Nine Rock Stars Who Sang Backup on Other People’s Hits

John Lennon sang backup on David Bowie’s “Fame”

The title of this list pretty much explains everything. You know, rock stars becoming friends, deciding to collaborate, etc. Some of these cases of famous artists singing backup are well known. Others, not so much.

  1. MICK JAGGER, "You're So Vain". Although the honoree of Carly Simon's '70s classic remains a secret – James Taylor? Warren Beatty? – it's not such a secret that Jagger sings with Simon during the chorus.
  2. MICHAEL JACKSON, "Somebody's Watching Me". In the mid-'80s, a talent-free performer named Rockwell released this novelty song. It became an unlikely hit thanks partly to Jackson, then at the peak of his career, singing the chorus. And maybe Rockwell had a little help from ol' Pops as well: his real name was Kennedy William Gordy, and he was the son of Motown mogul Berry Gordy. Rockwell insisted that he invented his stage name so that he could record without the knowledge of his father and avoid claims of nepotism. I find that a bit hard to swallow.
  3. JOHN LENNON, "Fame". David Bowie's 1975 hit was actually cowritten by Lennon, who also provided guitar and backing vocals. (The falsetto "fame!" you hear throughout the song is Lennon.)
  4. MADONNA, "Sidewalk Talk". Madonna sang backup on former boyfriend Jellybean Benitez's 1985 dance hit, and even wrote it for him.
  5. TOM WAITS, "Harlem Shuffle". The Rolling Stones' late-career single, made famous by its animated music video featuring cats, featured Waits in the chorus, along with Bobby Womack.
  6. CHER, "Be My Baby". The Ronettes classic, a staple of oldies radio stations, included a pre-fame Cher in the chorus. This story is not uncommon: Luther Vandross contributed backing vocals on a number of hits before he became a star (including "Part Time Lover" and "We Are Family"), and Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas sang chorus on one-hit-wonder Martika's "Toy Soldiers" when she was a teen.
  7. CHRISSIE HYNDE, "Pride (in the Name of Love)". While researching this list, I was quite surprised to find this little nugget. I'd never heard about this before. But Pretenders frontwoman Hynde did in fact provide backing vocals for U2's overplayed rock anthem.
  8. KATE BUSH, "Games Without Frontiers". This is common knowledge amongst fans of Peter Gabriel and/or Kate Bush, but those who have only heard Gabriel's 1980 single on the radio may be unaware that it's Bush who coos "jeux sans frontières" throughout the song. (In fact, few even realize that the words are "jeux sans frontières"; it's one of the more commonly misheard lyrics in rock.) Another trivia note: Jeux Sans Frontiéres was the European version of the popular British game show It's a Knockout – which is another repeated lyric in Gabriel's song.
  9. DONOVAN, "Yellow Submarine". Though '60s psychedelic folkie Donovan was never credited with singing on this Beatles classic, it's commonly accepted that he did – and that he even contributed lyrics. (Heaven help him if he hasn't seen any royalties from that.)