I have always been a lover of liner notes. It might even have more to do with why I love vinyl records than anything involving audio quality. It’s so awesome to sit down with an album after putting the record on the turntable. I have fond memories of lying on my brother’s bed listening to records while he did his high school homework. I’m nine years younger. I’d read everything printed… figuring out what “litho” meant, realizing most Wings and Pink Floyd records all used the same font — but especially, who played what. The best part is always the surprises. Recently I was surprised to learn Huey Lewis produced the first Bruce Hornsby album.
So, here then is a nifty list of credits from the liner notes — ones that either surprised me, scared me, or prompted me to buy the album:
Firmly in the latter category is Steve Miller’s first best-of double album, solely because it has My Dark Hour on it. The banger features Paul McCartney on drums, bass and backing vocals. If you’d rather not hear him play an instrument, you can always pick up Smiley Smile by The Beach Boys so you can hear him eating vebetables. And speaking of The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson actually sings backing vocals on Belinda Carlisle’s song about River Phoenix, California from 1996.
Jimmy Page was a very busy session musician before Led Zeppelin. He’s been pretty in-demand post-Zeppelin as well, for that matter. But I didn’t know until recently he plays all the guitar on With A Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker.
Elton John is a record collector like me — though he has a few more connections than I do and likely a bigger budget. No surprise, then, that ol’ Reggie has a broad spectrum of musical tastes. He even likes heavy stuff, as evidenced by the backing vocals and piano he contributes to Fairweather Friends by Queens Of The Stone Age. he’s also on Ozzy Osbourne’s Ordinary Man (so is Slash) — but best of all, he’s on Party Till You Puke by Saxon. Elton isn’t the only one with a surprising taste for metal. The late Lou Reed did an album with Metallica and sang on Tranquilize by The Killers.
Some guest musician credits are better known than others — like Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo on Beat It and Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar on Let’s Dance. But, I somehow missed that it was Jeff Beck soloing on Tina Turner’s Private Dancer. Those three all hold legendary status as guitarists. When it comes to bass, one similarly known commodity is Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers. But I was surprised to learn Flea is the bass player on You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette and Bust A Move by Young MC. That’s a pretty great bass lick to not get a writing credit. Just sayin’.
Sometimes these known commodities aren’t necessarily known for the services they provided. For example, tennis star John McEnroe played guitar on Chrissie Hynde’s A Plan Too Far and former Pink Floyd leader Syd Barrett was recruited for a guitar solo on ex-Soft Machine guitarist/vocalist Kevin Ayers’ Religious Experience.
Other times, the guest musician is an entire band. For example, Pearl Jam are Neil Young’s backing band on Mirror Ball, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie play drums and bass on Werewolves Of London by Warren Zevon, and U2 perform on XXX by Kendrick Lamar. Dave Grohl is the entire band on Joan Jett’s Any Weather, contributing drums, bass and guitar.
More Beatles-related cool stuff: George Harrison plays guitar on John Lennon’s first post-Beatles hit Instant Karma. And George’s son Dhani Harrison plays drums and guitar on The Heart Gently Weeps by Wu-Tang Clan — a nod to his dad’s song. In a similar nod-type thing, Tom Waits got Keith Richards to play guitar on his song Satisfied, which is an answer to the Rollling Stones’ first big hit.
Here are a few cool ones for a bullet round: Prince plays synth on Stand Back by Stevie Nicks. Paul Weller of The Jam and — of course — The Style Council plays guitar on Oasis’ Champagne Supernova. Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould sings and plays guitar on the Foo Fighters track Dear Rosemary. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck plays the opening guitar in I Will Dare by The Replacements. Tommy Lee plays drums on You Know My Name by Courtney Love. Jack White plays acoustic guitar on Solid Wall of Sound by A Tribe Called Quest. Jerry Garcia plays pedal steel on Teach Your Children by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Weirder still, Stills plays percussion on You Should Be Dancing by The Bee Gees. Also weird is the fact that among Slash’s many, many hired-gun gigs is the one he did playing guitar on Halls of Illusions by Insane Clown Posse.
I didn’t know Bachman-Turner Overdrive managed to get Little Richard to play piano on Take It Like A Man. Elvis got Chet Atkins to play acoustic guitar on Heartbreak Hotel. He’s kind of OK. Sticking with the wayback machine, that’s a 22-year-old Marvin Gaye on drums in The Marvelettes hit Please Mr. Postman, and a 19-year-old Glenn Frey on acoustic guitar and background vocals on Bob Seger’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man. Lonnie Mack plays bass and John Sebastian plays harmonica on The Doors’ classic Roadhouse Blues. Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek has contributed to both Bedbugs and Ballyhoo by Echo & the Bunnymen and Craigslist by “Weird Al” Yankovic — in addition to producing and playing keyboards on X’s first album Los Angeles.
Finally, sometimes the augmentation of a guest musician creates a supergroup situation. Jeff Beck’s instrumental Beck’s Bolero features Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Keith Moon and Nicky Hopkins. Page also plays the guitar solo on One Hit To The Body by The Rolling Stones. But how could anyone ever compete with this legendary pairing: Kenny G plays saxophone on the Michael Bolton song Soul Provider. If they could have just added Zamfir and Richard Clayderman, with whistling by Roger Whittaker, it would have been PERFECT!
• • •
Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.