10 times different artists collaborated to make inspiring music
Historic friendships between Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins and more.September 3, 2021
September 1963: A young R&B combo called the Rolling Stones are rehearsing, preparing for a recording session. Their manager, former Beatles publicist Andrew Loog Oldham, was tearing his hair out. They were about to record their second single, a follow-up to their modestly successful remake of Chuck Berry’s “Come On.” But they had one problem: Their entire repertoire was raw blues, R&B and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll covers, the more obscure the better.
Oldham had yet to impress upon his charges the essentiality of developing songwriting skills, especially in giving the band material commercial enough to ignite the success they desired. (This happened a few months down the road, when he locked singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards in a room and told them not to emerge until they’d written a song.)
According to Richards’ 2010 autobiography, Life, Oldham left the rehearsal to walk about, clear his head and nurse his growing ulcer. He ran into former clients John Lennon and Paul McCartney, departing a taxi cab.
“They had a drink, and they detected Andrew’s distress,” Richards wrote. “He told them: No songs. They came back to the studio with him and gave us a song that was on their next album but wasn’t coming out as a single, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man.’
“We turned it into an unmistakably Stones rather than Beatles song. It was clear we had a hit almost before they’d left the studio.”
Richards noted this was the blossoming of a lifelong mutual admiration society. As the Stones ascended to become the Beatles’ chief rivals in the British pop boom that eventually went global, and it meant they would even time their singles releases so they didn’t clash: “I remember John Lennon calling me up and saying, ‘Well, we’ve not finished mixing yet.’ ‘We’ve got one ready to go.’ ‘OK, you go first.’” They would also appear on each other’s records—the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” the Stones’ “We Love You.”
Fruitful, beneficial, inspirational friendships among creative sorts are as old as history itself. There’s the entire idea of the salon, which in some accounts goes back to the 16th century: A host organizes gatherings of writers, artists, philosophers and the like to converse, exchange ideas and entertain one another. Two of the most renowned 20th century salons include the Algonquin Round Table, who lunched daily at that NYC hotel between 1919 and 1929. Among its membership: Writer Dorothy Parker, journalists Alexander Woollcott, Ruth Hale, Heywood Broun and future Hollywood screenwriter Robert Benchley. At roughly the same time, American writer in Parisian exile Gertrude Stein held gatherings every Saturday, which saw Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Ezra Pound, among others, rubbing shoulders.
The mid-20th century saw a pair of what were essentially drinking societies contributing much to American and/or world culture. The first were the Beats—Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Herbert Huncke and Lucien Carr—met in and around Columbia University in 1944. Their dedication to a sort of spiritual bohemian hedonism and spontaneous creativity led to Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg becoming three of the 20th century’s key literary figures. Meanwhile, old-school crooners Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., comedian Joey Bishop and actor Peter Lawford’s epic drinking sessions moved into films (Ocean’s 11) and Las Vegas revues under the popular sobriquet the Rat Pack.
As the story above about the communion between the Beatles and Stones indicates, the idea of the salon or beneficial creative friendship exists in rock ‘n’ roll, as well. Earlier than that was the Million Dollar Quartet—Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis loosely jamming on gospel tunes at Sun Records in late 1956, as Sam Phillips rolled his tape machines. So of course, the punk and alternative–rock eras boasted their share of such fellowships. Here’s 10 of the most notable.
Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground
New York protopunk figures the Velvet Underground formed in 1965, centered around leader Lou Reed’s poetic songs of drug misuse and deviant sexuality. Pop artist Andy Warhol discovered them via his second-in-command Paul Morrissey, who saw them at Greenwich Village tourist trap Cafe Bizarre late in the year. Their loud, dissonant rock ‘n’ roll, black clothing and surly dispositions was turning away customers in droves. Morrissey somehow believed this was exactly the ticket for the Warhol operation to get into rock ‘n’ roll.
Warhol lent them his fame and a peelable banana painting for their first LP’s cover. He teamed them with German vocalist Nico, who gave them a sorta icy sex appeal. He also organized around the VU a multimedia showcase called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a sensory assault that surrounded this loud, physical band with strobe lights, projections of Warhol’s films over them and dancers brandishing whips. The association ceased the following year, though Warhol apparently still advised Reed on creative matters over the years, such as writing a song with the line “Vicious, you hit me with a flower.”
Danny Fields and the Stooges
As the New York Times put it in 2014, “You could make a convincing case that without Danny Fields, punk rock would not have happened.” He was certainly a central figure in many of punk’s catalytic moments. In his role as an Elektra Records publicist, Fields brought the MC5 and the Stooges to the label. He eventually managed the Stooges as they self-destructed to their first breakup. As Iggy Pop slept on Fields’ couch in NYC two months later, the latter engineered a meeting with soon-to-be-Ziggy-Stardust David Bowie, masterminding a collaboration for the ages. Fields went on to manage the Ramones, thus providing the planet with its best blueprints for punk rock. He may be the best friend a punk rocker could have.
David Bowie and Iggy Pop
England’s Melody Maker magazine asked a number of top vocalists in May 1971 about their favorite singers. Topping Bowie’s list: Iggy Pop. It took some doing for Fields to get Pop off his couch and down to Max’s Kansas City to meet his prominent fan: “Look, I’m watching It’s A Wonderful Life, and [Jimmy Stewart) is so sincere!…I don’t wanna go down there!” Once Pop peeled off Fields’ Naugahyde and in Max’s famed backroom, the dominoes lined up: Signatures on contracts with Bowie manager Tony Defries’ Mainman organization and Columbia Records, plane tickets to England, the reformation of Iggy And The Stooges around guitarist James Williamson and Asheton brothers Ron and Scott on bass and drums, respectively. Hence, definitive punk LP Raw Power was born, mixed by Bowie. After the Stooges’ second breakup in 1974, Bowie took Pop with him on his 1976 Station To Station tour to wean him off smack, eventually relocating the pair to Berlin. Bowie produced Pop’s first two solo LPs, The Idiot and Lust For Life, quietly playing keyboards in the road band. When his pal crashed and burned seven years later, Bowie got him out of crushing debt by recording their co-write “China Girl” for his massively successful Let’s Dance LP. The pair last worked together on Pop’s moody 1986 Blah-Blah-Blah.
Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins
Minor Threat/Fugazi/Dischord Records mainman Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins, the longest-running Black Flag singer and future underground polymath, have been friends since childhood. They met when Rollins was still Henry Garfield and were part of a gang of skateboarders: “It was a tribe thing,” MacKaye told Loud And Quiet. “I think I deeply desired a tribe, and the skateboarding thing gave me really good practice on how to define the world around you.” When Rollins was asked by Black Flag to quit his job at a Häagen-Dazs ice cream shop and move to Los Angeles to front the band, it was MacKaye who advised him to go for it. The pair developed similar approaches to handling a vocal mic in their respective outfits, as well as equivalent sets of DIY ethics. Rollins told Joe Rogan on Episode 906 of his podcast that he and MacKaye still speak weekly by telephone, usually on Sundays.
Lydia Lunch, the Birthday Party and Sonic Youth
Queen Of Noise and interdisciplinary outsider artist Lydia Lunch has been a friend and nurturing presence to the underground beneath the underground. She has befriended and collaborated with many of the most notable wayward souls picking up guitars or whatever tools they use to express inner pain and rage at this cruel world. Circa 1982, she linked up with Australian dadaist noise outfit the Birthday Party in London. This led to the reported writing of 50 one-page plays with singer Nick Cave, lost to time and a rift between the two; a split live EP Drunk On The Pope’s Blood/The Agony Is The Ecstacy; and collaborative album project, Honeymoon In Red, released in 1987. More fruitful was the splinter projects Lunch undertook with genius Birthday Party guitarist Rowland S. Howard—a beautiful 1982 single remaking Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s “Some Velvet Morning” and 1991’s Southern Gothic swamp-rock album Shotgun Wedding.
Lunch saw the potential of LES guitar-rock deconstructionists Sonic Youth early on. The resultant commingling included 1985’s brilliant post-Stooges ode to the Manson family, “Death Valley ‘69”; a 1987 collaboration with Thurston Moore, The Crumb; and his overdubs on Honeymoon In Red.
Sonic Youth and Nirvana
NYC noiseniks Sonic Youth graduated to the big leagues with their 1990 signing to major-label DGC. They shifted into the unofficial roles of Moms and Pops Of The Underground upon their arrival, lending a helping hand to young bands such as Bikini Kill—offering advice, loaning equipment when it was stolen, etc. Possibly the biggest boost they gave to a budding underground act was Nirvana. Sonic Youth encouraged DGC to sign the Sub Pop grunge mavens, then took them on the road with them to Europe just before Nevermind’s release. The tour was documented in Dave Markey’s 1992 documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke. Kim Gordon later joined Nirvana onstage at their Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony.
William S. Burroughs and Kurt Cobain
William S. Burroughs, the grand old man of outré literature never ceased to create or to be hip, even as he settled what would normally have been his pensioneer years. As James Grauerholz assumed duties as Burroughs’ assistant, business manager and caretaker, he became a conduit by which leading figures of the budding punk scene gained audiences with Burroughs. Among those who gained the Naked Lunch author’s counsel were Joe Strummer and Hüsker Dü: “Always, after smoking a bunch of weed, William would bring up the possibility of going out back to throw some knives,” the latter’s Bob Mould wrote his 2011 memoir, See A Little Light. “You went along with it because it’s William.” Patti Smith particularly enjoyed an extended dialogue with Burroughs that amounted to his mentorship of punk’s primary poet.
Particularly intriguing was Burroughs’ long-distance collaboration with Kurt Cobain. The Nirvana star contacted him in 1992, desperate to work with the Beat legend. Burroughs sent the younger musician a tape of him reading a short story about an unidentified junkie attempting a heroin score on Christmas Eve. Cobain set it to his electric guitar work, and it was released as a limited-edition EP titled The “Priest” They Called Him in 1993. In October of that year, Cobain finally met Burroughs in his Lawrence, Kansas, home. “There’s something wrong with that boy,” Burroughs reportedly remarked to Grauerholz after Cobain left. “He frowns for no good reason.”
Tim Armstrong and Billie Joe Armstrong
No, the Rancid and Green Day mainmen are not related, despite sharing a surname. But Tim Armstrong and Billie Joe Armstrong have crossed creative paths many times over the years. Green Day covered a few songs by Tim’s first band, Operation Ivy. Billie Joe even co-wrote the Rancid single “Radio.” He played one show with them as second guitarist and was asked to join permanently. We’re pretty sure Lars Frederiksen is happy Billie Joe declined. Tim directed and had a cameo in Green Day’s 2016 “Bang Bang” video. Then in 2017, the two formed the band the Armstrongs, also featuring Billie Joe’s son Joey and Tim’s nephew Rey. The single “If There Was Ever A Time” was released in 2017.
Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher
Former Oasis leader Noel Gallagher has spoken of how mod revivalist punks the Jam inspired him to pick up a guitar and choose music as his path, especially their 1980 album Sound Affects. Which makes a lot of sense, if you consider the youth explosion anthemic quality of Jam leader Paul Weller’s anthems such as “When You’re Young.” It’s not a far stride from there to “Supersonic” or “Live Forever,” or Gallagher’s Union Jack-emblazoned Epiphone guitar. Weller recognized the kindred spirit and reached out. The pair have collaborated numerous times, usually covering some Jam or Oasis song at charity gigs. Weller last summer dispelled rumors started by Liam Gallagher that he’d urged Noel to dissolve Oasis: “I would never, ever give Noel Gallagher advice,” Weller told the NME. “What do you say to someone who just sold 50 million fucking records?” Gallagher has said of their friendship, “Once you’ve had to throw someone out of your house at 7 in the morning a few times and, you know, nearly got in fights with them, that kind of thing, [hero-worship] ceases to exist any more, and you’re kind of his mate.”