Chris Martin, Michael Stipe
Larry Busacca, Getty Image

Coldplay singer Chris Martin joined forces with R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe for a special performance of 'Losing My Religion' during the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief at Madison Square Garden. According to NBC anchor Brian Williams, who appeared onscreen soon after to solicit donations, the team-up was a surprise even to those involved with the planning, and Martin himself seemed humbled to share the stage with one of his heroes.

"This is really happening," Martin said, strumming the opening chords to R.E.M.'s biggest hit. Stipe handled most of the lead vocals, but the pair harmonized in spots, and when it was over, Martin poked fun at his duet partner's recent lack of musical output.

"He came out of retirement for that song, and now he's gone right back in," Martin said.

It wasn't the only quip in Martin's three-song acoustic set, which carried the show past the midnight mark and also included the Coldplay tunes 'Viva la Vida' and 'Us Against the World.' Following 'Viva,' the self-deprecating superstar rated his own popularity somewhere below that of Britain's reigning boy band.

"I know you really wanted One Direction," he said, "but it's way past their bedtime."

Watch Michael Stipe and Chris Martin Perform 'Losing My Religion'

More From KZCD-FM