The 50 best collaborations in rock

Robert Plant & Sandy Denny, Slash & Michael Jackson, Gary Moore & Phil Lynott
(Image credit: Robert Plant & Sandy Denny: Michael Stroud | Slash & Michael Jackson: Frank Micelotta Archive | Gary Moore & Phil Lynott: Pictorial Press)

Those inhabiting the worlds of rock and metal have never been shy of a good collaboration. From the sublime to the downright ridiculous (Ozzy and Miss Piggy, we're looking at you), a well-timed, well-placed collaboration can be enough to revive even the most waning of careers, or to open up an artist to a whole new generation of music-hungry fans.

Here, we chronicle 30 of rock's very best collaborations.

Led Zeppelin and Sandy Denny - Battle Of Evermore (1971)

It was rare for Led Zeppelin to enlist a guest, but Battle… is so much better for Sandy Denny's ethereal, paired vocal. It was Robert Plant’s idea to duet with the Fairport Convention singer on the Led Zeppelin IV album track. “For me to sing with Sandy Denny was great,” Plant said. “Sandy and I were friends and it was the most obvious thing to ask her to sing on Battle Of Evermore.”

Cream and George Harrison - Badge (1969)

Beatle George’s (or L’Angelo Misterioso, as he was credited) spine-tingling, chiming guitar motif, ringing out before a wonderfully melodic Eric Clapton solo, is for most people the hook and the most memorable moment on Badge. Harrison also co-wrote, with Clapton, what was Cream’s most commercial and also their most enduring hit.

Anthrax and Public Enemy - Bring The Noise (1991)

From the rarities album Attack Of The Killer B’s, here’s a reworking of the 1987 Public Enemy rap classic. “[Bring The Noise] was the moment when the whole rap-metal genre was born,” says Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. “Originally, I didn’t take Anthrax seriously,” adds Public Enemy’s Chuck D. “I soon changed my mind.”

Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen - Beat It (1983)

Displaying the talent-spotting eye of Alex Ferguson and the business acumen of Jeff Bezos, Jacko poached the guitarist while the rest of Van Halen were out of town, extracted a fret-melting tapping solo, and didn’t even pay for his services. “Maybe he’ll give me dance lessons someday,” mused Eddie Van Halen. As far as we know, this return favour never came to pass. 

Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen - Because The Night (1978)

It began life as a Bruce Springsteen song, written for Darkness On The Edge Of Town, but Patti Smith was recording her Easter album in the next-door studio and producer Jimmy Iovine, who was working on both records, believed it would sit better with her. He was right, and the result would be her biggest hit, something Springsteen’s guitarist Steve Van Zandt hasn’t forgiven the Boss for since. 

“It was insanity that he gave it to Patti Smith,” says Van Zandt. “I went fucking crazy when he told me; ‘Are you fucking nuts?’ It took us years to have a hit!”

Alice In Chains and Elton John - Black Gives Way To Blue (2009)

Landing Sir Elton John for the title-track of their comeback album was a bit of a coup for the grunge heroes. Jerry Cantrell recalled: “We got a call from our studio manager saying that Elton wanted to talk to us. We walked into the studio, where he was already recording.” His plaintive piano added another dimension to the band’s ode to fallen frontman Layne Staley.

Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne - Close My Eyes Forever (1988)

A smash hit ballad from the album Lita. “I grew up listening to Black Sabbath. The first concert I ever attended was Black Sabbath. I was just 13 years old – it changed my life!” recalled Lita Ford. “I just never dreamed that I would sing a duet with that very talented madman Ozzy.” Somehow the beauty and the beast pairing worked, and landed the duo a Number 8 single in the US.

Meat Loaf and Cher - Dead Ringer For Love 1981

Male/female duets are often soppy and tender affairs, but Cher and Meat Loaf defy those rules with aplomb on the uptempo Dead Ringer….The video for this Jim Steinman-written anthem, featuring Meat and Cher flirting outrageously in Walt’s Inn, a bar full of softball fans, has quite rightly passed into rock folklore. Who could forget Cher’s portrayal of a dusky, gum-chewing, leather-clad badass, or blame Meat for accepting her offer and grabbing his coat?

David Bowie and John Lennon - Fame (1975)

Inspired by a Jackson 5 song with a title suggested by John Lennon, this could have been a mongrel track from the Young Americans album. In fact, it’s a white soul/rock classic, and even if Lennon’s contribution was minimal, it’s integral – he sings the title over and over, and had a small lyrical input.

Michael Jackson and Slash - Give In To Me (1993)

Say what you like about Michael Jackson, but you’ve gotta hand it to the fella: he knew how to pick a guitar player to collaborate with. The normally unflappable Slash needed a sit-down when Jacko rang for 1991’s Dangerous (“I was star-struck… that feeling of, I guess I’ve arrived”). All the cool kids were listening to Nevermind by now, but everyone sought out Give In To Me, gave kudos to its stalking grooves, played air guitar to the climactic blues solo, and forgot all about the oxygen tents, chimpanzees and facial subsidence.

Pantera and Kerry King - Goddamn Electric (2000)

Kerry King can be heard on the outro of this track from Pantera’s final album Reinventing The Steel. Says the Slayer guitarist: “Apart from the fact that I know, and love, these guys, I did it because Pantera always said they were influenced by Slayer. That was cool.” It certainly was – his riff-razing turn enhanced an already ferocious song.

Pink Floyd and Roy Harper - Have A Cigar (1975)

Found on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album, this is one of two songs in their career where an outsider does lead vocals; the other is The Great Gig In The Sky. Harper volunteered to take over when songwriter Roger Waters strained his voice, and David Gilmour refused to do it. The result has become a legendary footnote in two extraordinary careers.

Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell - Hunger Strike (1991)

Taken from the one-off, self-titled Temple Of The Dog album, Hunger Strike features a duet between two great singers of the grunge era, and was the track that introduced Eddie Vedder to the rock world. Chris Cornell was having trouble with the vocals when Vedder stepped in and saved the day. “He sang half of that song not knowing that I’d wanted the part to be there, exactly the way I was thinking about doing it,” remembers Cornell.

John Mellencamp and Mick Ronson - Jack & Diane (1982)

From the album American Fool, on which Mick Ronson worked closely with John Mellencamp. He told Classic Rock of Ronson’s contribution to this song: “I owe Mick Ronson the hit song, Jack & Diane. Mick was very instrumental in helping me arrange that song, as I’d thrown it on the junk heap.”

David Bowie and Stevie Ray Vaughan - Let’s Dance (1983)

The funky groove of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance (from the album of the same title) was no doubt down to the influence of its producer, Chic’s main man, Nile Rodgers, but it was the amazing guitar solo from Stevie Ray Vaughan that lifted it into the realms of genius. It was a major break for the late guitarist, and Bowie was so impressed he asked Vaughan to tour with him. The latter declined, despite the fact that at the time he was having to drive trucks to finance his own musical ambitions.

The Wildhearts and Mick Ronson - My Baby Is A Headfuck (1993)

The Wildhearts had wanted ex-Bowie’s Spiders From Mars/Mott The Hoople guitarist icon Mick Ronson to produce their debut album, Earth Vs The Wildhearts, but sadly it was prevented by his deteriorating health. However, Ronson did manage record a guitar solo for …Headfuck shortly before his untimely death in April 1993. The song remains one of Ginger and co’s finest moments.

Beastie Boys and Kerry King - No Sleep Till Brooklyn 1986

Slayer guitarist Kerry King was brought in to give this song (from the Beastie Boys’ album Licensed To Ill) some serious metal energy. “We just knew that this needed a real metal solo,” says Licensed… producer Rick Rubin. “And who better to come in than Kerry? I was working with Slayer at the time.” Rubin’s golden touch did the business and the Beasties had a monster hit (and a great song under their belts).

Gary Moore and Phil Lynott - Out In The Fields (1985)

This song, one of a pair from Gary Moores Run For Cover album to feature Phil Lynott, was recorded two years after Thin Lizzy’s dissolution and is one of the last significant recordings made by Phil before his death. Addressing the Northern Ireland conflict, its hi-tech sounds became a huge hit. 

Saxon and Elton John - Party Til You Puke (1986)

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Saxon and the future Sir Reg crossed paths at Wisseloord Studios in Holland during the recording of the latter’s Rock The Nations album, Elton agreeing to guest on a ditty that goes: ‘There’s people drinking gasoline/It must be two hundred proof’. Awesome.

Motörhead and Girlschool - Please Don’t Touch (1981)

Released under the moniker ‘Headgirl’, Please Don’t Touch was a track on the St Valentine’s Day Massacre EP, on which Motörhead also covered Girlschool’s Emergency and the ’School girls did likewise to Motörhead’s Bomber. But it was the superb collaboration on this old Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ song that captured our attention.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Please Read The Letter (2007)

Originally on the Page & Plant album Walking Into Clarksdale, this collaboration was featured on Plant & Krauss’s chart-busting Raising Sand. “It’s about yearning for someone, having unfinished business. There’s nothing rock’n’roll about it,” says Plant. Well, we beg to differ, and Krauss’s input elevates an already good song into a great one.

Thin Lizzy and Frankie Miller - Still In Love With You (1974)

Influential – but underused – Glaswegian hard rock vocalist Frankie Miller duetted with Philip Lynott on this version of Thin Lizzy’s greatest love song, which first appeared on the Nightlife album. Brian Robertson refused to re-record a guitar solo performed by his predecessor Gary Moore on the grounds it could not be surpassed.

Motörhead and Steve Vai - Terminal Show (2004)

Steve Vai actually makes an appearance on two songs on Motörhead’s Inferno album, the other being on Down On Me. “For me there was no problem having Steve on here,” says Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell. “What he did fitted well. He didn’t turn Motörhead into Steve Vai.”

Rush and Aimee Mann - Time Stand Still (1987)

This collaboration is shrouded in mystery. Even Mann is unsure how it came about: “They called me up and I went to Toronto. I never found out why they chose me specifically. I just did as I was told.” Still, the results – Rush’s highbrow commerciality tempered by Mann’s delightfully wistful vocals – are stunning.

Queen and David Bowie - Under Pressure, 1981

This chart-topping collaboration came about almost by accident. Bowie had agreed to sing backing vocals on the song Cool Cat but didn’t like the final results. So he and Queen jammed something new and came up with this instead. Easy, innit?!

Cheap Trick and Chrissie Hynde - Walk Away (1990)

There’s no missing the inimitable tones of Chrissie Hynde on her duet with Robin Zander on Walk Away, a song the Pretenders frontwoman also co-wrote. Cheap Trick’s Busted album includes more special guests including Foreigner’s Mick Jones and Russell Mael from Sparks.

The Beatles and Eric Clapton - While My Guitar Gently Weeps (1968)

Eric Clapton would later take George Harrison’s hospitality too far by pinching his wife, but he’s the perfect house guest on this White Album highlight, getting the bickering Fabs to pull together while turning in a swooping double-tracked solo. Fact: Clapton is the only outsider ever to play guitar on a Beatles record.

Black Crowes and Jimmy Page - Whole Lotta Love (2000)

From the Live At The Greek album, which captured two nights at the Greek Theatre in LA, when Jimmy Page joined the Crowes for a set of Zep covers and blues classics. This was a stand-out moment, allowing the band and the legendary guitarist to almost reinvent the wheel by invigorating a song we know so well. Makes you wish Page would get out and play more…

Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty - Stop Draggin' My Heart Around (1981)

Producer Jimmy Iovine strikes again! Stop Draggin' My Heart Around was written by Petty and Mike Campbell for the Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album Hard Promises. But Jimmy Iovine, who produced both that and Stevie Nicks’ debut solo LP Bella Donna, thought it suited Nicks’ record better. So, it was switched, with Petty and the Heartbreakers playing on it.

Run DMC and Aerosmith - Walk This Way (1986)

Aerosmith were in the doldrums when New York hip-hoppers invited Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to appear on a remake of a song from their 1975 album, Toys In The Attic. Perry later revealed: “I didn’t know Run from DMC till we met them in the studio and cracked a lotta beers.”

Alice In Chains and Ann Wilson - Brother (1992)

From the Sap EP, with the Heart icon joining AIC for three songs, of which this is the standout one. While many on the Seattle grunge scene showed little interest in the 1980s chart bands, there was a lot of respect for fellow Seattlers Heart. Wilson’s vocals add an extra dimension as they soar above Staley’s in the chorus.

The Band + Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell And Bob Dylan - The Last Waltz (1978)

Okay, so it’s not a single song, but this collaboration was just too good not to mention. It says much for the reputation and pulling power of The Band that they could persuade all of these great musicians to join them for their final concert. This happened at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in ’76, and remains one of the most memorable concert films and soundtracks ever.

The Chemical Brothers + Noel Gallagher - Let Forever Be (1999)

With the controls of his own band set to ‘torpid’, the Oasis guv’nor popped out to perform grammar-mangling vocals (‘How does it feel like…?’) on the beat boffins’ neo-psychedelic masterpiece. “I think it was probably better as an instrumental,” reflects Gallagher, with trademark candour. “I did say that to the short one, but he thought it was better with singing.”

The Damned and Lemmy - Ballroom Blitz (1978)

This is a live version featured on the B-side of the single I Just Can’t Be Happy Today. A cover of the Sweet classic, Lemmy’s on bass. This was recorded when The Damned were actually billed as The Doomed. It was included on the CD reissue of Machine Gun Etiquette. Seriously, The Damned teaming up with Lemmy? What’s not to like?!

Doro and Udo Dirkschneider - Dancing With An Angel (2002)

The Renée and Renato of heavy metal, Doro and Udo pooled their talents to remarkable effect on this Germanic power-weepie. While Doro does indeed sound angelic, Udo’s patented rasp is like something beyond the grave; it’s as if his tonsils have been coated with creosote and then napalmed. Curious, but undeniably captivating nonetheless.

Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash - Girl From North Country (1978)

Although the song first appeared six years earlier, on the record The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, this version is featured on Nashville Skyline. This drew heavily from the English folk traditions, to which Dylan had been exposed while in London. Cash and Dylan’s gnarly vocals mesh brilliantly.

The KLF and Glenn Hughes - America: What Time Is Love (1992)

Unlikely bedfellows on paper, but appearing on this dance-music hit provided former Deep Purple bassist/singer Glenn Hughes with an escape from his personal and professional hell. “I knew if the song broke big I’d either go out on a crazy drug binge and die – or do something with my life,” he recalls. Fortunately it was the latter.

Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush - Don't Give Up (1986)

A monster hit from Gabriel’s album So, this has Kate Bush taking the role of someone trying to counsel Gabriel, who’s in economic despair. She also appeared in the first of two videos for the song, directed by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme. Bush and Gabriel have sung together on four songs in all, but this is the pinnacle.

Hawkwind and Matthew Wright - Spirit Of The Age (2005)

TV presenter Matthew Wright already knew Hawkwind through attending their Hawkfest festivals, but it was after the band had appeared on Wright’s then-GLR radio show that the idea for him to sing with them on their Take Me To Your Leader album was born: “The first time I got up with them I was so nervous but Dave Brock’s such a nice guy he really put me at ease.”

Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow - Picture (2002)

The Kid is in wistful mood (‘Wish I had a good girl to miss me…’) while Crow plays the downtrodden little lady (‘Ain’t heard from you in three damn days’), and although they’re possibly rock’s least convincing couple, this country ballad is quite beautiful. That is, if you can shake off the image of a pair of Alabama newlyweds slow-dancing while a gaggle of rednecks holler slack-jawed approval.

Linkin Park and Jay-Z - Numb/Encore (2004)

From the album Collision Course, this is a mash-up between the nu metal heroes and the celebrated rapper. This combined the Jay-Z song Encore (from 2003) and Linkin Park’s Numb (from the same year). While many mash-ups sound a mess, this was done with style. It was a huge hit.

Manic Street Preachers and Nina Persson - Your Love Alone Is Not Enough (2007)

The Cardigans diva was always grittier than Lovefool let on, while the Manics had a soft spot for pop princesses (see also Kylie). “We always loved the truth, depth and feeling of Nina’s voice,” says Sean Moore, “so we plucked up courage to give her a call.” The result was this roaring single from Send Away The Tigers, and the start of the band’s resurrection from the dumper. Next up: Miley Cyrus. Possibly.

Mastodon and Josh Homme - Colony Of Birchmen (2006)

Josh Homme and Mastodon were old friends, and when the opportunity arose for the Queens Of The Stone Age mainman to appear on their first major label album, Blood Mountain, Mastodon grabbed it with caveman gusto. The song is really a homage to Genesis’s The Colony Of Slippermen, from the album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.

Metallica and Marianne Faithful - The Memory Remains

From Metallica’s Reload album, The Memory Remains deals with someone fading into obscurity and consequently being driven mad. It was inspired by the movie Sunset Boulevard, and also contains lines from Marilyn Monroe’s final film, The Misfits. Marianne Faithfull makes an appearance in the video – a quite disturbing carnivalesque affair – as well as on the song.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale Of New York (1987)

"Scumbag!” “Maggot!” “Cheap lousy faggot!” Not so much a duet as a domestic argument, Kirsty MacColl’s brassy put-downs and Shane McGowan’s ravaged croak made them utterly convincing as immigrant soaks watching New York from the gutter. Still the only Christmas song that doesn’t make you want to destroy a nativity scene with a pickaxe.

Public Enemy and Stephen Stills - He Got Game (1998)

Movie soundtracks are fertile ground for collaborations, and the musical companion to director Spike Lee’s basketball flick contains an absolute gem. Against all odds, Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth guitar refrain is sampled and given a new lease of life as the backdrop for Public Enemy’s He Got Game. The resulting track, replete with big gospel chorus and ex-Buffalo man Stills rockin’ up for a guest spot following a “Yo my man, sing it!” from Chuck D, is an absolute blinder.

Queensrÿche and Ronnie James Dio - Operation: Mindcrime II (2006)

The follow-up to 1988’s Operation: Mindcrime album featured the great vocalist in the role of Dr X, originally taken by Anthony Valentine. “We needed someone with the gravitas to carry off the part,” says Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate. “Ronnie had all the credentials. The voice, the experience and the believability. A great choice.” It was indeed.

Seether and Amy Lee - Broken (2004)

Wearing a pair of black angel’s wings (in the video at any rate) Evanescence’s Amy Lee transforms what could’ve been a bad Nickelback demo into a mournful ballad of mammoth proportions. Recorded with her then-boyfriend, Seether frontman Shaun Morgan, the lyrics to this (‘Cause I’m broken when I’m lonesome’) took on extra resonance when the two split up.

Steve Vai and David Coverdale - For The Love Of God (1990)

Although this is primarily an instrumental from Vai’s Passion And Warfare album, Lord Cov appears right at the end. “I wanted someone with a certain type of voice,” says Vai. “I was working with David on the Whitesnake album Slip Of The Tongue. So, nobody else was even considered.”

Rick Wakeman and Ozzy Osbourne - Buried Alive (1999)

In asking Ozzy to join a cast that includes Bonnie Tyler, Trevor Rabin, Justin Hayward and Patrick Stewart on his long-awaited Return To The Centre Of The Earth project, Wakeman renewed ties that date back to Rick’s own cameo on Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album in 1973.

This feature was originally published in Classic Rock 143, in April 2010.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.  

With contributions from