Blossoms and Rick Astley play The Smiths? All collaborations should be this random

We'd do well to make the bizarre musical hook-up a legal requirement, says our columnist, in the battle against predictable pop

If your laptop screen was glitching for five minutes last Wednesday, that was the effect of the entire internet doing a double-take. Social media fell silent, all work stopped nationwide and even Piers Morgan even managed to shut up for a couple of minutes. There was a tangible sense that we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. And we’d seen Alan Johnson sing ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ dressed as a golden pharaoh on The Masked singer.

Rick Astley. Sure, we could get our heads around the Rick Astley part. We’re often unexpectedly required to when ‘Rickrolled’ as we’re trying to stream obscure arthouse cinema or zit-popping YouTube videos. Rick Astley playing with Blossoms? Well, that came out of nowhere – though Rick did join Dave Grohl onstage at London’s tiny Moth Club at Club NME in the Before Times. Perhaps Dave couldn’t travel this year…

And then: Rick Astley and Blossoms playing whatnow? The songs of The Smiths? Did your Alexa just say ‘what the fuck?’ too? But yes, there it was, a video of Astley and Blossoms necking Jägers and rehearsing ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ for an entire night of Smiths covers, having previously performed ‘Panic’ and ‘This Charming Man’ together a few days earlier in London. “This is both funny and horrible at the same time,” tweeted none other than Johnny Marr.

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So. Many. Questions. Primarily: how the hell did that conversation even get started? Did someone in Blossoms’ camp, having decided that they were the only band worthy of doing justice to the Smiths’ momentous catalogue, scribble ‘Rick Astley’ at the top of their fantasy wishlist of surrogate Morrisseys? Or was he third choice after Rylan Clark-Neal and Paul Chuckle? Alternatively, at what point during lockdown did Blossoms and Astley have the chance to get so monumentally stoned together that this sounded like an idea to act on immediately?

However it happened, it lit up the internet’s imagination like an ABBAtar, with timelines filled with similarly outlandish collaboration suggestions. Limahl and TLC play the songs of Black Flag. Bonnie Tyler and Easy Life perform a full rendition of Slint’s ‘Spiderland’. Marti Pellow joins McFly for a tribute to NWA.

The more suggestions flowed in, though, the more brilliant they all sounded. We’ve become so programmed by radio, algorithms and streaming playlists to expect the thoroughly expected that anything even slightly off-the-wall feels like a refreshing revelation. Live music has become so compartmentalised – retro acts at their Butlins weekender, leftfield bands at their South Bank takeover, TikTok favourites at Reading & Leeds and so on – that there’s a real thrill to the idea of chucking the whole thing up in the air and seeing where it lands.

We shouldn’t let this sort of excitement fade. I hereby propose a new annual Collaboration Draw, whereby every act in the country has their name put in a tombola and pulled out at the end of the Mercury Prize ceremony by anyone other than James Corden. Whatever collaborations are selected have to perform the songs of another randomly chosen indie great. Kim Wilde and (dramatic pause) The Twang will play the hits of (drumroll) Spacemen 3. Gabrielle and (tense chord) They Might Be Giants cover the complete works of (throw to break) The Cocteau Twins. It’s the lottery everyone wins.

I’d go further. Where such a project might become overladen with reunion and heritage acts desperate for a route back to relevance, let’s make it compulsory for even the most elevated acts to take part, like national service in music’s war on mundanity. Kate Bush would either cover Shellac with Aswad or face a month of community service. There’d be no alternative in law for Radiohead but to perform an emotional tribute to Sparklehorse fronted by Captain Sensible.

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Oh please, please, please let us get the Carol Decker/Sunn O)))/Gang Of Four mash up we want…

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