The secret Beatles collaborations shows with a series of initially anonymous credits while producing, writing and playing sessions under made-up names.
Their choices could be quite inventive, as when Paul McCartney transformed into Apollo C. Vermouth in order to produce the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. But on other occasions, George Harrison called himself “Harry Georgeson,” “Son of Harry” and, while sitting in on Billy Preston’s 1971 album I Wrote a Simple Song, simply “George H.”
Of course, Ringo Starr was already working with an alias, so he doubled back by appearing as “Richie” – a pretty obvious reference to his birth name, Richard Starkey. John Lennon also riffed on his given middle name when he called himself “Winston O’ Boogie,” while crediting “Hon. John St. John Johnson” on his chart-topping single “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.”
They even appeared on one another’s projects under fake names, like when Ringo became “Roy Dyke” for George Harrison’s 1968 solo album Wonderwall Music. John Lennon also called himself “John O’Cean” for Yoko Ono’s 1973 song “Woman Power” – apparently in reference to the Japanese translation of his wife’s name, “ocean child.” It’s perhaps the most surprising of his anonymous contributions, considering the fact that Lennon and Ono had already released a number of properly titled projects together – including three experimental albums and a series of hit singles like “Instant Karma!” and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”
“The Rev. Fred Gherkin” appeared on “Bless You” from Lennon’s 1974 album Walls and Bridges. “Dr. Winston O’Ghurkin” was part of sessions for “Going Down on Love” from the same album; “Mel Torment” on the song “Scared.” McCartney with the Fireman band name, while Harrison called himself “George O’Hara” during sessions for 1970’s All Things Must Pass, then later led an all-star group where everybody used a fake name.
Some Secret Beatles Collaborations here:
10. Peter and Gordon’s “Woman” (1966)
Paul McCartney as “Bernard Webb”
Peter and Gordon made an initial ’60s-era splash by taking advantage of a connection with McCartney, who at that point was in a long-term relationship with Peter Asher’s sister Jane. Their early Top 20 hits including a trio of songs credited to Lennon/McCartney, beginning with 1964’s chart-topping “A World Without Love.” Curious as to whether they could match those successes without leveraging the Beatles’ fame, McCartney wrote and produced a Peter and Gordon single using the pseudonym Bernard Webb. It worked, as “Woman” soared to No. 14, but by then the ruse had already been discovered. Gordon Waller ended up introducing the song as a McCartney composition during an appearance on TV’s Hullabaloo.
9. Dave Mason’s “If You’ve Got Love” (1973)
George Harrison as “Son of Harry”
Former Traffic member Dave Mason was clearly trying to make a belated solo splash after ending a lengthy battle to free himself from Blue Thumb Records. Signed now with Columbia, he invited over a couple of named ringers in Graham Nash and Stevie Wonder for It’s Like You Never Left. Dig deeper, and another of Mason’s guests reveals himself to be George Harrison, whose distinctive slide powers “If You’ve Got Love” along. Also on this track: Carl Radle, who appeared with Mason on the All Things Must Pass-era “Apple Jams” and longtime Harrison collaborator Jim Keltner. Together, they helped Mason get to No. 25, one of his best-ever shows on the Billboard album chart.
8. Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” (1971)
Ringo Starr as “Richie”
One of the first cross-generational all-star blues projects found legendary Chess bluesman Howlin’ Wolf paired with the Rolling Stones’ rhythm section in Olympic Sound Studio sessions arranged by Eric Clapton. Starr ended up filling in one day when Charlie Watts couldn’t attend, though their update of Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” was the only track to make the initial track listing for 1971’s The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions. “Richie” also appeared on four additional bonus tracks for a 2003 deluxe-edition of the record, including a muscular take on “Goin’ Down Slow.” Longtime Beatles associate Klaus Voormann, who created the cover for 1966’s Revolver, played bass.
7. Percy Thrillington’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (1971)
Paul McCartney as “Percy Thrillington”
McCartney recorded a delightfully odd tandem instrumental version of Ram in 1971, reuniting with arranger Richard Anthony Hewson. They’d earlier worked together on James Taylor’s Apple Records version of “Carolina on My Mind”; Hewson also stepped in to handle strings during Phil Spector’s post-production work on “The Long and Winding Road.” Somewhere along the way, McCartney must have thought better of the concept, and Thrillington was shelved until 1977. Still later, McCartney revealed that he also wrote the liner notes, using the name Clint Harrigan.
6. Billy Preston’s “That’s Life”
George Harrison as “Hari Georgeson”
Billy Preston’s history with the Beatles is such that some have referred to him as the fifth member of the band. He grew particularly close over the years with Harrison, who coproduced Preston’s Apple Records debut. Yet their symbiotic working relationship wasn’t always clear, even to careful liner-note readers. For instance, Harrison played on “That’s Life” from Preston’s more synth-focused 1975 album It’s My Pleasure as “Hari Georgeson” – a favorite pseudonym he’d previously used on sessions with Jack Bruce, Ravi Shankar and the band Splinter. Harrison also appeared as “Jai Raj Harisein” while working with Splinter, the first signing to his Dark Horse label.
5. Steve Miller Band’s “My Dark Hour” (1969)
Paul McCartney as “Paul Ramon”
Steve Miller was still struggling to find fame when McCartney wandered into his recording date at Olympic Sound. The other Beatles had left after a mixing session for the eventually shelved Get Back project devolved into another argument over band management. It’s perhaps no surprise then that the resulting jam with Miller got stuck with a morose title like “My Dark Hour.” Still, something clicked: Miller recycled the song’s main riff for 1976’s “Fly Like an Eagle,” one of seven Top 20 singles he scored over a breakthrough period ending in the early ’80s.
4. Harry Nilsson’s “Spaceman” (1972)
Ringo Starr as “Richie Snare”
Starr adds a signature lopsided fill before the second chorus (and a drum-related surname) on this Top 25 hit from Son of Schmilsson. His guest turn eventually became anything but surprising. After all, Harry Nilsson subsequently emerged as a sensitive interpreter, offbeat musical foil and drinking-buddy confidant for the Beatles: Lennon produced Nilsson’s 1974 album Pussy Cats during the infamous “Lost Weekend” period, and they collaborated on the song “Old Dirt Road.” Nilsson covered George Harrison’s “That Is All” for 1976’s That’s the Way It Is after updating two Beatles songs on 1967’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. Starr later paid tribute to Nilsson on 2008’s “Harry’s Song.”
3. Cream’s “Badge” (1969)
George Harrison as “L’Angelo Mysterioso”
Eric Clapton’s eruptive turn on Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was the White Album track’s most memorable element. “L’Angelo Mysterioso” returned the favor a year later, cowriting “Badge” for the final album by Clapton’s band Cream while adding an instantly recognizable guitar performance of his own. Harrison also inadvertently named the song, which previously had no title. His scrawled notes on the tape box included notation about the “bridge,” which Clapton misread as “badge” – and it stuck. Before it was over, Clapton would play on songs by every former member of the Beatles; he also (quite famously) married one of their ex-wives.
2. Elton John’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” (1974)
John Lennon as “Dr. Winston O’Boogie”
Elton John’s mid-’70s friendship with “Dr. Winston O’Boogie” did more than gift listeners with Lennon’s first No. 1 solo single in “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” and this stately collaborative Beatles remake. A side bet they made on whether “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” would top the chart meant Lennon had to make good on a promise to join John during a show at Madison Square Garden. They played both of these songs, as well as “I Saw Her Standing There” (which Lennon dedicated to an “old, estranged fiancee of mine”), during a 1974 appearance that would end up being Lennon’s last ever onstage.
1. Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care”
George Harrison as “Nelson Wilbury”
Harrison was trying to record a quick B-side when he accidentally put together a supergroup of nom de plumes. He originally called producer Jeff Lynne, who was working with Roy Orbison. Harrison booked some time at Bob Dylan’s home studio, then went to get a spare guitar from Tom Petty, and invited him over, too. They recorded “Handle With Care” that day, then quickly realized this was more than a throwaway track to round out a single. Flush with excitement, the newly minted Traveling Wilburys finished the rest of their debut album over just nine days. Then they all picked fake first names, emerging as Nelson (Harrison), Otis (Lynne), Lucky (Dylan), Lefty (Orbison) and Charlie T. Wilbury Jr. (Petty).