Among the many joys of listening to music are those surprises that sometimes produce a bit of unexpected magic – as can happen when an artist makes an unbilled appearance on someone else’s recording. as a special guest.
Suddenly, listeners are experiencing something they had no idea.
I’m not talking about the big name collabs that get billed that way, awesome as some of them are, like when Diana Ross & the Supremes teamed up with the Temptations for their hit recording of “I’m Gonna Make You Love”. Me.” It reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts, and an album from their collaboration, titled “Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations,” peaked at No. 2 on the album chart. Another album, the soundtrack of their TV special “TCB”, did even better, rising to No. 1.
When most listeners first heard “I’m Going to Make You Love Me,” they knew they were hearing a collaboration between Motown’s two biggest bands. (Yes, I know the Supremes started off as just the Supremes, but at the time of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” Diana Ross had asked – and got her request – that the band be billed as Diana Ross & the Supremes, despite the excellent vocal contributions of the other two members of the trio, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong.)
Nor am I referring to billed collaborations between two individual artists, such as when Stevie Nicks teamed up with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” – a song written by Petty and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell and recorded as the lead single from Nick’s debut solo album, “Bella Donna”.
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard Pop Charts, but was featured on the record sleeve as by Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Even without the billing, Petty’s distinctive voice and Heartbreakers sound would be immediately noticeable to their many fans.
Even a song like “Beer for My Horses,” the hit collaboration between Toby Keith and Willie Nelson that spent six weeks at No. 1 on the country music charts and also soared to No. 22 on the Billboard Billboard Pop Charts. , was published. with the names of both artists, as in “Toby Keith, featuring Willie Nelson”.
I’m talking more about those collaborations that required a bit of guesswork, maybe a bit of mystery, trying to remember “Where have I heard that voice before?” Those where the guest artist remained unbilled, on the recording, at least for a while.
One of the most renowned unbilled performances is when Mick Jagger showed up for guest vocals on Carly Simon’s mega hit, “You’re So Vain.” Although Jagger received no billing on the original record, his distinctive vocals echo through the track.
Sometimes guest artists can be difficult to identify, if their vocal contributions are buried too deeply in the mix. That’s certainly not the case here, because when Jagger arrives to join Simon on the chorus, singing the lines “You’re so vain, I bet you think this song is about you”, his voice is higher in the mix than Simon’s – at least to my ears.
I once said something to a friend about Jagger singing with Simon on “You’re So Vain”. He was not only surprised to hear it, but he remained a bit skeptical. I told him that the next time he hears the song, listen to the chorus more closely.
I still remember my own surprise the first time I heard the song and Jagger came to join Simon. Of course, that only added to speculation that Simon had Jagger in mind when she wrote the song about a vain person – but there were plenty of other potential suspects, most of them between them his former romantic partners. Speculation often centered on actors Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, as well as singer-songwriters such as Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens and her ex-husband, James Taylor.
A few years ago, Simon revealed that at least one of the verses was indeed about Beatty – but she shrewdly kept the mystery going by saying the other verses could be about other people.
Regardless of who Simon sings on “You’re So Vain,” it remains one of the most successful examples of a singer joining a record as an unbilled guest artist, with the record peaking at No. 1 on Billboard. Hot 100.
Another famous unbilled collaboration was when Dire Straits released the band’s super hit, “Money for Nothing” – at least from a performance standpoint. Sting joins the song from the recording saying “I want my MTV”. Although his voice is instantly recognizable to most The Police fans, he is not identified as a vocalist on the Dire Straits original hit single label.
Instead, Mark Knopler kicks off the song with his funky guitar riff, joined by the rest of the band, as Knopler sings about two department store employees complaining about what they perceive to be the easy life. rock stars. “Money for Nothing” proved the smash hit of Dire Strait’s hit album “Brothers in Arms,” soaring to No. 1 in the US Ironically, though the computer-animated workers in the video complain rock musicians while viewing a music video on a bank of televisions in a department store, “Money for Nothing” also won Best Video at the 1986 MTV Awards.
Another irony: Sting’s contributions to the songwriting are minimal, since Knopler said the lyrics were based on an actual conversation he overheard between employees at a department store where he was shopping. Sting then made some lyrical contributions to “Money for Nothing,” but reportedly said he didn’t want songwriter credit. However, her publishing company did so, as she, along with Sting, would benefit from her share of the songwriters’ royalties.
So even though Sting is not listed as a performer on the original label, he was listed as one of the songwriters. Knopler was quoted as saying he didn’t mind. After all, Sting’s “I want my MTV line” line likely contributed to the song’s heavy rotation on the still-thriving MTV Network at the time.
Sting did not join Dire Straits on any of the band’s tours in support of the song and album “Brothers in Arms”, which also generated another huge hit for Dire Straits with “Walk of Life”. That’s because Sting sang and played bass in his own band, The Police, with guitarist Andy Sumners and drummer Stewart Copeland.
Still, those few lines Sting generated for “Money for Nothing” continued to earn him ongoing writing royalties for years, making it more like “money for something.”
Contact James Beaty at [email protected]