By Ray McDonald
On April 8th, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J triggered a spasm of public indignation by releasing a duet called “Accidental Racist.” I’ll cover the song in a few minutes – and I’ve posted the video at the bottom of the blog – but first:
Brad Paisley and LL Cool J?
While the idea of pairing the West Virginia-born country star and the New York rapper-actor seems strange enough, it’s only the latest in a long line of musical Odd Couples.
In September, 1977, David Bowie and Bing Crosby recorded the Christmas duet “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy.” At the time, Bowie embodied the musical avant-garde, while Bing Crosby was in the twilight of his long career as a beloved crooner and actor. He died one month after this performance. It appeared on the TV special “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas,” and Bowie claims he did the show because his mother was a Crosby fan. The rocker balked at singing “The Little Drummer Boy,” so the composition “Peace On Earth” was written for him to perform as counterpoint. In 1982, RCA Records released the song as an official single. It became a seasonal favorite in the United States and the U-K, and remains my “odd couple” touchstone.
Bing Crosby wasn’t the only member of the old guard to mingle with rock stars. Five years before his death in 1998, Frank Sinatra recorded the album “Duets,” which contains performances with such varied artists as Aretha Franklin, Julio Iglesias, and Barbra Streisand. For me – a connoisseur of strangeness – nothing can touch his rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” featuring Bono of the Irish band U2. Bono must have been pleased, as well, because U2 released it as the B-side on their single “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)”
There are even precedents in mixing country and rap. In 2004, St. Louis rapper Nelly teamed with Tim McGraw for “Over and Over.” The song reached number one in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, while selling more than one million copies in the United States.
So, what about “Accidental Racist?” Both Brad Paisley and LL Cool J say they’re proud of the song and stand by its message of tolerance and forgiveness. I feel it’s a sincere, if clumsy – VERY clumsy – attempt to reconcile the past and present in our long, difficult racial history. Listen to the song and tell me what you think.