Rest in no peace: the creepiest duets with dead singers

Stuart Heritage
Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston in a postmortem duet. Composite: Getty Images & Rex Features

The King & I is a forthcoming album of duets between Faith Evans and The Notorious BIG. Admittedly, this might seem creepy at first – what with Biggie dying 20 years ago, and Evans being his widow, and the whole concept seemingly being unable to decide whether it’s a wanton cash-grab or a private form of grief gone horribly public – but it isn’t. Faith Evans has been commemorating Biggie in song for decades now, and this feels like a natural – if morbid – extension of that.

She’s lucky. Other artists have recorded songs with dead people in the past and, without the strong familial links, they are universally just about as completely, unstoppably creepy as you can get. Here are some favourites.

Barry Manilow & Whitney Houston – I Believe In You and Me (The Dream Duet)

Let’s not beat around the bush here. If I’d wanted to, I could have filled this entire list with songs from Barry Manilow’s 2014 album My Dream Duets. Every single nightmarish track on this waking flopsweat of an album is a duet between Barry Manilow and someone who isn’t alive any more – a concept that could only be more chilling if Manilow had later revealed that they’d all died by his own hand. John Denver’s there. Sammy Davis Jr is there. Louis Armstrong is there. But, most creepily of all, Whitney Houston is there, piped in on alternate lines during an unforgivably package-holiday-dinner performance of I Believe In You and Me, just two short years after she died. Look at this bloody video. Right at the end, he blows her a kiss. Yuck.

Susan Boyle & Elvis Presley – O Come, All Ye Faithful

Now, look, Elvis Presley wasn’t exactly known for his great ideas – someone with a rational long-term career strategy probably wouldn’t release an entire 37-minute album of nothing but inter-song concert banter, for instance – but even then it’s hard to see how he’d ever sign off on this. A Christmas duet with the woman who didn’t win Britain’s Got Talent that time. A duet where the singers somehow sound even more removed than they actually are, which is a stretch since one of them has been dead for 40 years. If you liked Elvis, you’d have bought a version of just Elvis singing this. If you liked Susan Boyle, you’d have bought a version of just Susan Boyle singing this. And yet, combine the two and the target market miraculously shrinks to a clutch of self-hating perverts.

The Doors & Jim Morrison – Lament

Sometimes it makes sense for a band to reconvene and finish the last ideas of their dead singers. Sometimes a project like this can be cathartic for band and fans alike, as well as providing a revenue stream that has suddenly ceased to be viable. But sometimes, as when the surviving members of the Doors recorded the 1978 album An American Prayer by recycling spoken-word material recorded by their dead singer, Jim Morrison, it is the very worst thing that anyone has ever heard. The first line of Lament is “Lament for my cock / Sore and crucified / I seek to know you”, which is obviously the moment you switch off and try to forget the whole thing ever existed. Maybe only five people have ever listened all the way through to the moment when Morrison murmurs “Death and my cock are the world”. And that’s exactly how it should be. The Doors, as always, are the worst.

Scarlett Johansson & Dean Martin - I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Something I’ve discovered during the assembly of this article is that duets with the dead skew quite heavily festive. There’s something about Christmas – maybe it’s the Dickensian tradition of intergenerational reflection, or maybe it’s because people will buy any old bilge if it’s tinselly enough – that just screams “harrowing displays of artistic theft”. A case in point: the first minute of this song is perfectly nice, because it’s just Dean Martin singing I’ll be Home for Christmas. But then in bursts Scarlett Johansson to trample all over it for absolutely no reason whatsoever – too low in the mix to make an impact, but too high in the mix to make it a good song. Listen very carefully and, during the instrumental, you can hear Dean Martin banging on the inside of his coffin and screaming “I didn’t agree to this”.

Barry Manilow & Frankie Lymon - Goody Goody

Actually, screw it, let’s return to that awful Barry Manilow album, because I just discovered that it came out three days before Halloween. That has to be deliberate, doesn’t it? That sounds like a part of a larger plan that never quite reached fruition – a plan where Manilow would creep out at night with a spade and a flashlight, desecrate the graves of all his duet partners and then dance around in the rain, wearing their tattered faces over his own for the album cover, which presumably had the working title I Have You Now, My Pretties, Here In My Sex Den Of The Dead. Anyway, this is quite a good song. 7/10.

Whitney Houston & Christina Aguilera: Medley

The finale of last year’s The Voice was meant to end with the showstopper to all showstoppers: Christina Aguilera duetting with Hologram Whitney Houston on a medley of Houston’s greatest hits. However, it wasn’t to be. Once the performance was taped, Whitney Houston’s estate got cold feet and yanked it before transmission. Their reasoning? The hologram was imperfect. The probable truth? The entire sequence genuinely looked like a lady was screaming at a benevolent and levitating ghost so hard that the ghost ended up exploding at the end. May this godawful technology never be perfect.

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