5 Insane Music Collaborations (That Almost Happened)
If you're even just a casual music fan, chances are you have some dream pairing of musicians whom you'd like to see work together. Maybe it's something impossible, like hearing Elvis sing that song Bruce Springsteen wrote for him back in the '70s. Maybe it's something awful, like hoping Brad Paisley and LL Cool J team up for an "Accidental Racist" sequel. Ideally, it's not that, but still, to each their own. We talk about a few of the music collaborations we'd most like to see on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by musician Danger Van Gorder from the band Countless Thousands, and Cracked art expert Randall Maynard from the internet comedy website Cracked. As for this week's column, instead of dreaming about stuff I'd like to see, I'll mourn the loss of a few epic collaborations that very nearly happened, but ultimately never did.
N.W.A. Almost Reunited In The Early 2000s (With Snoop Dogg Replacing Eazy-E)
Right off the bat, I'd sincerely like to apologize in advance for spoiling whatever installment of the Straight Outta Compton franchise covers this era of the N.W.A. saga years from now.
With that disclaimer having cleared my conscience, let me throw another spoiler your way, assuming you're one of the dozens of people who still haven't seen the movie. In one especially moving scene, we learn that, prior to the untimely death of Eazy-E, "the world's most dangerous group" was planning a reunion album. Unfortunately, that never happened, and in the strictest of terms, it never will, seeing as how Eazy-E isn't around anymore.
However, an N.W.A. reunion of sorts did almost happen around the turn of the millennium, and, quite awesomely, it would've included Dr. Dre protege Snoop Dogg filling the hole created by Eazy-E's absence. Even better, when I say the reunion almost happened, what I really mean is that it totally did ...
... we just never got an entire album from it. The song above was featured on the soundtrack to the 2000 film Next Friday, so imagine my surprise if you were to tell me it somehow wasn't on your radar. Another song, simply titled "Hello," surfaced on Ice Cube's War & Peace Vol. 2 the same year.
Again, how could you miss it?
While it wouldn't have been a full-on N.W.A. reunion, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre teased the idea of a joint album called Heltah Skeltah for a few years in the mid-'90s, going so far as to release a single that appeared on the Murder Was The Case soundtrack. There's even an official video ...
... complete with that obligatory movie wraparound bullshit that every big-budget rap video loved to use back then.
The best way to improve a great song is with three extra minutes of scripted dialogue.
Unfortunately, that album never materialized either.
In 2002, Dre put the definitive kibosh on any hopes for an N.W.A reunion during an interview with MTV. It's hard to say if the renewed interest in the group's music brought on by the success of Straight Outta Compton will have any bearing on that, but even if it does, given Dre's usual release schedule, expect several years and several generations of Beats by Dre headphones to come and go before we ever get a chance to hear it.
Michael Jackson's "Bad" Was Almost A Duet With Prince
Prince and Michael Jackson had a strange relationship. They were constantly compared to each other, especially when they were both at the height of their powers during the Purple Rain/Thriller years. Understandably enough, this led to a rivalry that was still simmering as late as 2003, when Prince said this on the song "Life O' The Party" from Musicology:
That said, it was a playful sort of rivalry, the kind that involves overly intense ping pong matches and allegations that Prince played the bass in Jackson's face once just to annoy him. So it shouldn't come as too huge of a surprise that their competitive spirits didn't keep the two from considering working together on a few different occasions.
The most famous near-collaboration would've seen them teaming up on the lead single and title track of Jackson's Bad.
In classic Prince fashion, he backed out because of just one lyric. Specifically, he refused to be party to letting Jackson sing the opening line, "Your butt is mine," in his direction. Or as he explained it in an interview with Chris Rock:
Now all I can think about is Prince starring in the Blade franchise.
In case you're unsure, the "Wesley Snipes character" in question is the one Jackson shouts "You ain't bad, you ain't nothin'!" at in the beginning of the extended version of the video. The character's name is "Mini Max." Prince was 5'2". Like I said, a playful rivalry!
Interestingly enough, this wasn't the first or last time the pair came close to working together. Another high-profile collabortunity (yep) came in the form of the in-hindsight-super-duper-obnoxious charity single "We Are The World."
Prince was asked to be a part of the song but politely declined. Before you get too huffy about him shooting down an organization as benevolent as USA for Africa, please keep in mind that he made it up to them by writing an entire song instead.
A significantly less corny song, no less.
When people called him an asshole for "not participating" anyway, he wrote a song ("Hello") about how they should shut right the hell up because, again, he wrote an entire song for charity. Awesomely, the chorus features Prince assuring the world that he and the Revolution are "against hungry children." He actually had to tell people he wasn't cool with kids starving to death, solely because he didn't want to stand between Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen while singing a Michael Jackson song. The '80s were amazing.
We missed out on our last opportunity for cooperative jamming when Jackson was working on HIStory. He was pulling no punches when it came to budget ...
Money well spent?
... so getting Prince in line probably seemed realistic. Unfortunately, despite meeting to discuss the matter, no music was ever recorded. I'm assuming Prince backed out because HIStory was overrated garbage.
Michael Stipe Tried To Save Kurt Cobain (By Recording With Him)
Depending on whom you believe, during his last few months alive, Kurt Cobain was either very obviously suicidal and eventually acted on it, or completely happy and optimistic about the future until he was blindside-murdered by his movie villain of a wife.
Either way, "Celebrity Skin" is a pretty great song.
For our purposes here today, your opinion on the matter doesn't matter at all. The only thing you need to know is that R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe definitely identified with the former feeling. So much so, in fact, that in the weeks prior to Cobain's death, he launched one of the most potentially amazing intervention strategies ever. Rather than read Cobain letters from concerned family members, Stipe booked studio time and mailed him a plane ticket so the two could record together.
If that seems like a weird gesture, understand that it really is not. Cobain idolized Stipe and R.E.M. Their influence on his work was such that it prompted legendarily cranky music producer Steve Albini to call Nirvana "R.E.M. with a fuzzbox."
He wasn't entirely wrong.
There was an R.E.M. album in Cobain's CD player at the time of his death. If any musician could've said something that mattered at the time, Michael Stipe was probably the one.
Unfortunately, according to Stipe, when the driver showed up to take Cobain to the airport, the Nirvana frontman nailed the plane ticket to the wall and refused to come out. The rest is unspeakably sad history.
On the bright side, there's another interesting (and super creepy) Cobain collaboration that went far enough to be recorded, even if it was never officially released. Courtney Love's band, Hole, released their finest work one short week after her husband's death. It was an album called Live Through This, and at one point, the song that the album title comes from, "Asking For It," was meant to be a duet with Cobain. That version exists and is readily available online.
I'm not 100 percent sure why it was cut from Hole, but seeing as how Cobain's contributions mostly amount to moaning "If you live through this, I swear I will die for you" at the end of the song, it was probably the best thing for the music-buying public's psyche at the time.
Jay Z, Notorious B.I.G., And Diddy Were Going To Be A Super Group Called "The Commission"
So-called "super groups" always look great on paper. A collective of music's biggest names converging on the same studio to work on the same thing? What could go wrong? Well, a lot tends to go wrong in those situations. Super groups almost never work as well as you'd hope. If you're a rap fan who was alive and well in the '90s, you almost certainly remember that time Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown, and Cormega formed a super group called The Firm. It was an exciting time, right up to the point where we realized that song they did with the woman from En Vogue ...
... and the song Dr. Dre produced ...
... would be the only legitimately interesting things they were ever going to do. Their collaboration was completely unremarkable otherwise.
However, there was another rap super group rumored to be in the works around that same time which most likely would've produced something way more memorable. The group, called The Commission, would've consisted of Jay Z, Notorious B.I.G., Diddy, and a female rapper named Charlie Baltimore.
You remember Charlie Baltimore, right? Ha! I know you don't. I also accept that having Diddy in the fold would've been more of a distraction than anything. Still, the pairing of Notorious B.I.G and Jay Z would've been an exciting moment in music history. If you have to ask why it never happened, you clearly don't know much about said history.
However, evidence does exist which proves the idea was real and gives some insight into what the finished product might have sounded like. Notorious B.I.G. didn't leave behind much in the way of unreleased music, but what did remain was scraped together and released on the 2005 album Duets: The Final Chapter. The song "Whatchu Want" features Jay Z and Diddy ...
... who both reference "The Commission" several times during their respective parts of the song. I suppose it's possible that they were strictly referring to the governing body that ruled over the New York and Chicago crime families in the 1930s, but you'd have to admit that would be a gigantic coincidence.
The Beatles Almost Reunited In The '70s (At Least Once)
Almost as soon as Paul McCartney broke up the Beatles in 1970, disappointed fans started clamoring for a reunion. It never happened ... depending on who you believe.
In 2003, an online auction house came forth to dispute the accepted story that the Beatles never got back together, and they were putting the proof up for sale. The item up for bids was an Ampex tape box, dated 11-2-76, that listed five song titles, along with the names of the performers: John, Paul, George and ... Rich? Yeah, Rich! That was his real name! Close enough! This was it! Hard evidence that the Beatles at least tried to get back together!
God is real!
So, what about those song titles? They were as follows:
"Rockin' Once Again"
"People Of the World"
What did those songs sound like? Well, that's where the problems start. According to the people selling the tape, the sessions devolved into a huge fight among the band, prompting all involved to agree that the reunion was a bad idea and that the songs should be deleted. With that, the tape was erased. It was now blank. They were auctioning off a blank tape. Still, if it was authentic, any Beatles fan with thousands of disposable dollars on hand would probably throw Ringo from a moving vehicle for the chance to own it.
Or just for fun.
Unfortunately, the studio owner whom the auction site claimed could verify all the details of their story actually came out and said they were incorrect, as did everyone involved with the Beatles at the time. The people running the auction said they expected denials from the Beatles' representatives and stood by the authenticity of the tape.
Regardless of whether that tape is real or not, it was indeed revealed a few years later that the Beatles very much considered reuniting in 1976. That year, a music promoter named Sid Bernstein offered the band $230 million dollars (remember, this was 40 years ago, that's a shit-ton of money) if they'd just do one charity concert. The band declined, but in a 2007 interview, Paul McCartney confirmed that, behind closed doors, they came close to accepting the offer. So it's not that insane to think that maybe all that time together compelled them to take a shot at going back in the studio.
Sir Paul isn't the only one who's claimed the Beatles were on the verge of a reunion in the '70s. May Pang, the woman who temporarily Yoko Ono'd Yoko Ono's relationship with John Lennon ...
He definitely had a type.
... said during a radio interview that the band considered gathering in Upstate New York (gross) in 1974 to record new music.
Of course, none of this ever came to pass, and the chances of any real reunion ever happening dried up for good when Lennon was murdered in 1980. Even if they had reunited at some point before then, there's no guarantee that the music they would've come up with would live up to the standards set by their previous work. I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm glad the Beatles never reunited. If there's one thing that truly sets them apart from the other great bands in history they're often compared to ...
... it's that they knew when it was time to call it quits.
Adam is on Twitter, and you should be, too! Follow him there @adamtodbrown.
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