Sunday, August 1, 2021


Ain't technology wonderful? Want to do a duet with the deceased? No problem, and there is a rich seam of grave-robbing for profit, the still living plundering the coffins of, often, better performers, craving some kudos by association. And a hit. To be fair, the majority of these are terrible, the ghoulishness of the exercise all too apparent, but sometimes, just sometimes, there is at the seed of a good intent, of mining a mawkish opportunity to do what had never been possible in life. These are often by relatives, who may, maybe, have more leeway to have this considered potentially OK. Or not. Hell, some are called into service and put back on tour, long after the ashes are cold, something, I confess, I am in no hurry to witness. (Yes, I do know it isn't actually the corpse that struts the stage, it being all the 3D trickery of holograms, but would even Colonel Tom Parker be up for this degree of exploitation?)

My idea for this piece was to find some good ones, something I swiftly found might be too hard an ask. So let's settle for the least worst, with the odd stinker thrown in for good measure. Let's start with one of the latter.

I'll be honest, as I started typing, I couldn't remember whether Barry Manilow was still with us, needing a quick google, just in case. But he is, and it is his 2014 album, 'My Dream Duets' that is the lodestone of this genre, being a whole album of songs, 11 in all, pairing Manilow with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Andy Williams, Judy Garland and G.G. Allin. (No, that was a joke, not G.G. Allin, but that could have been different, doncha think?) All the songs chosen weren't even supposed to be duets, so it seems a little hard that some of these performers may not, in their lifetime, have necessarily have been Fanilows. But, then again, looking down the list, most were such media tarts and divas as to have bitten his arm off to appear alongside. I wonder then, what drew Barry toward this particular list? Intriguingly, of all the people to offer an opinion on the record, David Byrne, the onetime Talking Head, who sums up the dynamic best, here

I think I am slightly happier with the concept behind one of the late Patsy Cline's later albums, Duets, in 1999, 39 years after her death, in a plane crash, aged only 30. In fact, the records full name is Duets Volume 1, but, thus far, the 2nd volume has yet to appear. Rather than being pillaged by, say, Garth Brooks, the idea was that a whole host of singers, would sidle in on existing duets, replacing the original partner. (I wonder how that affected the royalties?) Willie Nelson was one of those inveigled, as well as being also a contemporary of Cline, writing perhaps her most famous song, Crazy. But what she would make of him now would be anyones guess. As in, whatever happened to that fresh faced kid, with his flat top redhead and beaming smile? What's that, you want his version too?

Let's stick with country music, the most celebrated name therein being that of Hank Williams. Tough shoes to fill mind, as both Hank Williams Jr. and III have found, if not without some appeal of their own. I actually rather enjoy this Senior/Junior "collaboration", the video being a sly mix of tongue in cheek and paterfamilial reverential. Will Hank III splice himself in when his own Daddy too departs the building?

Sometimes it is the demand for lost material that drives the projects, however much of a beady eye remains on the cash-register. There cannot be an act more covetable than the Beatles, with any and every studio scrap hoovered up for posterity and profit. So, when some tapes of part finished demos emerged, the deaths of John and George were considered mere supportive detail to the rest of the band polishing them up and giving a sheen of respectability to the songs. That is, until it became apparent the reason John had failed, at the time, to get them added to the repertoire in his lifetime and that of the band, that being they being pretty thin fare. Rumours remain as to a number of other lost songs in a similar vein, ready for future box sets. Remember, you need but one "new" song to make the die-hards shell out, all over, for all the others they have before, so as to fulfilling completist mode. The song above is drivel, to my ears, sounding like a song that even the rest of E.L.O. would refuse to play.

I'd like to find something good to end with. I'd like to, but I can't. But, I can end with a slightly different trick, the old band in heaven idea. This was taken to sterling effect by a singing postman from Belfast, who sidelined as an Elvis impersonator. Not duets. Rather, he came up with the idea that Elvis Presley, on leaving this side of the curtain, might continue his career on the other side, perhaps performing the hits of those similarly lost from active service. A brilliant deceit, and there have been two iterations of this, 'Gravelands' and 'Retun to Splendor', with Elvis, through the medium of Jim Brown, as 'The King', sings the songs of the dead. I love them, and this is the highlight. Or lowliest, as you may see it. And, like the clip from Bladerunner 2049 at the start, ends where we began. With Elvis.

RIP to all of the mentioned and featured, living and dead.