Sometimes it’s a nice surprise to see a familiar face appear on someone else’s work, and it’s even nicer to see a rock luminary bringing something new, grand and diverse into the mix as a whole. When these guest musicians come together, they create a new sense of glee that is only shades away from euphoria.
What the musicians manage to spin is a vibrant contribution that brings over a new shading that coincides with the fusion, frisson and frenzy that bustles around, giving a harder edge and shows a sense of camaraderie and showmanship.
Studying the backing track, the contributions – nominally overdubbed onto the track – shows a sense of creative and seismic growth, allowing the band to have an outside influence seep into the work. And when it works, it works beautifully. In this list, we look at five tunes that worked nicely.
The patience of the track means that the song holds a passion and perseverance that allows this added contribution to bringing the tune to a higher, more enlightened plain. And without further, let’s hear it for the rock stars making guest appearances.
Five guest superstar contributions:
5. Paul McCartney on ‘Get Well Soon’
Although Graham Gouldman has disputed this, 10cc were considered to be one half commercial partnership (Gouldman and Eric Stewart) and one-half abstract (Kevin Godley and Lol Creme). Ultimately, differences started to emerge, and the Gouldman-Stewart partnership wound up recording 10cc’s fifth album entirely on their own. Godley & Creme emerged in the 1980s as two of the most important directors of their generation, creating some of the most seminal music videos of the era.
Godley & Creme continued to release albums when they weren’t working with Stewart Copeland and The Police, and with ‘Get Well Soon’, they were honoured that Paul McCartney agreed to produce a string of falsetto backing vocals behind Godley’s soaring voice. McCartney, always the most avant-garde of The Beatles, had just released his kaleidoscopic McCartney II, so he was likely happy to sing on a piece of esoteric pop. And his vocal workouts are as strong as Godley’s, who released his debut solo album in 2020, called Muscle Memory. Muscle Memory came out in the months ahead of McCartney III, which was tidy when you think of it.
4. Ian Stewart on ‘Rock and Roll’
Led Zeppelin were never critical darlings, but they were galled by the response to Led Zeppelin III, an album that stripped back some of the heavier riffs for a more pastoral sound. Their fourth album was an excuse to rock out. “We just thought rock and roll needed to be taken on again,” Robert Plant told Creem in 1988. “I was finally in a really successful band, and we felt it was time for actually kicking ass. It wasn’t an intellectual thing, ’cause we didn’t have time for that – we just wanted to let it all come flooding out. It was a very animal thing, a hellishly powerful thing, what we were doing.”
Rolling Stones pianist Ian Stewart was on hand because Led Zeppelin were using the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording unit to record the album because the Headley Grange mansion didn’t have a studio the band could use. Stewart played boogie-woogie piano on the track, and joined them for a jam that was lovingly named ‘Boogie with Stu’, which was used on the Physical Graffiti album in 1975. It wasn’t as good as ‘Rock and Roll’, but really, what is?
3. David Bowie on ‘Satelite of Love’
This one shouldn’t be too surprising, because the Transformer album was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, but Bowie’s input is largely minimal, only providing a handful of backing vocals to the mix. ‘Satelite of Love’ is the strongest of the harmony vocals, allowing the wind to bluster through the backdrop, as Bowie’s helium vocal comes crashing through the final coda, bringing another level of grit and gravitas to a tune that embodies muscle and gleeful mania. Where it gets more exciting is in its propensity to provide change and creativity. The song was later covered by Eurythmics, bringing a new sense of fusion.
The former Smiths songwriter Morrissey released a cover of the tune in 2013, to coincide with the death of Lou Reed. “He has been there all of my life,” Morrissey said, describing the impact of the late Velvet Underground vocalist. “He will always be pressed to my heart. Thank God for those, like Lou, who move within their own laws, otherwise, imagine how dull the world would be.” Imagine how much duller ‘Satelite of Love’ would be, if that trembling voice didn’t kick into the mix, and bring it to a higher plain.
2. Eric Clapton on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’
Guitarist George Harrison felt that bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney weren’t putting their back into his work. Lennon regularly absented himself from his tracks, and he doesn’t feature on either ‘Long. Long, Long’ or ‘Savoy Truffle’, and McCartney would only work with Harrison after the guitarist ploughed through a number of his contributions. There’s no greater evidence of Harrison’s irritation than the Get Back series, where Harrison looks visibly grumpier until he finally decides that the guys can place an advert in NME for a replacement guitarist. One of the names Lennon bandies is Eric Clapton, who had worked with The Beatles in 1968.
The presence of an outside guitarist was one the band felt was odd, and didn’t ally with their principles. There is no doubt that Harrison, McCartney and Lennon could have performed the barrelling solo on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, but Clapton’s presence made an impression on the band, as they all contributed more “handsomely” to the track. McCartney played a blinding piano solo that opens the track, before returning to the bass guitar for the instrumental passage, pummelling on the instrument like a heavy metal rhythm guitarist aching to be heard in concert.
1. Paul Weller on ‘Champagne Supernova’
Noel Gallagher is no guitar genius, and he is the first to admit that, but he has played a number of searing guitar solos on ‘Live Forever’, ‘Supersonic’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. And yet the most exhilarating guitar solo was performed by Paul Weller, who was credited as a “supersub”. Gallagher must have been thrilled by the presence of Weller, who had fronted one of his favourite bands: The Jam. Gallagher always viewed himself as a rhythm guitar player, happily allowing a superior guitar player to tackle the bending riffs. The Stone Roses’ John Squire filled in for Weller at the band’s stint at Knebworth.
Weller and Gallagher have since gone on to write a collection of songs together, and the duo even lived near to each other for a period of time. Gallagher’s brother Liam formed a clothing brand out of The Jam’s ‘Pretty Green’, although whether Weller was flattered by the decision remains to be seen. The famously quiet singer has not made any comment about whether or not he viewed the move as flattery or theft, but Weller is no stranger to leaning on his influences. The bass line on ‘Start!’ sounds like it came from a band from Liverpool…