The King of Pop was never very good at sharing his throne.
For all the magic that Michael Jackson produced as a solo artist, his track record as a duetting artist is pretty poor — and it wasn’t helped last week by the newly unveiled Freddie Mercury collaboration “There Must Be More to Life Than This.” The sappy ballad, which originated from a demo dating back to the early 1980s, was finished off by the remaining members of Queen and producer William Orbit.
Sure, Michael’s duet with sister Janet on 1995’s “Scream” had some bite, and the dramatic “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” with Siedah Garrett was a standout track from his 1987 “Bad” album — but for the most part, Jackson’s solo career was peppered with bad collaborations. Here are eight of the worst.
‘The Girl Is Mine’ (with Paul McCartney, 1982)
Just as Jackson was reaching the peak of his career, he became best buds with Paul McCartney, but in the recording studio, they managed to bring the worst out of each other, starting with this soft-rock single from “Thriller.”
It was an embarrassment from start to finish, and the section in which they try to talk smack at each other was particularly unbearable.
‘Say Say Say’ (with Paul McCartney, 1983)
The match made in hell continued when Jacko returned the favor by duetting with Macca on his “Pipes of Peace” album, which contained this spineless piece of R&B.
‘The Man’ (with Paul McCartney, 1983)
A trio of awful tracks was completed by “Pipes of Peace” cut “The Man” — another slab of limp balladry. This one was not released as a single, so we should all be thankful for small mercies.
‘State of Shock’ (with Mick Jagger, 1984)
This single actually stemmed from the same Jackson/Freddie Mercury writing sessions that spawned Friday’s “There Must Be More to Life Than This.” But Michael must have known it was a stinker: He wisely recorded it with the Jacksons as a group (for their album “Victory”), enlisting Jagger — hungry for Jackson-esque success — to collaborate.
‘Just Good Friends’ (with Stevie Wonder, 1987)
It should have been a titanic meeting of talent, but in the end, hearing Jacko and Stevie team up on “Just Good Friends” didn’t quite live up to the billing. At best, it was a passable song among the otherwise excellent material on the “Bad” album.
‘Whatzupwitu?’ (with Eddie Murphy, 1993)
Eddie Murphy has made some embarrassing films throughout his career (“Norbit,” anyone?), but this early ’90s track ranked higher than any of his movie calamities.
Jackson at least sang his vocal part with some verve, but the vague environmental preaching of “Whatzupwitu?” was so astonishingly bad that not even he could save it. And that video . . . wow.
‘Why?’ (with 3T, 1996)
Although ’90s R&B is now treated as a golden age of the genre, it wasn’t all so memorable. 3T comprises Tito Jackson’s sons, and for a while, their brand of drippy harmonizing was mildly popular, especially in the UK.
Uncle Michael also lent a hand on this nauseating ballad — and frankly, made them sound even worse by asking laughably redundant questions such as, “Why does Monday come before Tuesday?”
‘Love Never Felt So Good’ (with Justin Timberlake, 2014)
The wholesale raiding of Michael Jackson’s archive material began this year with the release of “Xscape,” which offered spruced-up versions of tracks the singer had shelved — and usually for good reason.
This lightweight disco “collaboration” with Justin Timberlake was the first single, but Jackson can’t take any blame for this one: After all, he didn’t know anything about it.
Long lost Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson duet released
The voices of Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury together will be heard for the first time this year as Queen trawl through their back catalogue and unreleased studio tapes.
The song There Must Be More To Life Than This, with vocals by Mercury and Jackson, will be released on a Queen hits and rarities collection in a version which mixes original recordings with modern production (by noted studio wizard William Orbit), much in the manner of the recent Michael Jackson release Xscape. The Jackson/Mercury duet is one of three Mercury songs in the collection.
That Jackson album had songs which were partially recorded through the 1980s and 1990s and given contemporary sound treatments by a number of producers. It was controversial for its appropriation of material which, in theory, Jackson had not considered good enough to release at the time.
There Must Be More To Life Than This was recorded between 1981 and 1984, but never completed. Begun as a Queen track (written by Mercury for the 1981 album Hot Space) the song didn’t have a completed vocal initially and Mercury took the instrumental version to Jackson’s home studio in Los Angeles and recorded his vocals.
The song remained unfinished three years later when Queen were preparing their album, The Works, though Mercury put out his own version on his 1985 solo debut Mr Bad Guy.
No more was heard of the track in the next three decades, during which both Mercury and Jackson died and Queen for a while became better known for the jukebox musical based on their songs, We Will Rock You.
However, the remaining active members of Queen, Roger Taylor and Brian May – who have been touring, including in Australia this year, without bassist John Deacon but with Adam Lambert filling in for Mercury – asked Orbit to fashion a final version of the Mercury/Jackson song.
Early reactions from fans of both artists seem positive, with declarations of “too much awesome in one place”, “heart skips a beat” and “OMG” on Twitter. Critical reaction is slower to come but may not be quite as positive for what could be described as an undercooked ballad whose lack of spark might explain its languishing in the vaults for 30 years.
The song is one of three rarities on a new compilation, called Queen Forever, which also has a previously unfinished song from the same The Works sessions, Let Me in Your Heart Again (written by May and sung by Mercury), and a ballad version of a solo hit Mercury recorded with Giorgio Moroder, Love Kills, which originally was played in the studio by Queen.
On both tracks May and Taylor have recorded some new instrumental and vocal sections, augmenting the original recordings. None of the new recordings will be released as singles or separate tracks and will be available only on Queen Forever, which is out November 7.