I still listen to my old vinyl lps, and keep them sorted alphabetically. This apparent order has spawned an unexpected randomness, bringing together musicians who probably never met and likely would have been at each other’s throats if they had.
Here on my shelves, though, they nestle beside each other like old friends: eccentric jazz genius Thelonious Monk and prefab pop-meisters the Monkees; country diva Patsy Cline and Jamaican reggae star Jimmy Cliff; and (one of my favorites) lean, mean trumpeter Miles Davis and girl-next-door songbird Doris Day.
Another favorite: Pete Seeger and the Sex Pistols. Imagine the fireworks unleashed if the patron saint of the modern folk music revival, the man who soothed audiences with “We Shall Overcome,” ever met the strung-out, vulgar lads who brought us “Anarchy in the U.K.”
Then again, they might have more in common than you might think. Given Seeger’s biting criticisms of commercial music, and the Sex Pistols’ sardonic sendup of the business, “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle,” isn’t there at least some basis for discussion, even mutual respect? Or, better yet, collaboration?
Indeed, imagine these scintillating duos that, alas, will never be: Frank Sinatra and the Singing Nun; Judy Collins and John Coltrane; Woody Herman and Jimi Hendrix. Here’s an act that could have been huge: Ray Charles and Maurice Chevalier. I can just hear Ray and Mo trading phrases on “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” or harmonizing on a Paris café version of “Georgia on My Mind.”
Things heat up when the neighbors drop by: Pete and the Pistols are joined by sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar; Old Blue Eyes and the Singing Nun get funky with Sly and the Family Stone; and Miles and Doris are sitting in later with Impressionist composer Claude Debussy and New Wave pop-punks Devo for an all-night jam session you don’t want to miss.
Then there’s the spoken word: Robert Frost reads “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” accompanied by the edgy electronica of guitar wiz Robert Fripp, and beloved British actor Maurice Evans reads Winnie-the-Pooh, backed by the ‘70s glam rock fusion of the Edgar Winter Group. This could be a major multimedia event.
But, in this age of high-tech marvels, can’t we do more than dream? If Natalie Cole can sing “Unforgettable” as a duet with her deceased dad, then surely Janis Joplin can reign again as the lead singer for those masters of musical satire, Spike Jones and His City Slickers. If DNA can be spliced and barnyard critters cloned, surely the genetic genius of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and Elvis Presley can be combined into something greater than the sum of its parts.
I can only offer the vision–some other, more capable and fearless soul will have to bring it to life. Music lovers everywhere, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, await your efforts.
Now, where’s my autographed copy of “An Evening With Judy Garland and Marvin Gaye?” It should be right...here.
Richard Middleton is a musician and writer in Seattle.