“Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole

This song was, at the time of its release, a new phenomenon…a ‘virtual duet’ made from the combined voices of legendary singer Natalie Cole and her equally legendary father, who had been dead almost thirty years at the time. It was an incredibly touching tribute to her father’s memory, and it’s worth noting that it has so supplanted Nat’s original recording of the song that you are far more likely to hear this version than Nat’s solo one in almost any context today. The ‘virtual duet’ technique has gotten a bad reputation, but that’s because of blatant misuse, not because it was a bad idea. The problem is that you need a personal connection to the deceased singer you’re duetting with, or you just come across as crass and disrespectful. When you’re singing the virtual duet with your late father, it’s incredibly sweet and heartrending. But when you’re, say, Celine Dion singing a virtual duet with Frank Sinatra, it seems like you’re just co-opting the talent of a legend for your own purposes. It also helps to have a singer with enough emotional range to make a connection with a pre-recorded voice; witness Sinatra’s Duets album (which was recorded during his lifetime, but used the same process of singers duetting with his pre-recorded vocals, rather than actually singing together in person), where the effectiveness of the perceived connection varied severely with the performer in question. Natalie, however, pulls it off to perfection—I don’t know how much of it was because of her artistry and how much was a genuine reaction to what must have been a very emotional experience for her, but she manages to create perfect chemistry with her father’s voice. This is one of the most moving moments in all of recorded music, all the more so now that Natalie has joined her father, and at a time when most of the public was paying more attention to the Grunge and Rap revolutions, it really is a shame that this was relegated to a small niche audience, since it really is one of the defining musical moments of the Nineties.

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