From Justin’n’Ed to Jagger’n’Bowie – a short history of musical super-duos

Sheeran'n'Biebz aren't the first famous pair of solo artists to spot an auspicious moment, writes Malcolm Jack

Like the outstretched digits of Adam and God in Michelangelo’s famous fresco, after reaching out to one another for so long the epic forces of Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber have finally, inevitably met on the duet I Don’t Care. In which our heroes sing about being at some stuffy buttoned-up party, feeling awkward, until a special lady takes them by the hand and makes everything OK. The true subtext of which is plain to read: say what you like about these two fun-lovin’ young bajillionaires teaming up to string together some throwaway summertime goofy tropical pop nonsense just for the laughs and the buck, they literally do not care. As the streaming counts smash records like plates at a Greek wedding, partners in bumfluff Ed’n’Biebz’ laissez-faire attitude to life and music is handsomely rewarded.

But look, kids – gather round and let your old dad teach you something: biblically large meetings of pairs of solo stars at the peak of their respective powers, let’s call them super-duos, are no new thing. Far from it in fact – be it Elvis singing with Sinatra or when Placido Domingo serenaded Miss Piggy, the super-duo is in fact an established trope of any bank balance-respecting hit musician’s rum years. The results can dazzle like fire meeting ice, like superheroes allied, like gourmet food paired with the finest of wines. Or they can just be really bad.

Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash – Girl from the North Country, 1969

The folk Judas and the Man in Black were good friends for 40 years, but only once ever appeared on record together (although they recorded 15 songs in two days, which are readily available on bootlegs) – on a reworking of Dylan’s tender country ode to an estranged lover, which opened his 1969 album Nashville Skyline. Loose and unrehearsed, the timing is off and their harmonies are ropey. And yet it feels just perfect, like lightning in a jar. They sang it live together in a cheesy ersatz living room on The Johnny Cash Show a few months later – Dylan looking plainly nervous in the presence of his idol.

Mick Jagger and David Bowie – Dancing in the Street, 1985

Doing nothing to dispel rumours that the pair of them had been closet lovers for years, rubber-legged Rolling Stone Mick and the Thin White Spider from Mars finally officially got it together (in song), with a happy-go-lucky cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ Motown ode to shaking the

block. To appreciate the full ridiculousness of these two partnering in their loose-fitting, pastely suited Eighties pomp, see a YouTube parody of the video in the hilarious Musicless Music Video series, as the pair fart around karate-kicking and burping.

Aretha Franklin and George Michael – I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), 1987

“We were drawn together through destiny, ooh boy, ooh!” sang Aretha in this most Eighties-sounding of big belting reverb-soaked duets by a pair of dearly departed legends, and she wasn’t wrong. A knighthood in song from the Queen of Soul got Michael’s solo career off to a flyer, while even for Aretha it proved a smash – becoming her biggest-ever US hit and her first and only UK chart-topper. Michael’s most vivid memory shared years later of being in the studio with Franklin? “She can get through a rack of ribs like a machine!”

Glenn and Chris – Diamond Lights, 1987

Chris Waddle’s “I’d rather be doing literally anything but this” dancing least of all, there was nothing super about this footballing duo’s mercifully brief pop career. But as an attacking partnership at least, Hods and Wads were top of the pops in 1987 – banging them in for both Spurs and England. A number 12 UK hit, and of the weirder forays into music by sports people, Diamond Lights is a quasi-industrial electro-rock number that’s less laughable than it is amazingly boring. Hoddle seemed to be enjoying himself, at least.

Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue – Where the Wild Roses Grow, 1995

It’d be wrong to call it a marriage of convenience – surprising as it may have seemed back then, Cave had wanted to work with Minogue for years – but there’s no doubt that this unholy union in Nancy and Lee-esque murder balladry between two Australians of very different musical backgrounds served both of them well. It gave Cave his biggest-ever chart hit, while for ex-soap star Minogue it did much to help her rebrand from a Stock, Aitken and Waterman pop lightweight into a singer of some real substance. The have performed it live together on just a handful of occasions, most recently at Cave’s All Points East show in London last year.

Ed Sheeran’s collaborations album No.6 is released on July 12