It stands to reason that great artists should turn out great work when putting their minds together. Of course, that's not always true, as the music world is littered with mediocre to outright awful collaborative efforts. These are some of the greatest collaborations of all time, however, be they songs, albums, live performances or even partnerships (though we won't count those in the same band).
Written by George Harrison after the Beatles guitarist read the ancient Chinese text "I Ching," this song captures much of the band’s discord in what would be the members' final years together. Harrison asked his friend Eric Clapton to pick up lead guitar duties (Clapton was not be formally credited for his part, however), lending a psychedelic and blues-y sensibility to a track about tumultuous times for the world’s biggest band.
After years with Fleetwood Mac and longtime partner Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks was well-versed in writing and performing songs about romantic discord and dissatisfaction, though this 1981 number came from friend Tom Petty. It did land on Nicks’s debut solo album, “Bella Donna.” Nicks admitted to her initial displeasure at bumping one of her own written songs on the album for Petty’s, but considering its success and its memorable duet, she changed her mind fairly quickly.
Hip-hop wasn’t anywhere near its current level of national prominence in the mid-1980s, but this collaboration between Hollis, Queens’ most celebrated MCs and the Bad Boys from Boston gave a shot in the arm to the nascent genre, expanding its appeal beyond its mostly urban, African-American core. Originally recorded in 1975, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry would guest on the 1986 Run-DMC version, though Rev Run and DMC famously did not know who the rockers were. The result: Hip-hop got its breakout track, and Aerosmith got a huge boost for its comeback after being out of the mainstream spotlight for years.
Talk about your happy accidents. The most recognizable bassline in music history was birthed from this 1981 collaboration nearly by accident, as Bowie originally met with the band to record another track. Amusingly, no one seems to have wanted credit for the bassline (Bowie and the members of Queen have credited one another for it at different times), but regardless of who did it, its staying power, coupled with Bowie's and Freddie Mercury’s lyrics and scat singing, make this one of the most memorable songs of all time.
More than 20 years on, it can be hard to fathom how R&B dominated the music scene in the 1990s. This 1995 collaboration between two of the decade’s biggest acts is a great time capsule of that dominance, having clocked in at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 16 straight weeks — a record only recently equaled by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s (feat. Justin Bieber) “Despacito.” A sentimental, heartfelt ballad inspired by sufferers of the AIDS epidemic, as well Boyz II Men's and Mariah Carey’s own loved ones, “One Sweet Day” is about as big as R&B ballads get and still a mastercraft of the genre.
Though Dre and Snoop had previously collaborated on 1992’s “Deep Cover,” Snoop’s features on Dr. Dre’s seminal album “The Chronic” helped usher in the influential — if short-lived — West Coast-dominated G-Funk era of hip-hop. Its instantly recognizable keyboard line sets the table for Snoop’s languid, Long Beach drawl and cadence, as well as Dre’s less dexterous raps (but always-on-point samples). It’s a true hip-hop classic in every sense of the word, as well as the kickoff of a longtime professional association between the two artists.
In 1995, Death Row Records was firmly at the top of the rap game, and a large part of that success was due to newcomer (and newly paroled) Tupac Shakur and this comeback single. Dre’s production and feature on the track, along with Roger Troutman’s talk box chorus, make Pac’s paean to the Golden State a certified, timeless banger.
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” remains Yeezy’s magnum opus, and while “All of the Lights” may not be anyone’s choice for best track on the album, its brilliance is illustrated by its magnificent production, helped greatly by the sheer number of A-list collaborators — most of whom are not listed officially. It starts out with a somber piano interlude (by none other than Sir Elton John, uncredited), then is propelled by a full orchestra and frenetic, strobe-like drum machine kicks, turning it into something approaching a 21st century rap anthem.
Musical supergroups existed before the Wilburys, but the individual players in groupings like Cream or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young hadn’t been in the music biz long enough yet to achieve the level of success that Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty had when they came together in 1988. That eclectic roll call of musicians and songwriters released the album “Vol. 1” to critical and commercial acclaim, a defiantly throwback heartland rock record that gave a boost to the group's quasi-emeritus status as music’s bygone legends in an era that was moving toward hip-hop, metal (and soon, grunge) and house.
Michael Jackson had reportedly never shown an interest in dabbling into rock, but at producer Quincy Jones’s behest, the King of Pop penned “Beat It” for 1983’s “Thriller” album. Unsurprisingly, Jackson nailed it, and he and Jones would tap Eddie Van Halen to record the song’s legendary solo. Van Halen dit it free of charge and famously caused a speaker to catch fire while recording it.
1971’s “The Concert for Bangladesh” — the brainchild of Indian sitar legend Ravi Shankar and his friend George Harrison — is widely considered the beginning of the modern benefit concert, created in response to the humanitarian crisis affecting then-East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) as it struggled for independence from Pakistan. With hundreds of thousands of Bengalis already killed and millions more suffering from war, starvation and a recent cyclone, Shankar and Harrison set about organizing two concerts on Aug. 1, 1971, with help from fellow musicians like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Harrison’s former bandmate Ringo Starr. The result was over $250,000 raised for Bangladesh relief and a precursor to later benefit concerts like Live Aid.
The French electronic duo Daft Punk had long been experimenting with house, funk, discoand rock, and had achieved global success with hits like “One More Time” and “Robot Rock,” but they would experience their greatest hit in “Get Lucky” from their 2013 album “Random Access Memories.” The song, as befitting the album’s throwback sensibility (think live musicians over their usual synthesizers and drum machines), employed disco legend Nile Rodgers (of the band Chic) on guitar and Pharrell Williams on vocals, and became the runaway hit of 2013.
One of the few songs in the last 35 years to be canonized as a Christmas classic, this Irish folk-style ballad from the Pogues and solo artist Kirsty MacColl begins memorably in a New York City drunk tank. Frontman Shane MacGowan then launches into his reverie of young love lost to alcohol and drugs, interweaving his verses with MacColl’s ex-lover's bitter, acerbic recollections and making a decidedly R-rated (this is not a family-friendly Christmas song, to be sure) holiday tune something quite sentimental and refreshing amid the usual ditties about Santa Claus and reindeer.
One of the greatest songwriting duos of all time, it would be difficult to pick a “best” from Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s songbook, which include “Rocket Man,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Bennie and the Jets,” and “Candle in the Wind.” A 1991 documentary highlighted the pair’s songwriting process, which is surprisingly simple: Taupin composes the lyrics and sends them to John, who then composes the music. Not a bad recipe for success, and one that's served the duo well for nearly 50 years.
By the time of this 1957 session, both Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane had been honing their craft in parallel to one another, never quite crossing paths on the jazz scene until Monk took up residency at the Five Spot Café in Manhattan’s East Village. Coltrane would join Monk’s quartet there, and though contractual obligations to their respective record labels kept much of the music confined to live performances, they managed to gift those not fortunate enough to have caught them on stage this album, their only official studio recording. A blend of Monk’s iconoclastic composition and Coltrane’s virtuoso tenor sax, it’s an essential for not just jazz fans, but fans of music in general.
Powerhouse songwriting husband-and-wife duo Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson penned a number of hits spanning several genres, but this 1966 song served as the pair’s entry into Motown, going to newly formed duet partners Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has to go down as not only one of the best records of Motown’s classic era, but also as one of the greatest debuts by one of music’s great songwriting teams.
This bossa nova number from renowned composer Antonio Carlos Jobim had been around for a couple of years before the 1963 version from Getz and Gilberto cemented its status as the genre’s definitive song (and, perhaps unfairly, shorthand in film and television for elevator music). Based on a real girl who lived on Rio de Janeiro's Ipanema Beach, few songs so effortlessly capture their time and place like this one. It’s gone on to become what’s thought to be the second most recorded song in history, with other classic versions from Joao Gilberto’s wife Astrud, as well as Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.
Duke Ellington first composed and performed this song back in 1932, and by the time Ella Fitzgerald and the Duke got around to re-recording it, it had been a part of the Great American Songbook for 25 years. No matter — with these two titans of the jazz era firmly settled into their roles as American icons, they were able to cut loose with a swinging take, entertainingly punctuated by not only Fitzgerald’s trademark scat singing and Duke’s interjections, but also a lively, interactive crowd. Everyone’s clearing enjoying themselves on the record, and why wouldn’t they?
One of the most influential albums of all time, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” was famously ignored upon its release as its impact would only be understood and appreciated in the decades following. Andy Warhol, who designed the now-famous banana cover, also served as producer and agent for the Velvets and essentially pressured the band into working with German vocalist Nico for their self-titled debut. The album’s fascination with New York street life, with all its “deviant” trappings (including drug use, prostitution, sadomasochism, among other then-taboo topics), made it a commercial failure and led to the dissolution of the Velvets-Warhol-Nico partnership, but 50 years on, the album is rightfully considered among the greatest ever.
We’ll cheat a bit here and credit the Gershwins for this jazz standard as "Porgy" author DuBose Heyward supplied the lyrics, while George Gershwin composed the music. An attempt by George to create his own African-American spiritual number for 1935’s “Porgy and Bess” (based on Heyward's novel), “Summertime” has proven timeless. According to the New York Times, over 25,000 recordings of the song exist.