"New releases by two popular music legends offer another twist to the classical crossover tale.
Paul McCartney and Sting have literally "crossed over" from their traditional pop-rock leanings to classical material on "Ecce Cor Meum (Behold My Heart)" (EMI Classics) and "Songs From the Labyrinth" (Deutsche Grammophon/Universal), respectively.
McCartney's work -- his fourth classical album -- was released September 25 and peaked at No. 2 on the Official U.K. Charts Co. (OCC) classical albums chart. In the United States, it has spent six weeks on the Top Classical Albums chart, where it is now No. 6, and has scanned 8,000 copies. An oratorio in four movements, the choral piece was originally commissioned in 1998 and premiered in 2001 but was only finally recorded in March this year.
At a London press reception to mark the album's launch McCartney admitted it had been a huge learning curve.
"I knew harmonies from the Beatle days, and I'd loved harmonies since I'd been a kid, but this length of work is a completely different ballgame," he said. "I think I learned enough to produce a decent record in the end -- I'm very proud of it."
Costa Pilavachi, president of EMI Classics, says that because McCartney does not perform on the album it was crucial that the music receive as much exposure as possible.
"The main promotion we can do is to get people to hear the music," he says, highlighting concert performances November 3 at London's Royal Albert Hall and November 14 at New York's Carnegie Hall. "We are working with the publisher and the management to arrange performances around the world."
In contrast to McCartney's contemporary piece, former Police frontman Sting resurrects 16th century music by Elizabethan songwriter John Dowland.
Sting calls Dowland "the first English singer/songwriter," saying in a statement: "For me they are pop songs written around 1600, and I relate to them in that way -- beautiful melodies, fantastic lyrics and great accompaniments."
The album might not be considered "pop" in 2006, but that didn't stop it entering the OCC classical charts at No. 1 and the mainstream U.K. albums chart at No. 24. In the United States, "Songs From the Labyrinth" has sold 87,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It peaked at No. 25 on The Billboard 200 and at No. 1 on Top Classical Albums.
"It's the first time John Dowland has got anywhere near the top 10," Universal Classics and Jazz GM Dickon Stainer says. "I'm sure from somewhere beyond the grave he's very grateful."
Meanwhile, in recent weeks, metal stalwart Danzig's "Aria II" (EvilLive/Megaforce) has nested in the Classical Crossover chart's top 20. Danzig finds this weird. "I mean, I'm on the chart next to
Sarah Brightman and
Andrea Bocelli," he says.
Danzig says fans discovered the new album's 1993 predecessor, "Black Aria" -- which featured a disclaimer telling fans it wasn't a rock record -- on their own, and told friends. So far, "Aria II" has scanned 4,000 units.
Danzig says he has often listened to classical music when he chills out. "The same things I like about Black Sabbath ... I like about Wagner," he says. "Loud, heavy rock music is very similar to classical. Wagner was like a rock musician. There were riots at his shows."