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From Cream to Elton John: 10 secret Beatles collaborations

The Beatles is often synonymous with success within the music industry. Their story is equal parts romantic rags-to-riches, and revolutionary. Not only had they created the possibility (if not only a pipedream) that a rock ‘n’ roll band can ‘make it’, they also proved that such a band can make it while creating incredible music. 

The Beatles’ legacy is not solely tied to their success story, it is their ability to write influential music that made them so exceptional. By 1965, The Beatles had played Shea Stadium, making them the first band to play a sold-out stadium. They had essentially worn the live global circuit out – the only possible new frontier they could have conquered next was playing in outer space.

So instead, they began to look inwards and not outwards; they returned once again to the recording studio, but this time they had set out to conquer an entirely new landscape, and that is revolutionising the way bands would record their albums. Rubber Soul and Revolver are their first two records that saw the Liverpool lads begin to explore more tape manipulation, more tracking experimentation and more complex songs.

Given this two-pronged reputation – having played too many live shows and later releasing groundbreaking records, it would have been strange if you hadn’t heard about them and their names. One of the most endearing aspects of The Beatles was their seemingly down to earth attitude and their continued desire to keep playing music, despite astronomical success. 

During the band’s career, often because of management’s grip or the record label’s conditions, if any of The Beatles’ ever wanted to collaborate with outside musicians or simply just lend a helping hand, the lads from Liverpool would sometimes use a pseudonym. 

Often, it was done in a joking way, which speaks to the playful personalities of The Beatles. To give you an example, George Harrison sat in on Billy Preston’s 1971 album, I wrote a Simple Song, and half-heartedly disguised himself as George H. and ‘Harry Georgeson’. 

Here, we took a look at the best secret collaborations the Beatles undertook while using different names

10 secret Beatles collaborations:

Bonzo Dog Band – ‘I’m The Urban Spaceman’ Feat. Paul McCartney

The Bonzo Dog Band, or sometimes known as The Bonzos, once welcomed Paul McCartney in with open arms under the guise as ‘Apollo C. Venmouth’. McCartney, or in this case known as Venmouth, produced The Bonzo’s most successful (not surprisingly), single, ‘I’m The Urban Spaceman’. 

The song was written by Neil Innes, who is also known for his work with Monty Python and The Rutles, which is not surprising when one hears the dark sarcastic quality of the track. The song is seemingly about drugs, and equating one’s false sense of exuberance to being out ‘in space.’

Elton John – ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ Feat. John Lennon

In 1973, Elton John and John Lennon became good friends and collaborated a few times. Elton John worked on Lennon’s ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’, and Lennon would contribute to Elton’s rendition of ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’. He did this through anonymity for some time, under his alter ego, Winston O’Boogie. 

The mystery broke when Elton John finally convinced Lennon to come up on stage with him to perform three songs. Lennon was extremely reluctant to do this, as he was very nervous to get back up on stage after a hiatus of not playing live. Lennon jokingly said to Elton that if ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’ reaches number one, then he would. As fate would have it, it would be Lennon’s only number-one single.

Lennon fondly remembered Elton John later on: “I was amazed at his ability. A fine musician, great piano player. I was really pleasantly surprised at the way he could get in on such a loose track and add to it and keep up with the rhythm changes.”

Splinter – ‘Costafine Town’ Feat. George Harrison

An example of having his hands tied due to contractual obligations, Harrison who was still signed to Apple Records, wanted to produce Splinter who were the first group to be signed to Harrison’s Dark Horse Records.

Splinter are Bill Elliot and Bobby Purvis and their connection to George Harrison is not surprising when you hear their most successful song, ‘Costafine Town’, and its uncanny resemblance to George Harrison’s sound. 

On his label’s release, George Harrison fictitiously splintered himself into three producers who received credit: Jai Raj Harrison, Hari Georgeson, and P. Producer (George). You have to wonder how hard he really was trying to disguise himself or how much it was just a matter of formalities.

Harry Nilsson – ‘Spaceman’ Feat. Ringo Starr

People have often come to associate Harry Nillson as the fifth Beatle. His Pussy Cats album was produced by John Lennon who shared a large part of his ‘lost weekend’ with Nilsson; the two were part of a drinking club called the ‘Hollywood Vampires’ of which the likes of Keith Moon was a part of as well.

What might not be as well known is that Ringo Starr played on Nilsson’s ‘Spaceman’ under the appropriate name, ‘Ritchie Snare’. Starr played on a few tracks on Nilsson’s 1972 album Son of Schmillson. 

Cream – ‘Badge’ Feat. George Harrison

It is well known that George Harrison and Eric Clapton were good friends. Clapton’s contribution to Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, while uncredited, is widely acclaimed. Not only did Harrison get a credit on this song as L’Angelo Mysterioso, he helped write Clapton write the song which explains the citation.

Harrison talked about the story: “I helped Eric write ‘Badge’ you know. Each of them had to come up with a song for that Goodbye Cream album and Eric didn’t have his written. We were working across from each other and I was writing the lyrics down and we came to the middle part so I wrote ‘Bridge.'”

Harrison remembered fondly before adding: “Eric read it upside down and cracked up laughing – ‘What’s BADGE?’ he said. After that, Ringo Starr walked in drunk and gave us that line about the swans living in the park.”

‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ – Howlin’ Wolf Feat. Ringo Starr

This timeless collaboration happened by chance during the London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions. Eric Clapton had arranged these sessions to pair Howlin’ Wolf with The Rolling Stones’ rhythm section. Ringo Starr, or known as ‘Ritchie’ during this collaboration, filled in for Charlie Watts.

‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ is an old blues number written by Willie Dixon. It so happens that Bill Wyman could not make it either that day and so Klaus Voormann filled in, who happened to be connected to The Beatles; Voormann developed the artwork for Revolver.

Percy Thrillington – ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ Feat. Paul McCartney

For this release, Paul McCartney teamed up with Richard Anthony Hewson, and assumed the pseudonym ‘Percy Thrillington’. The piece of music is an interesting instrumental version of McCartney’s album Ram

While the instrumental was recorded in 1971, the project was shelved until 1977, as it had to be put on hold due to the formation of McCartney’s band, Wings. While some had their suspicions, it wasn’t until 1989 when McCartney eventually revealed Percy Thrillington’s identity.

The Travelling Wilburys – ‘Handle With Care’ Feat. George Harrison

Although Harrison’s identity (along with all the other major names) was out in the open since day one for The Travelling Wilburys, Harrison recorded what would become the Wilburys first single, ‘Handle with Care’, intended as a B-Side.

What was originally happenstance, would take shape into a newly formed band, as Harrison teamed up with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the rest of them.

Perhaps to maintain some form of innocence, one that existed prior to every one of their musical experiences developing as they did, they decided to change their names. Harrison became ‘Nelson Wilbury’.

Steve Miller Band – ‘My Dark Hour’ Feat. Paul McCartney

Chances are you will instantly recognise this riff that Steve Miller recycled later for his ‘Fly Like An Eagle’. The Beatles and Steve Miller were at Olympic Studios in two different rooms at the same time, and after the Fab Four had an intensive argument about their later manager, Allen Klein, the other three Beatles left, leaving McCartney alone in the studio.

He would eventually find himself wandering over to the neighbouring studio to find Steve Miller alone as well. Miller was working on his album, Brave New World at the time. The two decided to collaborate at the moment. 

One of the coolest aspects about Macca is that he is always willing to play music whenever and loves it, whereas Lennon was a little moodier than him. McCartney received credit under the name of simply, ‘Paul’. Listen to the song – it is also a great example of how a song can develop from one thing into the next while maintaining its core theme.

Yoko Ono – ‘Woman Power’ feat. John Lennon

As previously stated, Lennon was more reluctant to collaborating and simply playing a lot. In 1973, Ono had three solo albums out, which were all very much under the influence of the avant-garde. This is to be expected as she was an established visual artist in New York City by the time she met Lennon.

Her fourth record, Feeling the Space, was more grounded and a little less experimental. It is no surprise then that Lennon added some acid-like distorted guitars on her track, ‘Woman Power’.

Later on in his life, Lennon became more smitten with the idea of being ‘wholesome’, and Ono helped him redirect some of his misguided energy. Women always held a strong presence within Lennon’s life, and it was no surprise that he changed his tune to be more loving to the women in his life as opposed to resenting them.

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