Lionel Richie is from Alabama, though you would not know it from his career as a successful balladeer. In his latest album, he pays homage to his country roots by recording his famous tracks from the ’80s as duets with country stars like Shania Twain and Blake Shelton. The “Hello” singer simply put a twang to his songs and added country powerhouses like Rascal Flatts and Willie Nelson to attract a new audience and breathe fresh live into classic songs. Here is a list of other former chart toppers who would do well to follow the same formula and introduce their former hits to a new crowd.
Legendary singer Elton John tells stories with his songs, something that is more appreciated in the country music world than anywhere else. A re-invention of his tremendous songbook, complete with twangy guitar and southern charm, could produce a musical event appreciated across all genres. Have some country fun on “Bennie and the Jets” with Brad Paisley. Keep with that upbeat feeling and share “Honky Cat” with Kenny Chesney. Finish it off with a memorable moment by pairing the ’70s icon on his classic “Your Song” with Carrie Underwood.
The R&B diva may have retired, but she’s lived enough heartache for any country crooner to want to get her back in the studio. Her soulful sound could be powerfully matched by some of the biggest voices in country music to create a musical sensation. Just imagine Sara Evans joining her for “What’s Love Got to Do With It” or Reba McEntire rolling on the river with Ms. Turner in “Nutbush City Limits.”
Watching this ’80s icon and Vegas headliner in car commercials is not the ideal way to remember the star from “Beaches.” Instead, Bette Midler should pair with country’s most passionate singers to re-invent her emotional ballads. Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban come to mind for gut-wrenching pairs to bring the emotion out of songs like “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “The Rose.”
The Heartbreakers had a country vibe, but stayed true to a rock sensibility in their late ’80s and early ’90s heyday. Their blues-infused rock sound could make a smooth transition to country and introduce younger audiences to classic songs. Partner Tom Petty with gravel-toned artists like Eric Church on “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and Tim McGraw on “Free Fallin'” to deliver these classic rock tracks to country radio.
The country music scene hosts several female powerhouses, and a duets album of Pat Benatar’s ’80s girl rock songs could make for some major hits. Collaborations with country’s baddest and boldest girls — Gretchen Wilson, Miranda Lambert, and the Dixie Chicks — could create a whole new catalogue of breaking up and getting even anthems.
Country music is definitely cool these days, and could be a way for listeners to fall in love with classic songs from decades past. Lionel Richie’s duets album should pave the way for several former chart toppers to follow. Which artists would you like to see release a country album and what’s your idea of the perfect collaboration in country music?