Featured Guests with Beatles, Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, U2 + others: Odd Couples

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Anybody out there watch the Super Bowl 50 half time show? If you didn’t, you probably didn’t miss anything. Nominal headliners Coldplay chose a selection of whatever-their-hits-are, and not even the presence of normally sure-fire crowd pleasers Beyonce and Bruno Mars as special guests could bring enough heat to raise the overall presentation past the level of, um, Lukewarmplay.

It was enough to make a half time show connoisseur fondly remember the good ol’ days, like Super Bowl XXXV back in 2001, where N*SYNC, Britney Spears, Nelly and Mary J. Blige joined Aerosmith onstage for a genre-crossin’, sass-talkin’, groove-stalkin’, hip-hoppin’, over-the-toppin’ strut through Steven Tyler & company’s classic “Walk This Way.”

Yep – sometimes, having special guests works like a theoretical model of musical capitalism: just enough competition to make the main act work a little harder, resulting in benefits for the consumers, the promoters and the artists all around. Other times, it feels like a simple bad investment or money wasted. And of course, there are even those special cases when it transcends the economic metaphor and takes on a fable-like quality: Specifically, the one where it the least likely hero runs away with the golden goose.

“WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS” THE BEATLES (FEATURING ERIC CLAPTON) VS. “WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN” U2 (FEATURING B.B. KING): Popular wisdom says that during the sessions for the Beatles’ White Album, George Harrison brought Eric Clapton along to the studio so the rest of the Fab Four would stop squabbling for five minutes and maybe get back to where they once belonged. This is widely considered to be one of Clapton’s greatest moments in the recording studio, but one can’t help but wonder what he would have done with a comparable Lennon/McCartney piece.

In the meantime, B.B. King takes possession of both the guitar and the vocal parts on this U2 creation, leaving the Edge and the Bono wondering why they’re still in the recording booth. Winner: “When Love Comes to Town.” Be nice boys and just sign over those royalties to Mr. King, please.

“GIMME SHELTER” ROLLING STONES (FEATURING MERRY CLAYTON) VS. “THE GREAT GIG IN THE SKY” PINK FLOYD (FEATURING CLARE TORRY): Won’t bother repeating the stories everyone already knows about both the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd brought in relatively unknown female vocalists to add a little something to a recording in progress, and how each woman nailed the take so perfectly it’s hard to imagine the song without their contribution.

Winners: Merry Clayton and Clare Torry. Clare Torry eventually received songwriting credit for her contribution; if only the Stones were so magnanimous.

“SABBRA CADABRA” BLACK SABBATH (FEATURING RICK WAKEMAN) VS. “HOWLING AT THE MOON (SHA LA LA)” RAMONES (FEATURING BENMONT TENCH): So, a bit more of a rock ‘n’ roll song for the Sabs, more uptempo than their usual dark, existential thud, but why bring in a prog rock keyboard master to lay out some barrelhouse pianna licks? On the other hand, Benmont Tench, who gets to play on a zillion sessions when he’s not working with Ton Petty and the Heartbreakers, does a decent job of shining up this Ramone’s version of what they thought might pass for radio friendly, but it’s not enough to bring it up to “American Girl” or “Refugee” status.

Winner: “Sabbra Cadabra.” As far as how Rick Wakeman got involved in this session: turns out that for his efforts, the keyboard whiz from Yes got paid in beer. Which, in the rock ‘n’ roll biz, often explains everything.

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