Gary Barlow and Madonna! Pop’s strangest crossovers

This month marks the 21st anniversary of Barlow’s solo album Open Road, which features a track penned by Madonna. From Beyoncé to Victoria Beckham and beyond, it’s not the first oddly matched musical venture

Music lovers, rejoice! This month sees the 21st-anniversary re-release of Gary Barlow’s stone cold solo classic, Open Road. Don’t you just love a 21st birthday? In the United States, it means your first legal taste of alcohol and your final frat house parties. In Britain, though, it means breaking up with your university girlfriend and doing an ill-advised internship in marketing, and perhaps that’s more appropriate here.

Since we all know Barlow is A Songwriter, the album’s calibre is clear. Yet its second single, Love Won’t Wait, wasn’t penned by him but by, of all people, Madonna. The track, the type of emaciated mid-90s house that tampon ads used to endlessly rollerblade on, was a leftover from her Bedtime Stories sessions. It honestly isn’t as odd as all that. “I want to kiss you in Paris, I want to hold your hand in Rome,” purrs Madge in Justify My Love. “I want to snog you in Wigan, I want to frisk you up in Surrey Quays,” comes Gary’s metaphorical reply.

Rumour has it our Gary didn’t much want to release a Madonna cast-off — yet no one in pop is immune from snaffling someone else’s wares. After all, Madonna herself ditched her Erotica vibes for the determined electronica of Bedtime Story, using an old demo by Björk. The latter, a bit dubious, only finally agreed to write something for la Ciccone in the hope that she would sound less filtered, more free. If you’ve checked Madonna’s Instagram recently, you’ll see she’s finally had her wish.

The more you look, the more you see that pop is full of the strangest collaborations, or crossovers. David Sneddon writing for Lana Del Rey (2012’s National Anthem); Will Young singing Sia songs (2008’s You Don’t Know); Tulisa finally credited this month as a writer on and Britney’s 2012 Scream and Shout; and of course, Beyoncé covering Victoria Beckham’s Resentment. How Bey ever thought she could top Posh’s take on the bluesy, whiskey-soaked breakup ballad is beyond belief – but then, to be fair, isn’t VB more of a garage vocalist?

Spare a thought, too, for the ones that never quite saw the light of day. Once, Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody penned a song called Just Say Yes. Gwen Stefani turned it down, then Nicole Scherzinger stepped up to the plate. Nicole, it’s safe to say, was excited by the prospect: she was “blessed”, she was “honoured”, she even recorded it using Lightbody’s Northern Irish accent. Apparently, this made Lightbody’s mother cry. Strangely, though – and who knows how this is all connected – he ended up taking the song back. Poor Nicole was left with the usual Plan B: making a glorious suite of tits-out gay anthems and playing Grizabella in Cats.

Open Road: 21st Anniversary Re-issue is out now


Louis Wise

The GuardianTramp

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