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Music’s odd couplings: From Elton, Eminem to Bennett, Gaga

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Lady Gaga, left, and Tony Bennett perform Feb. 8, 2015, at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Lady Gaga, left, and Tony Bennett perform Feb. 8, 2015, at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times) Photo Gallery

Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks. Who saw that coming? The mystical California hippie and the pugnacious New York City piano man. At first blush, that duo makes about as much sense as Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, the towering Uptown supermodel who became his second wife.

But there’s no accounting for love — or arranged musical marriages.

With Joel and Nicks teaming up on tour this year, we look at a dozen of music’s odd couplings — even if they lasted for only a song.

Cher and Gregg Allman: Three days after divorcing Sonny Bono in 1975, Cher married the Allman Brothers singer — and then filed for divorce nine days later. They reconciled, however, reportedly because she was pregnant (with Elijah Blue Allman). Billed as Allman and Woman, the couple made an Allman-dominated, blue-eyed soul album, “Two the Hard Way,” in 1977 and undertook a brief concert tour. At least she didn’t record with her later beau, the Bagel Boy, Rob Camilletti. Surprise of their pairing: 90. Artistic rating: 25.

David Bowie and Bing Crosby: It was a 1977 holiday TV special, “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas,” with the conceit that he was traveling to England to meet long-lost relatives. Bowie, the British rock star looking to perhaps mute his glam image, turned out to be Crosby’s relative’s “neighbor.” Bing and Bowie duetted on a medley of chestnuts, “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.” Days after taping the TV special, Crosby died of a massive heart attack after playing a round of golf in Spain. Surprise: 100. Artistic: 45.

Run-DMC and Aerosmith: In 1986, producer Rick Rubin suggested a remake of Aerosmith’s 1975 classic-rock smash “Walk This Way” to Run-DMC, the hip-hop trio that didn’t even know the song. Jam Master Jay, the crew’s DJ, was the only member at first open to the idea, which involved adding Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry. The collab became an unexpected hit on both urban and rock radio — and MTV — and spearheaded a radio rebound for the Boston rockers. Surprise: 90. Artistic: 100.

The KLF and Tammy Wynette: Who knew that the British electronica duo’s Bill Drummond, aka King Boy D, was a fan of country music? So, Drummond, sort of the George Jones of stadium house music, went to Nashville in 1991 and recorded country queen Wynette’s vocals and even added a little pedal steel guitar to the novelty dance single, “Justified & Ancient (Stand by the JAMS).” The oddball collaboration soared to No. 1 in 18 countries, No. 2 on U.S. dance charts and No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Not only was it Wynette’s biggest pop song but also the last significant hit for the “Stand by Your Man” hit-maker. Surprise: 100. Artistic: 55.

Barbra Streisand and Bryan Adams: She wrote “I Finally Found Someone” for the 1996 soundtrack of “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” for which she, of course, was the star and the director. Music producer David Foster suggested bringing in Canadian rocker Adams, who had recent movie soundtracks smashes with “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” and “All for Love” (with Rod Stewart and Sting). It worked as Streisand scored her first major pop hit since 1981 and earned an Oscar nomination for best original song. Surprise: 65. Artistic: 35.

Eminem and Elton John: The exceptional but controversial rapper was accused of misogynistic and homophobic lyrics. So, he shocked the world at the 2001 Grammys when the British rock icon joined him for a duet on “Stan,” Eminem’s hit with U.K. singer Dido. “I didn’t know [Elton] was gay,” Eminem told MTV News in 2004. “I didn’t really care. But being that he was gay and he had my back, I think it made a statement in itself saying that he understood where I was coming from.” The statement was underscored when the duo ended their performance by hugging and holding hands. Surprise: 90. Artistic: 95.

Tim McGraw and Nelly: They connected at a 2003 NBA celebrity basketball game in Atlanta. Having grown up listening to country music, the St. Louis rapper of “Country Grammar” fame asked McGraw, the liberal country star, to join him on the 2004 single, “Over and Over.” They made a split-screen video in which they mirrored each other’s activities. The song climbed to No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and McGraw included it two years later on his second greatest-hits collection. The collab opened the hip-hop door in Nashville as Nelly rolled with Florida Georgia Line for the monstrous “Cruise” in 2012. Surprise: 80. Artistic: 50.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame paired the Led Zeppelin golden god with the bluegrass siren at a 2004 tribute concert to folk legend Lead Belly. Their one-off duet did not meet their high standards, but they bonded over their love of bluegrass hero Ralph Stanley. Three years later, Plant and Krauss joined forces on the remarkable “Raising Sand,” featuring duets on blues, folk, bluegrass and rock songs. They won the Grammy for album of the year, toured together and delivered a second album in 2021. Surprise: 95. Artistic: 100.

Kanye West and Justin Vernon: Jealousy led to these modern music-makers meeting. In 2009, West’s keyboardist Jeff Bhasker learned his girlfriend was skipping West’s New York show in favor of a Bon Iver gig. So Bhasker checked out the Eau Claire musician’s records and shared them with Kanye. The hip-hop hero not only wanted to use a Bon Iver sample, but he invited Vernon, the group’s mastermind, to the studio in Hawaii and they created “Lost in the World” for the 2010 album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Twisted, indeed. Surprise: 95. Artistic: 65.

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga: The legendary crooner discovered the over-the-top pop star singing a Nat King Cole number at a benefit in New York City in 2011. He invited her to duet on “The Lady Is a Tramp” that year on his “Duets II.” That led to their own 2014 chart-topping duets album, “Cheek to Cheek,” a Grammy, a world concert tour and a dear friendship. A second album, “Love for Sale,” followed in 2021 along with the televised “One Last Concert” from Radio City Music Hall. Surprise: 75. Artistic: 95.

Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones: An over-caffeinated punk-rock hero and a chill jazzy piano woman found common ground in the music of the Everly Brothers. After Armstrong stumbled across the Everlys’ 1958 album “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us” featuring folk and country covers, his Minnesota-reared wife, Adrienne, suggested he ask Jones to harmonize. Billed as Billie Joe + Norah in 2013, they concocted their own version of gorgeous vintage pop on “Foreverly.” They performed one show in New York but never toured together. Surprise: 80. Artistic: 70.

Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus: Blame this coupling on Miley Cyrus. After the Georgia rapper released “Old Town Road” as an independent country rap song in 2018, he tweeted that he wanted Billy Ray Cyrus, who he saw on the Disney TV series “Hannah Montana,” for a remix. So, the 1992 “Achy Breaky Heart” hit-maker (and Miley’s father) signed on, infusing the giddy-up into “Old Town Road” and sending it to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for a remarkable 19 consecutive weeks in 2019. That’s a record for an artist’s debut single. Surprise: 90. Artistic: 85.

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