15 cross-genre musical collaborations

When musical opposites attract, great things can happen. Also, weird things VIDEO

Topics: Video, Music, avril lavigne, aerosmith, Run DMC, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, sonic youth, David Bowie, willie nelson, donna summer, barbara streisand, , ,

15 cross-genre musical collaborationsJohnny Cash, Nick Cave (Credit: AP/Mark Duncan/Markus Schreiber)

Genres are traditions, but they’re also marketing categories — a way to mark a product for consumers so they know what they might want to buy. Similarly, cross-genre collaborations involve calculations that are both aesthetic and commercial. Folks may work with artists of other genres to try to expand their sound or expand their market share, to highlight buried connections, or to revel in novelty. Below are some of the oddest, craziest and, in some cases, straight-up coolest musical pairings.

Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, “Sobbin’ Hearted Blues”

You might say that this isn’t really a cross-genre pairing at all — back in 1925, jazz and blues weren’t all that distinct; Smith recorded habitually with jazz performers, and Armstrong himself could be seen a blues singer. But that just emphasizes the extent to which genre boundaries are arbitrary to begin with; the greatest blues singer can trade phrases with the greatest jazz musician, and neither sounds like they’re leaving home.


Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C., “Walk This Way”

Maybe the most iconic cross-genre performance, complete with a wall set up just so Steven Tyler can come crawling through it like some scuzzy alien ectomorph. The best part perhaps is that Run-D.M.C. doesn’t even bother to change the lyrics, suggesting that Tyler was a rapper without even knowing it.


Avril Levine and Lil Mama, “Girlfriend”

Miley Cyrus and Lily Allen made headlines over the last year by treating black women as props in their performances. Avril Lavigne and Lil Mama’s collaboration from 2007 is infinitely preferable in just about every way. Lavigne tries a bit of rap herself in the spirit of high-spirited DIY why not, while Lil Mama’s amphetamine-charged lyrics seem to pick up on punk’s snotty energy. The lyrics about competing for boys get nicely recontextualized too; watching the video it’s clear that in this version at least, “I want to be your girlfriend” here has more to do with female friendships than with men.


Sonic Youth and Chuck D, “Kool Thing”

Run-D.M.C./Aerosmith and Levine/Lil Mama do rock/rap collaboration as goofy high-spirited hijinks, smashing categories through sheer excess of adolescent awkwardness. Sonic Youth and Chuck D are way more adult about it, collaborating in the spirit of sexy cool New York art school bricolage. All genres are the same if you’re sufficiently hip.


Amerie w/ Se7en, “Lose Control”

Amerie nodded to her Korean heritage here by bringing Kpop performer Se7en on board to sing a chorus on this blistering funk workout.  A refreshing alternative to the Simon/Byrne/Gabriel school of Westernized world-music edutainment.


Dan the Automator with Mike Patton and Jennifer Charles, “Archie and Veronica”

Hip hop producer Dan the Automator teamed with rock performers Mike Patton and Jennifer Charles to make “Lovage,” an album of flamboyant psychedlic gothic neo-lounge. A delightful example of how, with collaborations, 1+1 can equal π.


Johnny Cash and Nick Cave, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”

Nick Cave usually gets shelved under rock, though he’s a big old roots music enthusiast; Johnny Cash usually gets shelved under country, though he’s flirted with rock of various sorts throughout his career. They both sound perfectly comfortable together on this Hank Williams number, Cash’s ragged vocals setting off Cave’s big melodramatic Kurt Weill throb.


Violent Femmes (with John Zorn), “Black Girls”

The Violent Femmes’ “Hallowed Ground” is one of the weirder albums of the ’80s, and “Black Girls” is perhaps its oddest track. Punk rocker Gordon Gano alternates between lascivious enthusiasm for black girls and heartfelt praise of Christ while avant-jazz legend John Zorn squonks like a strangled goose in the background. And that’s not even mentioning the mouth-harp.


Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius, “Coyote”

Mitchell collaborated with a range of jazz performers, including Wayne Shorter and Charles Mingus. Her work with Jaco Pastorius is, I think, my favorite, though. The distinctive, perfect but incongruous bass seems to mirror the lyrics’ vivid but uncomfortable romance — cross-genre collaboration as rangy, sexy love affair.


Bing Crosby and David Bowie, “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth”

The opening high-camp dialogue and Bowie’s purple jacket somewhat obscure how lovely this duet is. Crosby’s voice is inevitably weakened by age, but his taste remains impeccable; his “bum-bum-bum-bums” slip sublimely around Bowie’s full-throated lead. I could have done with a bit more restraint from the orchestra, but it’s still pretty magical.


Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer, “No More Tears”

Most of the collaborations here have involved rock as one of the participants. Not so with this 1979 pop/disco smash hit. Summer actually toured with a production of “Hair” early in her career, so the pairing is organic; disco and music theater belong together.


Willie Nelson and Booker T. Jones, “Moonlight in Vermont”

Country singer Nelson’s smash album of pop standards was produced and arranged by the great soul performer Booker T. Jones, best known as the leader of Booker T. & the MGs. The results aren’t really country or soul, but seem to exist instead in a jazzy, easy-listening middle ground.


Jeri-Jeri with Mark Ernestus, “Gawlo Version”

One of the best albums of last year was “800% Ndagga,” a collaboration between Senegalese Sabar drumming group Jeri-Jeri and minimalist techno producer Mark Ernestus. Ernestus doesn’t bring any electronica to the mix; his role is simply production — and remixing, as here, though the hypnotic performance is so repetitive already that you can’t necessarily even tell where Ernestus has tweaked things. Techno crosses over to Sabar and Sabar to techno only to discover that they were already more or less in the same place to begin with.


Itzhak Perlman & Andy Statman Klezmer Orchestra, “Tati Un Mama Tants” (“Mom and Dad’s Dance”)

Israeli-American classical violinist Itzhak Perlman recorded a wonderful klezmer album in 1995, “In the Fiddler’s House.” This fierce uptempo number with the Andy Statman Orchestra is a standout; Mom and Dad are some dancers if they’re keeping up with this.


Jimmie Rodgers and Clifford Gibson, ” Let Me Be Your Sidetrack”

Jimmie Rodgers was an influence on a number of blues performers, most notably Howlin’ Wolf, whose signature howl was a modified version of Rodgers’s famous blue yodel. So it’s no surprise that this team-up with St. Louis bluesman Clifford Gibson works so well, with Rodgers’ vocals (and that yodel) rolling easily over the blues licks and variations. As with the Bessie Smith/Louis Armstrong duo, Rodgers and Gibson may be country and blues in name respectively, but they’re in the same genre for most practical purposes.


More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...