Thirty years ago this week, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder hit No. 1 on the charts with their duet, "Ebony and Ivory." The song spent seven weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and the past three decades as a joke.
Perhaps history's most hackneyed call for racial harmony (which, admittedly, is a good thing), "Ebony and Ivory" is pretty impossible to take seriously in 2012. It's even been named the worst duet of all time in a few polls. But is it really that bad?
Well, yes, it is pretty bad. But it's not the worst duet ever.
"Ebony and Ivory?" It can still make for some amusing karaoke, can't it? There have been plenty worse duets put out since, with all the crap that's been produced in the past three decades. Maybe "Ebony and Ivory" was the worst duet ever at one time, but that was, like, 17 boy bands ago. The worst of pop has caught up and surpassed it.
You want proof? You got it. Behold the official Rocks Off list-post of the ten worst duets released in the past 30 years. Consider yourself warned -- this is going to suck in stereo.
10. Bono & Frank Sinatra, "I've Got You Under My Skin": By 1993, the Chairman of the Board was all but done as a recording artist, so somebody came up with the brilliant idea to record a bunch of superstar Sinatra fans singing along to his pre-recorded vocal parts and sell it as a duets album. Supposedly, Sinatra himself personally chose the participants, but I'm having a hard time picturing Frank as genuinely excited about the prospect of collaborating with Kenny G.
There are more than a couple sketchy collabos on the Duets disc -- really, Sinatra's heard of Natalie Cole? -- but it's the ever-modest Bono who turns in the biggest travesty. The smug-as-fuck U2 front man coos and chews his way through a big-band arrangement of the Cole Porter classic "I've Got You Under My Skin." His falsetto warbling here is particularly offensive, likely to have earned him a Rat Pack bitch-slap in a bygone era.
9. Nelly & Tim McGraw, "Over and Over": Somewhere out there, somebody thought this was a good idea. It seems almost logical that it could work -- country and pop stars have raked in big bucks in recent years by crossing over, so why not try out a shotgun wedding between country and "Country Grammar"?
Enough people were seeing the dollar signs to convince Tim McGraw and Nelly to try what no one had ever been able to do before: create a country/hip-hop hybrid that wouldn't be played for laughs. Surprise! They failed.
This song contains nothing of what people love about either country or hip-hop. There's no story, no wit and no charm here. It only works as a bizarre pop curiosity, which was apparently enough to take it to the top of the charts in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and the UK in 2004. It wasn't enough, however, to convince me that Tim and Nelly have ever actually met one another in real life.
8. Britney Spears & Madonna, "Me Against the Music": It was supposed to be huge. "Me Against the Music" was put together to capitalize on the heat produced when Brit-Brit and Madonna locked lips at the 2003 VMAs. A sexy dance track with these two should have been a no-brainer, but it came out weird. Britney's doing these half-rapping, half-singing verses, like ""I'm up against the speaker / Trying to take on the music / It's like a competition."
No, a competition would have been cool. Instead, we get Madonna crooning about saving Britney's soul. I assume she got her a Kabbalah bracelet. This major production pairing two megastars was liked well enough to go No. 1 in Denmark. I'm sure that issue of Billboard is framed in Britney's office.
7. Dolly Parton & Sylvester Stallone, "Sweet Lovin' Friends": This duet was recorded for Sly and Dolly's 1984 comedy Rhinestone. It was nominated for "Worst Original Song" at the Razzies that year, but came in runner-up to another song from the film's soundtrack, Stallone's "Drinkenstein." Guess what? He can't sing. Do yourself a favor and put that one in the "skip" category next to Rocky V.
Oh, and skip this one, too -- it sucks.
6. Kelly & Ozzy Osbourne, "Changes": Kelly Osbourne became famous on a reality show, so naturally she had to record an album. Oddly enough, no one wanted to buy it, so somebody had the completely non-obvious idea of having her duet with her rock-icon dad on a rehash of one of his old hits.
Trouble is, "Changes" was a pretty insufferable song even back when Black Sabbath recorded it. It's a power ballad with no power. Kelly, for her part, actually manages to sing worse than her father. The silly altered lyrics ("I love you daddy / But I found my way") didn't help.
Who exactly was supposed to like this song? Teenaged girls? Classic-rock fans? People that watched The Osbournes? Yes, apparently they were all supposed to like this song. But they didn't, because it isn't any good.
5. Aerosmith, N'Sync & Britney Spears, "Walk This Way": Okay, strictly speaking, this isn't a duet, but we're willing to bend the rules to accommodate its offensiveness. The Super Bowl is always a crapshoot as far as the halftime entertainment goes; in 2001, organizers threw up their hands and called everybody they could think of, culminating in this giant free-for-all on Aerosmith's "Walk This Way."
Not invited? Run-DMC. Instead, we get Britney Spears and N'Sync trading verses with a wildly mugging Stephen Tyler. I've heard that their participation spontaneously burned out all remaining 8-track copies of Toys in the Attic, but that's anecdotal. Mary J. Blige also shows up to do basically nothing and Nelly throws in a rap while 100 people run all over the stage. At least there were fireworks.
4. Celine Dion & Anastacia, "You Shook Me All Night Long": You know what really empowers women? Belting out one of the most gleefully sexist songs in rock history! That was apparently the thinking behind this crime against decency from VH1's 2002 Divas Las Vegas special.
The result was embarrassing on a couple of different levels. "You Shook Me All Night Long" is a swollen hard-on translated into the auditory spectrum, yet the mere presence of Celine Dion effortlessly strips the song of its considerable rock and roll mojo. Hearing her swoon about a guy knockin' her out with his American thighs is a little much to take.
Not sure what ever happened to Anastacia, but if I had to guess, she's off doing sit-ups somewhere.
3. Korn & Amy Lee, "Freak on a Leash (Unplugged)": Some bands should just never unplug. Anti-melodic metal bands, for starters. Korn thought they'd give it a go anyway. God bless 'em, they really shouldn't have.
A lot gets lost in the translation of "Freak on a Leash" from nu-metal rager to Middle Eastern-inspired ballad. Namely, the crunch that gives Korn its appeal. Singer Jonathan Davis's trademark scat vocals are ditched in favor of some plaintive warbling from Evanescence front woman Amy Lee. Not really sure which I'd have preferred, honestly. The whole thing is just terminally silly.
This "Unplugged" episode flopped hard and was quickly forgotten by Korn fans. (Not really difficult, when you smoke that much pot.)
2. Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney, "Say, Say, Say": When onetime superstar pals Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney got together to record a duet, it only makes sense that they'd stay as far away as possible from both anthemic pop balladry and danceable R&B. After all, who wants to hear that sort of thing from these two?
Instead, they chose to release this middle-of-the-road piece of '80s pabulum. Seriously, two of the most celebrated pop songwriters in music history, and this is what they come up with?
The inane music video didn't do the song any favors, but nothing could have saved "Say, Say, Say." The track is completely limp from start to finish, and the lyrics are embarrassing. The song is completely unremarkable in every way save for the names attached to it, and no one has ever genuinely enjoyed listening to it even one single time.
1. Mick Jagger & David Bowie, "Dancing in the Streets": Two legends, caught in an androgyny loop, skipping down the street like the biggest geeks in the world wearing the worst '80s fashions ever recorded. That'll be the MTV Generation's enduring image of this duet from 1985.
Dreamed up for Live Aid, it was definitely a rush job: A rough mix of the track was completed in just four hours, at which point the pair went straight out to film a video with director David Mallet. A really, really hilariously dated video that was completed the same day. I like to think they provided their own wardrobe -- this was for charity, after all!
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Needless to say, the song was a hit -- "Dancing in the Streets" always is. But it was just such an excruciatingly self-congratulatory '80s song. The very height of lameness, it's a moment in time both performers probably wish to forget, assuming they remember it.
In a survey conducted by PRS for Music, the song was voted as the top song Brits planned to play at street parties celebrating the Royal Wedding in 2011. That makes me hate it slightly more for some reason.