David Bowie's 6 Epic Duets with Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger and More
Thirty years ago today, the world was in rapture over Live Aid and the dozens of musicians who were finding ways to help the cause. Two of those musicians were David Bowie and Mick Jagger, who paired up for the iconic song (and video) for "Dancing In The Street," with the proceeds from sales going to Bob Geldof's Live Aid. The song, a cover of the classic hit from Martha and The Vandellas, was as raucous as any, but ultimately became better known for the comical video of its stars literally dancing in the streets.
Bowie was among the most iconic performers in music's most iconic generation...and he's shared the stage with more iconic performers than just about anyone. Here are five other original songs that Bowie wrote and performed with legendary acts.
"Fame" featuring John Lennon (1975)
It's interesting that perhaps the most legendary performer that Bowie ever formed a duet with was also the least present for the recording. "Fame" doesn't attempt to hide the fact that the former Beatle is included on the single, yet it was hardly advertised as a duet. Bowie just happened to meet Lennon in New York while recording for Young Americans, and the pair shacked up for a few days and jammed. One of the results was a cover of "Across The Universe," but more unique inspiration was found when Lennon chanted the signature "Fame!" line while guitarist Carlos Alomar improvised a riff. Bowie seized the initiative and quickly scribed the invective-laden lyrics, and keeping Lennon on as a rhythm guitarist, tasked vocally only with chanting the single word repeatedly. The song was tossed onto Young Americans at the last moment, and Bowie gave Lennon a disproportionate amount of songwriting credit, considering that he only contributed one word. Ah, but what an important word it was. "Fame" The song would eventually top the Billboard Hot 100.
"Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy" with Bing Crosby (1977)
This will always be regarded as one of the least likely duets to occur anywhere...and that wasn't exactly the plan. People will always imagine Bowie as Ziggy Stardust to some degree, but by the late '70s he was growing tired of the exotic outfits and was looking to "normalize" his image, if not necessarily his music. Therefore he agreed to appear on a Christmas special with Bing Crosby, the most successful holiday musician of all time (his "White Christmas" and "Silent Night" are the nos. 1 and 3 bestselling singles ever, respectively) and about as straight-faced as they come. The performance was initially just to include "Little Drummer Boy," but Bowie reportedly claimed to hate the song, leading producers to write the now-famous counterpoint line "Peace On Earth." The song was a smash hit, and not just because it's a legitimately great piece of music: Crosby would die a short time after, prior to the Christmas season, making his final holiday appearance all that more relevant to the music world.
"Under Pressure" with Queen (1981)
Bowie and Jagger was fun, we'll admit. But it's not something that we necessarily want to hear a Watch The Thrones-style album of. The on-tape chemistry of Bowie and Freddie Mercury however...wow. You almost forget that "Under Pressure" is technically a duet between Bowie and Queen, not just the latter band's eye-catching vocalist. This is another example where a last-minute addition ended up becoming the most acclaimed song on the album. Bowie was originally to sing on a song titled "Cool Cat"...but he ended up hating his contribution so the song was cancelled, which ended up delaying the release of the album for weeks. The two sides put their minds together and created "Under Pressure," which Brian May has acknowledged was almost entirely composed by Bowie, including the iconic bassline. Despite being revered as a classic now, there's still argument between the members of Queen and Bowie about who the song should have been mixed. The song would go on to be Queen's second no. 1 in the UK (after "Bohemian Rhapsody") but only reached no. 29 in the U.S.(?!?)
"Tonight" with Tina Turner (1984)
Sharp readers will inevitably notice that none of the songs on this list include Iggy Pop who, undoubtedly, was the most frequent collaborator in Bowie's history. The pair spent years and years together in Berlin, as Bowie helped the former Stooges frontman through the iconic Lust For Life and The Idiot albums. One of the songs included on the former was "Tonight," which would be the best case of the pair actually duetting. That said...it wasn't one of the better songs on the album...and Bowie felt the same way. He resurrected it years later when he put out his own album Tonight. he once again looked for a big-name costar and opted for the very different Tina Turner. We love Pop but we'll concede that the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll was a better option. American listeners didn't necessarily share that outlook, allowing the single to peak only as high as no. 53 on the Hot 100, marking the first time in eight years that a Bowie single hadn't cracked the Top 40.
"The Buddha of Suburbia" with Lenny Kravitz (1993)
This might sound like the kind of single that has an oddball name just for the sake of having an oddball name-we might not blame you for thinking that when Bowie is involved—but it was actually the title track and theme song for the BBC miniseries of the same name that followed a teenager coming of age as his father becomes a spiritual guide in the UK. The series didn't find a distributor in the U.S. but it still got a remix from an American musician for the soundtrack, as rising star Lenny Kravitz was brought on to play along with Bowie for a second version of the song to be featured on the album.