Grunge

Playlist: Rock Duets

Sometimes a duet is the best thing in the world. Other times, it’s a disaster. But it always leaves memorable stories. There’s something about two huge musicians getting together to create music that’s thrilling and exciting. Pop music is full of countless duets, but they don’t seem as popular for rock music. They certainly exist; they’re just not as abundant as they are in pop music. So let’s look at some of the most notable and popular duets in rock music. For the purpose of this playlist, a duet is a song where both artists have an equal amount of time on the track.

“Close My Eyes Forever” – Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne

This is probably the most famous rock duet. The song, which apparently came about as an accident according to Sharon Osbourne, was the third single for Lita Ford’s self-titled debut album. With sappy lyrics and a blazing guitar solo, it’s no different from the many power ballads of the era. Ozzy’s haunting vocals do add an eerie touch to the song, but it’s still pretty cheesy. Though I love Osbourne, I never liked this song. It’s too slow for my tastes and is just corny. Then again, I’d be hard press to find one power ballad from the 80s I actually like. Still, this single stands out as one of the most notable duets in rock music.

“Love Interruption” – Jack White and Ruby Amanfu

The music world went a little nuts when Jack White announced a solo album only a year after the White Stripes ended. The debut single “Love Interruption” wasn’t what people expected. There were no roaring riffs and White screaming over screeching guitars. Instead, the song is mellow, subdued, and a bit cynical. Though White could’ve easily carried the song himself, the addition of Amanfu’s smoky vocals adds an understated sensuality to the song. Something about her voice adds a raspy, soulful nature that would’ve been missing otherwise. I actually think it’s one of the strongest tracks from Blunderbuss and serves as a reminder love isn’t always pretty.

“Dancing in the Street” – Mick Jagger and David Bowie

Two of music’s iconic artists, what could go wrong? To be fair, the cover itself isn’t that bad. There’s nothing particularly special about it, but it’s fun at least. Yet, the music video will go down in infamy. It’s unbelievably bad. Jagger exaggerates everything from his facial expressions to his seizure inducing dance moves. Bowie remains cool though it looked like he left the house in some wild pajamas. And don’t forget the scene where Jagger chugs down a soda while Bowie sings. It’s probably one of the worst videos of the 80s. Hell, even Family Guy said it was the gayest music video in history. Thinking about it, there are moments where the two singers get a little too close for comfort.

“State of Shock” – Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger shows up again for a better collaboration with Michael Jackson. Recorded for The Jackson’s album Victory, the song is a raucous and kind of spastic team up with the rocker. The song was originally meant to be a duet with Freddie Mercury for the Thriller album, but scheduling conflicts kept the two from working together. Jagger was called instead and it ended up being his biggest hit away from The Rolling Stones. It’s one of those unexpected hits from Jackson’s catalog, but it’s one of the finest examples of pop and rock colliding. Later on, Jackson said he Jagger sang off key, while Jagger called Jackson “lightweight.” Anyone else think the Freddie Mercury version would’ve been epic?

“Good Times” – INXS and Jimmy Barnes

When two talented vocalists come together, they often try to outshine each other. That’s not the case here. For their contribution to The Lost Boys soundtrack, INXS teamed up with singer/songwriter Jimmy Barnes on this cover of The Easybeats song. Michael Hutchences’ smoldering vocals pair exceptionally well with Barnes’ bluesy, rock-tinged voice. They actually work together to give listeners a thrilling experience. The two sharing vocal duties along with the high energy music supporting them, it’s everything you want a good rock rolling song to be. It has a similar good time vibe as Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Listening to Barnes’ vocals, you have to admit it’s reminiscent of rockers, like Robert Plant.

“Hunger Strike” – Temple of the Dog

Temple of the Dog started as a way for Chris Cornell and members of Pearl Jam to deal with the death of Mother Love Bone frontman Andrew Wood. Their debut album did exceptionally well with this song being their biggest hit single. The track features Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder on vocal duties. When two of grunge’s most notable and talented vocalists get together for a song, you know it’s going to be good. And that’s exactly what you get with this powerful, emotionally driven tune. Both artists get time to share their unique vocal styles, Vedder being gruff and raspy and Cornell’s higher range. It results in a song that’s beautiful and haunting.

“Stand by Your Man” – Wendy O. Williams and Lemmy Kilmister

Ever wonder what it would sound like if two punks ripped apart the Tammy Wynette classic “Stand By your Man?” That’s what Wendy O. Williams and Lemmy Kilmister for a single in 1982. The song is almost unrecognizable with gritty, blazing guitars making a ruckus while the two scream out the lyrics over the noise. Oddly enough, it works. It’s one of those weird covers you would never expect two rock legends to even consider. They breathe new sinister life into the country classic that makes you want to head bang. O. Williams and Kilmister teamed up again for “Jailbait,” which appeared on the Plasmatics album Kommander of Kaos. Listening to these two, it’s clear they were truly one of a kind.

“I Ain’t No Nice Guy” – Motorhead and Ozzy Osbourne

When two of hard rock’s most iconic and legendary figures team up, you expect something epic beyond belief. That’s not the result of this duet featuring Lemmy Kilmister and the Prince of Darkness. Rather than getting together for a kickass track that would melt your face off, the two sing a ballad instead. It’s a slow, somber song made for radio airplay. It actually became a huge hit for Motorhead’s tenth album March or Die. It’s a decent song and features a slow burning solo from guitar hero Slash, but it won’t hit that sweet spot for most metalheads. It’s just so unexpected for the rockers. What’s even more surprising is seeing Ozzy with a five o’clock shadow in the video. Yikes.

“A Tout Le Monde” – Megadeth and Christina Scabbia

This song originally appeared on Megadeth’s sixth album Youthanasia and quickly became a staple for the band. At the time of its release, it garnered controversy for its music video. MTV banned it claiming it promoted suicide, which Dave Mustaine was quick to dismiss. The band re-recorded the song in 2007 for the album United Abominations with Christina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil. Aside from some slight alterations, like a faster pace, there;s not much difference aside from Scabbia singing an entire verse showing off her vocal chops. The song keeps its sentimentality intact along with its hard hitting sound and slightly aggressive mood. Many may prefer the original, but this re-recording is a great blend of old school and new school.

“Walk This Way” – Run DMC and Aerosmith

These days the world of rock and rap often combine for both awesome and questionable results. But back in the 80s, the two were seen as exclusive genres that should never cross paths. Run DMC and Aerosmith broke that barrier with this duet. When it was released in 1986 it blew everyone’s collective minds. Not only did Run DMC cover this classic rock track, they even got Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to join them. The song is still amazing to this day and remains one of the best mash-ups ever. It, of course, would go on to inspire other rock/rap collabs, such as Jay-z and Linkin Park (remember when that was a thing?)

“The One You Love to Hate” – Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson

Two heavy metal giants, both who are considered the best vocalists in the genre, team up for this roaring track. Recorded for Halford’s debut album Ressurection, the song features Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson on vocals. You’d expect to be beyond amazing and the most bad ass thing you’ve ever heard. In reality, it’s okay. It feels more like a Dickinson track since his voice overpowers everything and Halford is stuck on back up duty. It’s a pretty standard metal song with soaring vocals, blazing guitars and a lot of aggression. It’s not bad; just not very remarkable.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” – HIM and Sanna-June Hyde

On HIM’s debut album, the band provided a haunting rendition of the Blue Oyster Cult classic. This version brings out all the darkness and grim view that’s implied in the lyrics. And frontman Ville Valo’s baritone vocals provide are a perfect match. Adding some brightness to the track is Finnish actor Sanna-June Hyde. She provided guest vocals for this track and “For You” early in her career. She’s not necessarily the best singer but her voice surprisingly well with Valo’s. There’s also something eerie about their voices. Still one of the best covers of this song.

“Under Pressure” – Queen and David Bowie

The thought of Queen and David Bowie doing a song together sounds like a dream. This amazing collaboration resulted in one of the best songs of the 80s. It’s an undeniable classic; pairing Bowie’s mellow vocals with Freddie Mercury’s dramatic bravado leads to a beautiful sonic experience. And try not to get chills during the bridge when Mercury pleads “Why can’t we give love/give love/give love?” The song became a huge hit for both artists and remains their most notable. Of course, the riff would be stolen by Vanilla Ice in the 90s, who claimed it wasn’t the same song.

Which is your favorite rock duet? Which ones did I miss? Let me know in the comments!

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Above – Mad Season

Release Year: 1995

Rating: 8.5/10

Sometimes an artist gets the urge to do something different that doesn’t necessarily fit in with their established work. This is where side bands come in. Some are amazing. Others are questionable. Layne Staley and members of Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees felt the urge and formed the supergroup Mad Season in 1994. Supergroups pose their own problems, like sounding too much like their main bands. Mad Season ensured this wasn’t an issue with their stellar, diverse debut album Above.

What makes this album remarkable during an era where grunge infiltrated everything is its diversity. Some results are better than others, but this project allowed everyone involved to play with different genres. We hear this right from the beginning with “Wake Up.” It starts with a low, muted bass like its rumbling in your stomach. The rest of the music slowly builds up with a jazzy vibe. As the song gets more intense, the guitar grows bluesy, especially the solo that adds fire to the song. Layne’s vocals are outstanding here. He switches between a haunting croon to intense screaming. Surprisingly, the result is beautiful.

River of Deceit” has a country/folk sound with the prominent acoustic guitar taking over the track. The song is mellow with Layne singing sweetly, but it has some dark connotations. One of the heaviest lines is “My pain is self chosen,” which can be linked to his struggle with drugs. The song is inspired by his personal life and The Prophet by Khalil Graban. It shows how fragile Layne could be at times. “Long Gone Day” is one of the odder moments on the album. The opening bongos, twinkling music, and occasional saxophone makes it sound like a lounge song from the 70s. As the song goes on, the band continues to mix different genres and sounds making it hard to pinpoint. It’s unexpected, even on this album, but it stands out from the other tracks for an unexpected, great song.

The band may play around with sound on the album, but there are more straightforward rock tracks as well. Several of the songs stem from psychedelic rock, like the smug “I’m Above.” Everything here is louder, heavier, and more intense than the previous songs. The most notable element is the thick guitar riff reminiscent of Black Sabbath. “Lifeless Dead” has a similar mood with dirty fuzzy guitars blasting throughout the song. Again, it has that 70’s rock vibe; everything is bigger and better. The dizzying “I Don’t Know Anything” follows a similar vibe as the aforementioned tracks. What makes this song different from the others are Layne’s trance-like vocals and the mechanical pounding near the end. All of these songs are heavy and aggressive enough to fit in on an Alice in Chains record. It serves as a break from the experimentation on the record. It also lets listeners know there were no plans for abandoning their roots.

The last two songs, “November Hotel” and “All Alone,” are atmospheric experiences. The former is completely instrumental. It has soft, mellow music with thumping percussion adding a rumbling beat. This is broken up with ambient noises that sound like a cold wind blowing. Midway through everything explodes and turns into a psychedelic jam session. It constantly shifts moods and sounds before coming back to its mellow music. It’s a strange musical roller coaster. “All Alone” has very few vocals and what sounds like a pulsing organ. The light, ethereal structure of the song and Layne crooning “We’re all alone” makes it sound like an otherworldly hymn. It’s a fitting, yet somber way to end the album.

Above is a great record because of its diversity. These are all musicians known for their work in grunge music. This band gave them the opportunity to go outside of their comfort zone and do something else. And it showed they could do more than play fuzzy guitars and scream. The integration of blues, jazz, and psychedelic rock make for an album that’s exciting, but mellow. There are times when they let aggression through, but for the most part, it’s a slower, emotional record. Staley also shows immense talent both as a songwriter and a vocalist. Though his work has seen more appreciation over the years, he still seems to be overshadowed by a certain grunge artist. The album is a gem from the 90s you should check out, especially if you’re an Alice in Chains fan.

The Crow: City of Angels OST

Release Year: 1996

Rating: 5.5/10

The soundtrack for the first Crow movie is often hailed as one of the best of not only the 90s, but of all time. It had big name artists from the grunge, rock, and alternative world who knew how to recreate the darkness of the film in music. The same can’t be said about its sequel. The movie was nowhere as good or riveting as the original and the soundtrack matches. With a less than stellar line up and songs that are just meh, it can’t even compare to the previous LP.

Part of what made the first soundtrack great were contributions from The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Rage Against the Machine to name a few. If you were hoping for artists of that caliber this time around, then you’ll be disappointed. There are a couple of well known acts, but it’s not enough to save this compilation. Hole’s cover of “Gold Dust Woman” isn’t bad, but as someone who’s not a fan of Hole, it didn’t do much for me. White Zombie’s “I’m Your Boogieman” is one of the standout tracks. Zombie and friends take this lame KC and the Sunshine band song and turn it into something groovy, yet spooky. Rather than waxing about a DJ who gets people dancing, Zombie talks about the Boogieman of your nightmares.

From there the songs aren’t bad, but fade into the background especially if you don’t like the artist. Filter’s “Jurassitol” has a cool opening bass line, but otherwise sounds like a mediocre grunge track. PJ Harvey’s “Naked Cousin” is interesting with its hard gritty vocals, but again doesn’t really do much, at least not for me. At least it’s more memorable than Bush’s cover of the Joy Division track “In a Lonely Place.” It starts off pretty good with the subdued, creepy music, but Gavin Bush’s vocals really kill the track. He’s too quiet and raspy for this type of song. He’s obviously trying to recreate the unnerving feel of the original, but misses the mark. While listening to it, I wished it was the actual Joy Division track the entire time.

Then there are the rap songs. I have nothing against rap and I actually like it when it’s good, but here it feels out of place. The previous soundtrack didn’t have any hip hop tracks; the closest it got was the contribution from Rage Against the Machine. The tracks “Tonight is a Special Night” and the closing number “City of Angels” stick out so bad it feels like a different record. The latter song is especially bad because it was written specially for the movie and has the lamest references jammed in there. Just look at this eye-rolling lyric: “I’m gonna revenge myself/like the crow.” Just in case you forgot what movie this was, Above the Law are going to remind you. And the song doesn’t get any better from there. It’s like one of those theme songs that tries to tell the story of the TV show. Maybe if the rap contributions were actually good it wouldn’t be so bad, but we’re stuck with some pretty shitty songs.

When you’re not listening to sloppy rap songs, you’re hearing second rate grunge acts. When the LP was released in 1996, the grunge phenomenon was pretty much over. The composers of this LP didn’t get the memo and gathered up bands who were still pushing out the music. Again, if the songs were actually any good, who cares what genre it falls in. But all these songs blend together making them forgettable. “Spit” by NY Loose (remember them? Neither do I) isn’t terrible, but ends up sounding like a Hole song, Seven Mary Three’s “Shelf Life” gets boring after the first verse, the Toadies’ “Paper Dress” has the same crunchy guitars and disinterested vocals. “Teething” by Deftones isn’t bad, but it’s definitely one of their rougher songs and sounds a bit disjointed.

One the surprising stand out tracks is “Knock Me Out” by Linda Perry and Grace Slick. The song is really slow and somber, but it’s Perry’s smokey vocals that really makes it come alive. She sounds so lovelorn and distraught as she’s singing. Then comes Grace Slick who has so much fire behind her voice. When put together, they have some of the most powerful harmonies. Their singing matched with the depressing music is enough to make you shed tears. It’s a shame that it’s buried on the album and should’ve been up way higher.

This soundtrack is nowhere near as good as the previous one. There are a couple of decent songs, but most of them are dull, mediocre, and sound too similar to one another. The LP feels disjointed at times especially when it comes to the rap tracks. They’re stuck in the middle and the end of the record which has established itself as being primarily alternative rock oriented. This one didn’t have as many heavy hitting musicians, but the previous entry had its share of unknowns as well. The difference is those bands that you didn’t recognize actually had good fucking songs. Here, they’re just okay. You don’t mind hearing them, but you wouldn’t want to hear them again. For the first soundtrack, every song felt like it belonged. Here, most of it felt like filler with a few stand out tracks. It’s best to steer away from this one.

Worst Album of 2015

Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings

Montage of Heck was both one of the best and worst things about 2015. The movie was an intimate look at Kurt Cobain and though it may have fudged some things and didn’t really give fans anything new, it finally felt like we had our essential movie about the late rock star. Then comes the soundtrack that shat over all the good the film did. Fans were disgusted with the content and cried exploitation. Look, Cobain has been exploited since his death and we probably should’ve been outraged a long time ago. But that doesn’t stop the soundtrack from being a poor excuse for raking in money.

Out of everything I listened to this year, this soundtrack was the only one I got absolutely no enjoyment from. I wasn’t even halfway through the album before I got bored and wanted to turn it off. As I pointed out in my review, the biggest problem is without Cobain’s perspective the recordings feel pointless and random. There were times where it sounded like my ears were being tortured with all the weird samples, distorted vocals, and various screams. The album was so bad that as a Nirvana collector I refused to buy it. Yes, I still want it for collecting purposes but I don’t want to pay more than 2 bucks. And since the LP only sold 5,000 copies in its first week I’m sure it’ll pop up in bargain bins soon.

The biggest issue with the album is these recordings meant something to Cobain, but they mean very little to listeners. Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings was a poor way to show Cobain’s genius or whatever shit Brett Morgen was spouting. The saddest part about this whole thing was how Cobain had no say over the release. It’s not his fault the record is shitty, but rather the fault of Morgen and his estate for giving it the green light. As many critics pointed out, there isn’t anything new to say about Cobain, so maybe it is time to stop talking about him.

Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 4/10

One of the biggest events of the year was the premiere of what was to be the essential Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck. As expected, the film was well received, though a few have since come out against it. With daughter Frances Bean Cobain in the producer’s chair, the film provided an intimate, respectful, and deep look into the man that was Kurt Cobain. The companion soundtrack takes everything the movie did so well and shits all over it. There’s no question that Cobain’s life has been exploited and romanticized for years and this so called soundtrack is one of the worst of the bunch.

The album culls 13 (or 31 if you shelled out $127) tracks of demos, sound experiments, and recordings from the former Nirvana frontman. And right from the opening track “The Yodel Song,” which features Cobain wailing over harsh music, you’re not sure where the album is going. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better from there. When I got to the middle of the record I knew I would never listen to any of this again. Most of the recordings are jarring with distorted samples, screaming, and toilet noises that all seem random to listeners, but clearly meant something to Cobain. And this is where the problem lies.

These are all ideas Cobain had for potential projects at one point in his life, but very few of them are complete. You can hear hints of later Nirvana songs in tracks like “You Can’t Change Me/Burn my Britches/Something in the Way” and “Been a Son” demo, but most of them feel pointless. You’ll ask yourself “Why I’m I listening to this?” before the album is even over. Most of the songs don’t even have lyrics and we get to hear Cobain mumble his way through them. The only worth while track is the Beatles cover “And I Love Her,” which is pretty haunting. To us these snippets don’t mean much as there isn’t much to cull from them, but at one point Cobain saw something from them, but decided to not release them. And that was probably for the better.

Fans aren’t missing out on anything exclusive or rare here. There isn’t a deep cut that should’ve made one of their albums. A lot of it just sounds like unnecessary noise and instrumentals that are interesting for one listen, but wouldn’t survive a second go round. The only track I remember is “Clean Up Before She Comes” and that’s only because he’s interrupted by a quick phone call. What are fans supposed to get from these recordings? His genius? How talented of a musician he was? We already know this via the music he released during his lifetime. And like all rough drafts, these recordings aren’t necessarily Cobain’s finest. There’s a reason writers don’t rely on their first drafts for stories; they often suck and are embarrassing. None of these songs sound that good. It felt like torture getting through the entire LP at times.

This isn’t an album you’ll play repeatedly, once a month, or even once a year. It’s something you put on your shelf with other post-humorous Nirvana releases and endless books. Everything about the album feels random and you’ll begin to question why you’re even listening to it. We all know why Kurt Cobain was such a talented man, we don’t need some slapped together cash cow to try and tell us why we should remember him. If you don’t care about having everything Nirvana has ever released, then it’s best to stick with the movie and pretend like Brett Morgan didn’t rummage through an old box of tapes and put them together for this so called album.