The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Feature: Smooth Criminals

Tom Ingham takes a look at some of the worst musical atrocities and collaborations over the years – contains some strong language.


“Is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins, is it better to burn out or fade away?” – Ah, the immortal words uttered by Jack Black in the film adaption of Nick Hornby’s classic novel High Fidelity. Music snobbery isn’t a crime, it’s a sign of commitment – no self-respecting Pink Floyd fan claims ‘Another Brick In the Wall pt.2” is their favourite track, it’s just not the done thing.

Teen pin-up turned slimly sexbot Miley Cyrus has taken a load (no pun intended) of rather patronising advice from the likes of Sinead O’Connor over the last few weeks regarding her change in ‘direction’. Unless you ask highly tanned 13 year old girls, Cyrus’ transition hardly tarnishes a respectable body of work, if anything it’s an acceptance of what she’s been all along – an image. Even Macca stuck up for the former Disney sweetheart, and he’s been dead for 47 years (a rumour that becomes more believable when you look back over his Jubilee performance last year).

I have no qualms over the sexualisation of a once innocent pop star, the real crimes lie with the big boys. Picking up from where High Fidelity left off, let’s look at Stevie Wonder. A bona fide soul legend that out of blind senselessness put his name to atrocities like the “sentimental, tacky crap” that is ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ and the truly woeful ‘Ebony and Ivory’ (which in my opinion is actually worse than racism). But, in his defence 1980’s Hotter Than July does somewhat help to compensate for his otherwise questionable 80’s output.

Switching from the mostly credible to the never, ladies and gentlemen I present the seven armed stadium monsters, Def Leppard. Despite Vivian Campbell’s work with Dio, the Sheffield bunch are all doomed to rot in eternity for their collaboration with the new Queen of pop, Taylor Swift. Surprisingly, the gig itself is pretty awesome for the most part with Swift getting all gnarly and bringing some life to pretty sterile tracks like ‘When Love and Hate Collide’. It all falls apart however when we see Joe Elliott bash out a cringe worthy and totally unconvincing verse from ‘Love Story’, just why Joe, why?

Not all ‘bad’ collaborations are necessarily ‘bad things’, some are actually quite courageous and realise Frankenstein-like creations that we could only have ever dreamed of.  Who really though in their own mind that Lou Reed fronting Metallica would ever lead to anything remotely listenable, apart from Lars that is. No, it’s Lou Reed up to his old tricks, shocking fans and asking them to question what they actually want from artists. Following the revered Transformer with Berlin and then two years later releasing Metal Machine Music gives me the upmost respect for the man, Lou’s no one’s bitch.

It seems the 80’s are a particularly problematic period, even when the collaborators are individually uber cool, disaster sometimes can’t be averted. Mick Jagger and David Bowie tackling a Motown classic, on any other day a winning formula but somehow they managed to fuck it up royally. Not only does the video make Bowie look like a cheap cabaret act, but he played a throwaway, background part vocally – nevertheless his names all over that baby, nowhere to run Dave!

Not all crimes are easy to spot though, some are more subtle. It’s hard not to become complacent when you’re audience is established and safe, even pioneers begin to stagnate. Morrissey’s most recent material for instance has failed to garner major label backing, not because it’s crap but because we’ve heard it all before. Forget ‘People Are the Same Everywhere’ Mozza needs a Lulu, something to shake it up; the autobiography might have to do for now.

The examples we’ve seen all far have all specifically concerned musical output, however last in the crosshairs is the worst of the lot. We’re talking about the crazy eyed, greedy old bastard – Mick Fleetwood. The Mac (Buckingham and Nicks era) are quality, no getting away from that, but when you spend your days vegetating on a Hawaiian island how much more money do you need? It’s a shame because I know plenty of fans who would love to see the band in a live arena but refused to pay the ridiculous £125 plus booking fee in some instances. For that money I’d want to hear Rumours and Tusk in their entirety, even then I’d want some change for the bar.

It’s easy to bash the biggies, anyone can call Led Zeppelin’s Live Aid performance but I think it’s important to bear in mind the wrongdoings of the elite when we come to judge the likes of Miley Cyrus. Musicians are prone to mistakes like the rest of us, and it’s often a joy to watch the horror unfold, but when you’re covering the bills for Stevie Nick’s Botox, you have to draw the line.