It’s hard to explain. Even if the musical arrangement is perfect, and the first vocalist is spot-on, a second vocalist is too much for me. I can’t process the sudden distraction of a singer appearing out of nowhere, grabbing the mic, and interrupting a good thing. It’s too Kanye-West-Imma-Let-You-Finish for my taste, and I seriously cannot take it.
Plus, more often than not, a duet is attached to some sort of melodramatic love story. Trust me, I’m a sucker for a good love song. But two people singing about love to each other? Preposterous. Get a room, already.
Do me a favor. Don’t admit that your favorite song is “Islands in the Stream,” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, or I will judge you for that, and I won’t judge kindly.
Here’s why I’m wasting your time with this issue: While baking Christmas cookies on Saturday night, this track popped up on Pandora’s Christmas channel…
David Bowie/ Bing Crosby – Little Drummer Boy
For the record: I dig Bowie—including the Ziggy Stardust years—so I swallowed my loathing for vocal duets and listened intently. Truly, I gave it the old college try.
As my colleague Jim said, “You can even see how uncomfortable it is on the video.”
He’s right. And so I got angry.
“This will not stand,” I thought. “I must do my part. I must forge a campaign to make sure this kind of travesty never, ever happens again.”
That’s why I’m here. I’m here for the cause.
There’s not much I need to say to state my case. I’ll let Exhibits A-C speak for themselves.
Magnet featuring Gemma Hayes – Lay Lady Lay
GB has a great recording of the Bob Dylan original. It’s saved on his Sirius satellite radio, and I think I love it because of how the DJ introduces it: “And now: The sound of Bob Dylan trying to get laid.”
But this version? I can’t…I don’t… (Sigh.) I’m just speechless.
I like Magnet’s contribution to the project. But what’s this Gemma Hayes business? What a quick way to ruin a really great rendition.
Bob. How could they do this to you.
Jesse Malin/Bruce Springsteen – Broken Radio
Funny thing about GB—he knows my hatred for vocal duets, and so he has started to collect them.
The first time he played this track for me, he grinned the whole way through my horrified, confounded reaction.
When Jesse Malin kicks off the first verse, you think, “Meh. Let’s change the station.”
But then? Out of nowhere? The Boss! And he’s perfect. He sings, and you don’t want him to stop. But more importantly, you pray to all things holy that Jesse won’t grab the mic again.
When he does, you’re left with no choice but to question right from wrong, up from down, and the whole sorry state of the universe.
Wyclef Jean/Maxi Pries – Wild World
This is my very favorite example of musical collaboration gone wrong. Again, it’s part of the GB collection.
“You’ve got to hear this,” he said when he first found the track. “I like Wyclef, but what is he trying to do here?”
It begins with Wyclef setting the scene. I’m thankful for that, or I would never have figured it out for myself:
[Wyclef]: Wyclef is sitting here playing the guitar/Rhyming with Maxi Pries/Maxi Pries you need to tell her a-geh-hen.”
[Maxi]: Don’t go…
[Wyclef]: Tell her, Maxi…
[Maxi]: Don’t go…
[Wyclef]: Tell her …
Oh, friends. It gets worse. So much worse.
[Maxi]: Oooo, baby, baby it’s a wild world…
[Wyclef]: Oh ho ho ho ho ho ho
[Maxi]: It’s hard to get by just upon a smile girl
Honestly, it’s absurd.
I want to call Wyclef. Text him. Tap him on the back and say ruefully, “Wyclef. What exactly is your goal? Just what do you want to accomplish with this?”
I tell you, it’s more tragic than the Rob Thomas/Carlos Santana catastrophe of 1999.
Granted, I will make concessions. Take this track, for example.
Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
As much as I want to protest this song in theory, I can’t because it’s fantastic.
But the rest? I’ll insist that a boycott is in order. If you doubt me at all, allow me to remind you of this:
Frank Sinatra & Bono – I’ve Got You Under My Skin
Bono. You know I love you. But it should not be like this. No, never like this.
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