The Odd Couples: ten surprising guest appearances

Queen and Bowie, Aerosmith and Run DMC, Daltrey and Johnson – we all know the major collaborations, where big names have joined forces to produce timeless moments. But what about the more unlikely, more unsung cameos, where rock royalty has teamed up with artists from other musical fields and – usually – come up smiling. Here then are ten of the less congruous guest appearances by Classic Rock regulars on record and TV. If you can think of others, hit the comments section [Reader Advisory: this article contains R’n’B references, themes of a House Music nature and one instance of Lulu…]

1) Adrian Smith & Kym Mazelle Soul singer Kym Mazelle’s CV is replete with references to her influential presence on the Chicago house scene and her star-making turn with Jazzie B’s epochal group Soul II Soul. Somewhere along the line though she crossed paths with Adrian Smith, a third of Iron Maiden’s almighty guitar trio, and their two musical worlds collided on Mazelle’s 2010 EP Destiny. My Shoes was written by Smith, and he also performed guitar and bass and BV’s too.

2) Robert Fripp & Blondie It opens with three stone-cold classic singles – Hanging On The Telephone, One Way Or Another and Picture This – but Blondie’s 1978 breakthrough album Parallel Lines takes an avant-garde, dourly impressionistic turn on track four. Fade Away And Radiate owes much of its ominous, dramatic tone to Robert Fripp’s trademark sustained guitar lines. The King Crimson linchpin had moved to New York the year before, immersing himself in the burgeoning underground scene that (hallelujah) gave Debbie Harry to the world.

3) Flea, Dave Navarro & Alanis Morissette In 1995 the Canadian chanteuse bestrode the world’s album charts with her inescapable megahit Jagged Little Pill, and her edgy reputation was done no harm by its angst-ridden lead single You Oughta Know. Musically, Morissette’s unflinching vocal was enhanced by a frenetic, funky bottom end from Chilli Peppers bass great Flea, and squalling guitar from his then-bandmate, Dave Navarro. Lyrically, the song offered a strong incentive to finally buy those theatre tickets…

**4) Nuno Bettencourt & Janet Jackson… **In 1990 Janet Jackson’s socially charged RnB concept album Rhythm Nation 1814 garnered a hard-hitting single in Black Cat. The tune’s big central riff lent itself well to some big-name rock guitar cameos: Extreme hotshot Nuno Bettencourt was recruited to bulk up the rhythm guitars with his signature squealing-yet-soulful style to the radio edit and ‘Video Mix’. Bettencourt continues his parallel pop career to this day, and has been Rihanna’s touring guitarist since 2009.

4 ½) … and Vernon Reid & Janet Jackson The Living Color axeman brought his striking leftfield style on a later remix (and maybe, in hindsight, overdid it a bit):

5) John Bonham, Jack Bruce & Lulu In 1974 Lulu would had a pretty uncharacteristic hit with her Top 3 hit version of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World. Three years earlier, Bonzo and Bruce added the boom-bang-a-bang to her highly infectious single Everybody Clap. Co-written and produced by their buddy and Lulu’s then husband, Bee Gee Maurice Gibb, the song’s defiantly upbeat message was given extra heft by that supergroup rhythm, but even this pre-release push on Top Of The Pops (Bonham and Bruce notably down the pub) couldn’t help it into the Fab 50. Bonham for one could be of good cheer though – Led Zeppelin IV would change the game that very November.

6) Frank Zappa & Grand Funk Railroad In 1976 Zappa released his classic prog/fusion album Zoot Allures, but he also did his best to revive the flagging fortunes of the embattled Grand Funk Railroad. They were out the other side of their deal with Capitol and fully intended to split up; instead Funk fan Zappa took them on, producing their ’76 Good Singin’, Good Playin’ LP for MCA and lent his own, highly distinct guitar tones to the relentless instrumental curio, Out To Get You.

7) Kerry King & The Beastie Boys Slayer unveiled their thrash metal masterpiece Reign In Blood on Def Jam in 1986. Their producer (and label founder) Rick Rubin was also working on Licensed To Ill, the debut by some snot-nosed upstart hip-hop trio from NYC called The Beastie Boys. Rubin cajoled Slayer’s Kerry King into playing guitar on the singles No Sleep Till Brooklyn and (You’ve Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!) In a brilliant display of in-character performance, King channels his inner tin-eared bedroom axe god, thus perfectly capturing the Beasties zit-geist. Two years later, Rubin would use Slayer’s fearsome Angel Of Death riff as the foundation for Public Enemy’s She Watch Channel Zero.

8) Steve Lukather & Michael Jackson Frère Jacko famously had form with superstar rock guitarists: Steve Stevens (Dirty Diana), Slash (Black Or White) and, of course, Eddie Van Halen on Beat It. But while Eddie’s genre-busting guitar gymnastics is the star turn on that song, a quick tip of the hat to Toto guitarist Lukather, who gives the slick riff an extra layer of groove and flow for the doomed King Of Pop to strut his stuff to.

9) Henry Rollins, Adrian Belew & William Shatner Produced by Ben Folds, the versatile Star Trek star’s better-than-it-should-be 2004 album Has Been featured Joe Jackson, Aimee Mann and, on the 21st century everyman’s rant I Can’t Get Behind That, articulate Black Flag legend Henry Rollins and Crimson/Bowie guitarist Adrian Belew. Tongues firmly in cheek, Rollins and the Shat take turns to rail against everything from global warming and religion to autotuned singers and leaf blowers, as Belew’s oblique six-string rumbles, squeaks and wails behind them.

10) Brian May & Richard Digance Journeyman comedian and folk singer Digance was a regular face on British TV in the late 80s early 90s, and in 1991 he must’ve thought all his birthdays had come at once when May agreed to joined him on his LWT special The Richard Digance Show. After performing his own tune Last Horizon (from his Back To The Light album), he took a stool next to his host and improvised along over the sickly-sweet tune She’s A Lady. Forget the hook-ups with 5ive, Lady Gaga or his spectacular turn atop Buck House – here’s real proof that Brian May just loves, loves to play.

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.