10 massive pop stars who secretly appeared on rock and metal songs

Elton John, Gene Simmons of Kiss, Katy Perry and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider
(Image credit: David M. Benett/Michael Ochs Archives/John Shearer/Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

The worlds of rock and pop might be diametrically opposed in some ways but there have always been crossovers, in both directions of travel. From Eddie Van Halen lending his six-string skills to Michael Jackson’s Beat It to Ozzy Osbourne and Post Malone’s recent I’ll-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine collaborations on Take What You Want and It’s A Raid, there have been plenty of odd-couple pairings to raise eyebrows. Sometimes, though, unlikely alliances have flown largely under the radar. Here are 10 times major pop stars have appeared on rock and metal songs that you probably don’t know about.

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Elton John – Saxon, Party ‘Til You Puke (1986)

Elton John has guested on a number of rock records, including tracks by Alice In Chains, Fall Out Boy, Queens Of The Stone Age and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Perhaps the most surprising, though, was a mid-80s shot of boogie piano on a suitably rambunctious song called Party 'til You Puke. Saxon singer Biff Byford explained that it came about when they were recording in studios next-door to each other. “I think he was helicoptering in and out of the studio every couple of days on his way to royal weddings or whatever. We got to know the band more than him, really, but he was a nice enough guy,” he told 2fast2die.

Katy Perry – P.O.D., Goodbye For Now (2006)

She might now be one of the biggest pop stars in the world but back in the mid-2000s Katy Perry was a struggling singer in the Christian rock scene. When Christian nu-metal mob P.O.D. were looking for a female guest vocalist for a track on 2006 album Testify, their producer recommended Perry, who sang on Goodbye For Now, appeared in the video and made some live TV appearances with the band. P.O.D. singer Sonny Sandoval told the San Diego Union-Tribune some years later: “I don’t know Katy Perry the diva. I know Katy Perry the tomboy who came in acting like one of us, picking her nose and being goofy, having dinner with us and we’d sit around like a family. That’s the kid I know.”

Boy George – Toilet Böys, The Last Breath Of The World's Greatest Rock & Roll Love Affair (2016)

Boy George has appeared as a featured artist on literally dozens of tracks in the pop, dance and DJ realms. His sole foray into the world of hard rock came with a guest appearance on this epically titled 2016 comeback single by neo-sleaze rockers the Toilet Böys. George had also previously collaborated with Toilet Böys vocalist Miss Guy, co-writing the fellow club DJ’s somewhat poppier solo track Stay Away from Pretty Boys.

Donna Summer – Gene Simmons, Burning Up With Fever and Tunnel of Love (1978)

The 1970s was one big cultural melting pot, so its no surprise that Kiss bassist Gene Simmons packed his debut album with friends from all walks of music life. Everyone from Joe Perry, Rick Nielsen and Bob Seger to Helen Reddy and Gene’s then-paramour Cher appeared, but the biggest surprise was disco queen Donna Summer, who sang backing vocals on two songs, Burning Up With Fever and Tunnel Of Love. The connection? Kiss and Summer were both signed to Casablanca Records (and there’s every chance they’d spent a night out at fabled New York nightclub Studio 54).  Bonus points: future Married With Child Star Katey Sagel also appeared on the album.

Gary Numan – Fear Factory, Obsolete (1998)

It’s no secret that Gary Numan appeared on Fear Factory’s cover of Cars, which provided the industrial metallers with a moderate hit as a standalone single and helped make Obsolete their biggest-selling album. Perhaps less well-known is the fact that, while they had him, they also got the electronic music pioneer to supply spoken word dialogue they would use on the sci-fi concept album’s title track. In a FortuneCity interview, vocalist Burton C. Bell said: “It wasn't until after the fact that I realized that Gary Newman is one of the forefathers of electronic music and here he is on our record twenty years later saying that man is obsolete. I was like ‘Wow man, maybe it is partially your fault!’”

Justin Timberlake – Foo Fighters, Make It Right (2017)

Dave Grohl has, of course, guested with just about everyone and has had rock and metal royalty from Paul McCartney to Brian May and Lemmy have made appearances on his own recorded output. Even pop superstars want a bit of Dave’s magic and when the Foo Fighters were recording the Concrete and Gold album at EastWest studios, Justin Timberlake was also working at the legendary LA facilities. “We’d drink whiskey in the parking lot,” Grohl told Rolling Stone. “Then the night before his last day, he says, ‘Can I sing on your record? I don’t want to push it, but – I just want to be able to tell my friends.’” The result was some ‘la la la’s’ in the backing vocals and bragging rights for Timberlake.

Billy Joel - Twisted Sister, Be Chrool to your Scuel (1985)

When Twisted Sister got Alice Cooper to appear on their 1985 single, Be Chrool to Your Scuel, it didn’t raise many eyebrows. The New Yorkers had, after all, been the successors to his bubblegum shock rock crown during Alice’s early-80s dip. What was more surprising was that it featured Billy Joel on piano -  although that would have been far less fathomable if you didn’t know about Joel’s past playing songs with titles like Amplifier Fire and Brain Invasion in proto-metal band Attila

Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet) – Def Leppard, Animal(1987)

Spandau Ballet and Def Leppard became friends when both bands found themselves residing in Dublin in the mid-80s - a time when Ireland operated a tax exemption scheme for creative writers and composers. Joe Elliott and Spandau guitarist Gary Kemp found themselves bonding over a shared love of Bowie and Mott The Hoople and Kemp ended up providing uncredited backing vocals on Leppard’s huge hit single Animal.

Liza Minnelli – My Chemical Romance, Mama (2006)

When My Chemical Romance were recording ambitious third album The Black Parade they decided they needed a female guest for a song called Mama, in which The Patient protagonist pens an emotional letter to his mother. “I wanted somebody kind of motherly, but who was also a survivor, had been through a lot, but was rooted in theatre. [Minnelli] was the first person that came to mind,” singer Gerard Way told Village Voice in 2011. They never thought the showbiz legend would actually agree but she did it for free, delivering the lines she’d been asked for and adding her own unhinged sobbing to the outro.

Bonnie Tyler – Spike, Fortune (2014)

In 2014, then-Quireboys frontman Spike embarked on a labour of love in the form of 100% Pure Frankie Miller – a tribute album to the Scottish singer-songwriter. It featured appearances from Ronnie Wood and Ian Hunter (who Spike bumped into at the Classic Rock Awards), as well as a duet with the similarly rasping Bonnie ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ Tyler. “I played that to my mam and she couldn’t tell the difference. She said ‘Which bit’s you?’” Spike recounted to My Global Mind.

Paul Travers has spent the best part of three decades writing about punk rock, heavy metal, and every associated sub-genre for the UK's biggest rock magazines, including Kerrang! and Metal Hammer