout (with Noah Lennox)

Bradford Cox (Atlas Sound) and Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) have a lot in common. They’re both the most recognisable members of their respective experimental indie-rock groups, Deerhunter and Animal Collective, both of whom have won rave reviews for their idiosyncratic slants on the genre. It’s an alt-rock wet dream of a collaboration, as Lennox’s sampling expertise meets Cox’s ethereal harmonies. Their two starkly non-traditional approaches to music are each completely discernible, but it’s deceptively simple - a wide-eyed and glorious musical moment from a partnership that seems so natural, I only hope they’ll meet up again soon. Stephen Wragg

Queen and David Bowie - Under Pressure

The teaming of David Bowie and Queen saw two legendary British artists at the height of their popularity - Bowie had just released arguably his finest work in Scary Monsters, and Queen their first American number one album The Game - join forces and release one of the very best rock collaborations in recorded history; the majestic Under Pressure. Oscillating between ethereal atmospherics, finger-snapping funk and otherworldly histrionics, you might want to check your pulse if you're not moved by the sonic sophistication and sheer power of this track. Written essentially by Freddie Mercury (although John Deacon reportedly came up with the bassline), it's both intimate and incredibly grand, and sadly was the last golden moment for either artist. Queen would go on to include this on their career nadir Hot Space (as well as rightfully on their Greatest Hits collection), while Bowie would succumb to the steep artistic downward spiral of the 80s, beginning with the slick Let's Dance. Pierce Brown

Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor

Wolf's album of the same name boasted an impressive line-up of guests who, in keeping with the rest of the record, pretty much botched things up (not that it was really their fault – and Alec Empire did some good work on Vulture... and then completely undid it with his co-write on the excruciating Battle). This duet with folk royalty Eliza Carthy was the exception, a fairly straight take on a traditional ballad where Wolf's chocolate-rich voice and Carthy's gravelly croak simultaneously fought against and entwined themselves around each other, resulting in something rather special. Mark Davison

Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat - The Copper Top

While this is by no means a classic or long established collaboration - its parents record is barely months old - it is however worthy of genuine mention. It's a song that embodies and bitterly embraces the harsh reality of maturity and mortality. Bill Wells' piano keys, the principle and sombre melody and rhythm that strike hard yet sweetly throughout. Aidan Moffat's pub-situated monologue is essentially an anti-funeral speech as he mourns a loved one away from the rest of the service attendees - "Birth, love and death; the only reasons to get dressed up". Capturing that lyrical disparity that belongs to somebody else is a demanding task, but in this case Wells has not only succeeded but somehow added a further element of candour. Daniel Dylan Wray

Magnetic Man - Getting Nowhere (feat. John Legend)

Despite not reaching the Top 40 on its release as a single in the UK earlier in 2011, Getting Nowhere is, without question, one of the standout tracks from Magnetic Man's excellent self-titled début. Growing from a gentle percussive opening, the soft dubstep beat and the silky vocals of the hugely talented John Legend compliment each other perfectly to create a track full of soul and passion; a song that's as equally powerful in a club environment as it is beautiful to listen to as part of the album. Craig Stevens

M Ward - Oh Lonesome Me

A lot of people think this is a Neil Young composition, but the song was actually written and performed in a surprisingly jaunty fashion by country singer Don Gibson in 1958. 51 years later, M Ward recorded what is arguably the definitive version of Oh Lonesome Me with Lucinda WIlliams for his Hold Time album. Ward contributes a rich lead vocal and some gorgeous minimalistic guitar patterns, but the gravelly voiced Williams steals the show with a performance that truly captures the raw emotion of the song's lyrics. David Coleman

Brian Eno and David Byrne - America Is Waiting

There is a sense of militaristic and systematic anxiety within the marched rhythm and sampled editorializing in America Is Waiting, the first track from Brian Eno and David Byrne’s electronic and sample pioneering My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Released in 1981, the song takes televised and argumentative commentary as its main vocal (“America is waiting for a message of some sort of another...”), expressing dissatisfaction with government and citizens while the industrial churn persists, exposing flaws in the system’s works while generating an intense feeling of paranoia. Thirty years later, America Is Waiting somehow seems very appropriate, our current economic and political systems in turmoil as America watches every detail and waits for a miracle. Sean Caldwell

Kanye West - Monster (feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver)

You may have observed that Kanye's rather fond of collaborations, but this one's slightly different. While most of his work relies on him being the centre of attention (especially on the album from which this track is taken, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), he takes a backseat here and lets the impressive array of MCs showcase their skills (well, except Bon Iver, obviously). The result is wonderfully pure. The beats are simple, the groove is subtly addictive and each guest turn better than the last. After Kanye and Rick Ross, we're treated to a desperate, paranoid Jay-Z before an incredible verse from Minaj. She really proves she's "hotter than a middle Eastern climate," with her mixing of moods, rhymes and voices - she ranges from babyish, cutesy gurgles to possessed, demonic growl. You'll certainly believe her when she screams, "I'm a motherfucking MONSTER!" Better than anything else on ...Fantasy, not to mention Minaj's Pink Friday - Monster is the sound of hip-hop's biggest names at the top of their game (oh, and Bon Iver). Joe Rivers

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - Where The Wild Roses Grow (feat. Kylie Minogue)

One would think this Aussie pairing would be as savory as peaches and Vegemite, but Minogue comes through and acquits herself very well around Cave's gruff voice. The song is about a courtship gone awry, sung from the point of view of the killer and his victim. If you’re in the mood for a murder ballad, grab a stiff drink and listen to this. Angel Aguilar

Sitting chronologically between a string of pure pop chart hits in the late 1980s and electro-based tracks in the 2000s, Where the Wild Roses Grow is one of a string of interesting, more alternative songs to feature Kylie Minogue in the mid-1990s. Written by, and sung as a duet with Nick Cave, the song tells of the murder of a young girl from both the viewpoint of her obsessive killer and the ghost of the victim. A daring collaboration from the perspective of both parties, Where the Wild Roses Grow is beautiful and haunting in equal measure and remains as wonderfully emotive today as it did on its release. Craig Stevens

Is there a more unlikely collaboration in musical history? Nick Cave: heroin addict, alcoholic, founder of one of the most visceral, terrifying and ground breaking bands to have emerged in the 1970's post-punk scene. Kylie Minogue: star of the trite Australian soap opera Neighbours and singer of I Should Be So Lucky. The award winning song remains the Bad Seeds' greatest hit to this day. Whilst people's reasoning for buying said single is questionable, the quality of said single is irrefutable. Kylie (yes, Kylie) succeeds in creating a sincere and touching emotive power as she purrs her tale of murder. Cave, malevolent as ever, is the perfect baritone accompaniment to Kylie's delicate whisper as they collectively form one of the most bizarre yet strangely touching concoctions to exist in contemporary music.  Daniel Dylan Wray

So, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls - what do you think?