Wednesday, December 27, 2006


It Takes Two, Two

Michael Jackson / Mick Jagger, " State of Shock" (1984)
It was 1984 and MJ had declared his independence from Motown's legacy and his siblings with the release of Thriller, and his show-stealing performance on Motown's 25th Anniversay Special on NBC. That was the 1983 show where Michael unleashed the "moonwalk." Riding the wave of Michael-mania the next year, the other Jacksons released the so-so Victory LP on the public, complete with an "Including Michael!!" cover to boost sales. Ironically, Michael is the most sanely dressed one on the cover. The public should have known the album was a stinker by the first single, aptly titled "Torture." Also on the album was what should have been a hot pairing of rock's two greatest stage performers. The only thing that saves the song is a catchy guitar hook which grates on your nerves after a couple of listenings. The single goes totally silly at the end with Mike & Mick shouting, "Look at Me! Look at Me!" like a couple of Top 40 Dorian Grays. Jagger did a better job the second time around, with Tina Turner at Live Aid '85.

R.E.M. / KRS-One, " Radio Song" (1991)
I've always considered R.E.M.'s megahit album Out of Time to be a very weak rendition of their preceding major label debut, Green. I've never understood why people consider Green to be a "sellout" for Warner Brothers. Then again, my favorite R.E.M. album is Monster, so what do I know? Out of Time, of course, produced the monster single "Losing My Religion." The very next year, Stipe would be singing "Losing My Hair." The album opens with an interesting pairing that ultimately disappoints, "Radio Song." Now, I actually love most of "Radio Song". Culturally, the pairing of Michael Stipe and KRS-One was an important pop moment as Hip Hop was already starting to degenerate into Afro-fascist Goth music, and Nirvana's Nevermind (one of my all-time favorite rock LPs) would unleash a whole new generation of narcissistic navel-gazers and monochromatic moaners. What kills the song is KRS-One's weak rap coda. For a guy of his talent and intelligence, the last 30 seconds of "Radio" sounds as if the studio producer shouted, "This is the end of the track ... SAY SOMETHING, quick!!"

They could have brought Joeski Love out of obscurity for this one. I'm not too crazy about R.E.M.'s second attempt at Rock-Rap hybrids, either. Q-Tip is a great actor, though!

Chrissie Hynde / Frank Sinatra, " Luck, Be A Lady" (1994)
Listening to this version of Ol' Blue Eyes' classic show stopper, I am sad, sad, sad. I will never be a fan of Sinatra's Duets albums, but will always be a fan of both Sinatra and the Pretenders. On this disc, however, The Chairman's co-stars only warbled along to his tapes and there is no true person-to-person interaction. Inspired by Natalie Cole's then-groundbreaking technological feat of "dueting" with her deceased father's recorded voice, I guess the record company thought this would be a great way to expand Sinatra market share to a younger audience. No dice, chickie baby! What's so sad about this particular pairing is that Hynde's performance is very emotionally nuanced for a pop singer doing an overdub, and to my ears was one of the best "pairings" on the album. At least we'll always have real duets that are worth a listen.

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