10 Iconic Collaborations That Have Led to Music Magic

A great musician can stand on their own. But when you combine two or more great musicians, the end result is something even more iconic. Some of music’s finest efforts have been made through collaboration. When you take a rock icon like Stevie Nicks and pair her with another rock icon like Tom Petty, their combined talents are unstoppable—fans around the world rejoice for their double dose of rock magic.

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The same can be said for collaborations in any genre. As the saying goes, “Two is often better than one.” Not to mention three, four, or five musical greats hopping on the mic together.

Below, we’ve made a list of 10 of the most world-stopping musical collaborations of all time. Check out our picks, below.

[RELATED: 5 of the Most Unlikely Duets]

10. “Smooth” (Santana and Rob Thomas)

Carlos Santana was slowly fading into antiquity when Clive Davis gave him the idea to record with Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas.

Their meeting involved Davis telling Santana that he needed to build up his selection of contemporary hits. “Give me half the album and trust that I will find material that is integral to your artistry,” he said. “The other half of the album will be whatever you want it to be.”

Davis’ mentorship resulted in Santana’s comeback record, Supernatural. While the album featured a number of well-suited collaborations, “Smooth” is the one that has stood the test of time.

Santana’s Latin influence perfectly compliments Thomas’ low growl. It may have been an unlikely pairing at the time but, it feels natural as rain in hindsight.

9. “All of the Lights” (Kanye West, Rihanna, Elton John, Kid Cudi, Drake, and more)

Fast cars, shooting stars / All of the lights, all of the lights / Until it’s Vegas everywhere we are, Rihanna sings on this all-star collaboration featured on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

The lyrics in “All of the Lights” convey West’s qualms about living the life of a celebrity. I made mistakes, I bumped my head / Them courts sucked me dry, I spent that bread, he raps in the second verse.

Given the song’s allusion to fame, any one of West’s peers in the music industry could be a good fit to collaborate with. Given that, it seems West had trouble picking just one and decided to go with 14.

Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Tony Williams, The-Dream, Charlie Wilson, John Legend, Elly Jackson, Alicia Keys, Elton John, Fergie, Ryan Leslie, Drake, Alvin Fields, and Ken Lewis are all credited as collaborators on “All of the Lights.”

8. “Ebony and Ivory” (Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder)

Though the sentiment behind “Ebony and Ivory” might seem a little trite in the fight for racial equality in this day and age, in 1982 it was moving enough to earn Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

The song calls for racial harmony by way of a piano metaphor: Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony / Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?

“I listened to the song, and I liked it very much. … I felt it was positive for everybody,” Wonder once said. “I won’t say it demanded of people to reflect upon it, but it politely asks the people to reflect upon life in using the terms of music … this melting pot of many different people.”

7. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell)

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell are iconic duet partners. Across their intertwined careers, the duo released multiple albums worth of collaborative tracks. The duet that jump-started their incomparable partnership? “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

It’s a karaoke classic. It’s a wedding playlist staple. Few love songs are known around the world more pervasively than “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

6. “We Are the World” (Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Willie Nelson, Diana Ross, Billy Joel, and more)

By 2020, “We Are the World” raised more than $75 million dollars in an effort to alleviate poverty in Africa and the United States. The track, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, is evidence of the life-changing results that can occur when fame is leveraged for good deeds.

Jackson and Richie tapped a horde of famous faces to appear on the song with them, including (but certainly not limited to) Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, and Paul Simon.

Though it has become slightly schmaltzy in retrospect, if a listener can dig deep and hold back their cringe reflex for a few minutes, they will find a heart-warming and earnest effort for change from some of the biggest names in music.

5. “Beat It” (Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen)

Next up, we’re looking at yet another iconic collaboration from Jackson, “Beat It.”

The King of Pop brought in Eddie Van Halen for guitar duties on this Thriller single. Van Halen helped Jackson tap into a rockier sound in the place of his usual soul-influenced musicality.

“I wanted to write a song, the type of song that I would buy if I were to buy a rock song,” Jackson once explained (per Genius). “That is how I approached it and I wanted the kids to really enjoy it—the school kids as well as the college kids.”

The guitar line Van Halen delivered has since become one of the most iconic riffs in music history.

4. “Walk This Way” (Run-DMC and Aerosmith)

Famed tastemaker and producer, Rick Rubin, was the first person to bring up the idea of Run-DMC covering Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” Frontman Steven Tyler was initially hesitant about the idea and annoyed at the rap pioneers for taking liberties with the lyrics.

“It kind of pissed me off at first that they weren’t following the lyrics, but they were following the rhythm,” Tyler once said.

Despite Tyler’s worries, he and bandmate Joe Perry agreed to collaborate on a new version of the Toys in the Attic cut. It turned out to be a profitable decision, as the new track became a top 10 hit in the U.S. and helped to revive Aerosmith’s career.

3. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty)

“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” is one of the greatest duets in rock history. Stevie Nicks earned her spot as an honorary Heartbreaker when she decided to record this Petty and Mike Campbell-written track for her debut solo album, Bella Donna.

The melodic yet loose nature of Nicks’ vocals is perfectly paired with Petty’s straightforward delivery. The pair play a couple at odds, airing their grievances with one another in sonic form. This doesn’t have to be the big get even / This doesn’t have to be anything at all, Nicks sings.

2. “Under Pressure” (Queen and David Bowie)

Coming in at No. 2 is possibly the most iconic rock duet of all time: “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie.

John Deacon’s bass line is infectious and instantly recognizable to boot. Moreover, Freddie Mercury’s high-flying vocals are in full swing here, soaring above Bowie’s understated performance.

Queen are rock heroes through and through and Bowie is a once-in-a-generation cultural force. When you put them together, the end result is something truly timeless.

1. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles and Eric Clapton)

Eric Clapton became the only guest artist to contribute a guitar solo to a Beatles record in 1968 with the release of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

For one of his biggest songwriting credits while with the Beatles, George Harrison tapped long-time friend Clapton to add his guitar chops to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

“I happened to drive back into London with Eric [Clapton], and I suddenly said, ‘Why don’t you come play on this track?’ Harrison once recalled. “And he said, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that; the others wouldn’t like it…’ But I finally said, ‘Well, damn, it’s my song, and I’d like you to come down.’ So he did, and everybody was good as gold because he was there.”

Clapton then delivered one of the most iconic guitar solos of all time on a record released by one of the most iconic rock groups of all time. It doesn’t get more splashy than that.

Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage

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