Paul McCartney, Prince, and the Rolling Stones all wrote for other artists without using their real names

By Eric Renner Brown and Jim Farber
July 13, 2016 at 09:42 PM EDT
Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images; Ethan Miller/Getty Images; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

The internet erupted Wednesday morning when news broke that Taylor Swift penned Calvin Harris’ smash single “This Is What You Came For” under the pseudonym Nils Sjoberg. And with good reason: After the conclusion of her epic 1989 touring cycle, “This Is What You Came For” marks another chart triumph for Swift — the song has so far peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 — and adds another wrinkle to her juicy June breakup with the EDM star.

But drama aside — Harris unleashed a torrent of tweets defending his contributions to the song — the story isn’t as far-out as it sounds. Musicians at the top of their game have been writing massive hits under pseudonyms for decades. Read on for some of the greatest examples of artists writing under different names.

George Gershwin (various)

Before becoming one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, George Gershwin toiled away in relative obscurity. He published his first song, “When You Want ‘Em, You Can’t Get ‘Em,” in 1916 under his own name, but soon turned to composing music for piano rolls, the perforated rolls of paper made for player pianos. Many of these were attributed to him, but many weren’t. (Recordings of Gershwin performing some of the music from these rolls were released posthumously.) Meanwhile, Gershwin’s brother and future writing partner Ira initially used the pseudonym Arthur Francis, taken from the names of two other Gershwin siblings, for his lyrics. —Eric Renner Brown

Miles Davis (Cleo Henry)

In his 1989 autobiography, the legendary jazz trumpeter claimed he attributed “Boplicity,” off his seminal 1957 album Birth of the Cool, to his mother for contractual reasons — doing so, he said, helped him publish the song with a publishing house he wasn’t contracted to. But some modern jazz historians think Davis, who co-wrote and arranged the tune with frequent collaborator Gil Evans, might have actually chosen the pseudonym because he remembered his mother playing the melody in his youth. —ERB

Paul McCartney (Bernard E. Webb)

Under the standard Lennon-McCartney credit applied to most Beatles songs, McCartney wrote three successful 1964 singles for the British pop duo Peter and Gordon: “I Don’t Want to See You Again,” “Nobody I Know,” and “A World Without Love,” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But when McCartney penned another hit for the group in 1966, he did so as Bernard E. Webb. “People come up to [Peter and Gordon] and say, ‘Ah, we see you’re just getting in on the Lennon-McCartney bandwagon,'” McCartney said in a 1966 news conference when explaining the credit for “Woman.” “That’s why they did that one with our names not on it, ‘Woman,’ because everyone sort of thinks that’s the reason they get hits. It’s not true, really.” The song crops up again later in the Beatles’ history, with bootlegs from the Let It Be sessions capturing McCartney playing it in the studio. —ERB

The Rolling Stones (Nanker Phelge)

In their nascent days, the Rolling Stones often credited songs to the name Nanker Phelge. Sometimes, that credit read Nanker/Phelge, as if two individuals were responsible for the composition, although the whole band collaborated on these numbers. As for the origins of the names: Phelge was the last name of guitarist Brian Jones’ roommate at the time and “Nanker” was the name the Stones gave to a grotesque face Jones would make. The ungainly credit, which appears on no fewer than 16 songs, first turned up on 1963’s “Stoned,” the B-side to “I Wanna Be Your Man.” They also gave the tag to “Play With Fire” and “The Spider and The Fly,” though Jagger/Richards later seized authorship of the latter. —Jim Farber

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (The Glimmer Twins)

The Stones’ semantic shenanigans didn’t stop with Nanker Phelge. Jagger and Richards wrote some of rock’s most storied songs with the band, but when behind the boards, the duo typically credited themselves as the Glimmer Twins. That applied not only to their production work with the Stones starting with 1974’s It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, but also to co-production efforts for albums like Peter Tosh’s 1978 LP Bush Doctor. —ERB

Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Dino Valenti (Jessie Oris Farrow, Chet Powers)

Two of the greatest hippie anthems of all time were penned by the same man under two names other than his stage moniker: In 1970, Dino Valenti penned Quicksilver Messenger Service’s FM radio staple “Fresh Air” under the name Jessie Oris Farrow, which he used for many other Quicksilver songs. Under his birth name, Chet Powers, Valenti wrote “Get Together,” a 1967 smash for The Youngbloods that became a “can-we-all-just-get-along” standard. —JF

Elton John (Reggae Dwight, Ann Orson)

Though the famed British pop star didn’t send his pseudonymous compositions to others, he has a number of them in his catalog. John composed much of the music for his 1973 double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in Jamaica and wrote his send-up to the country, “Jamaica Jerk-Off,” under the name Reggae Dwight — a play on his given name of Reginald, or Reggie, Dwight. His longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin credited his lyrics to Toots Taupin, nodding to the respected reggae musician Frederick “Toots” Hibbert. And John wrote his chart-topping Kiki Dee duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” as Ann Orson, which, when paired with Taupin’s alternate name (Carte Blanche) sounds like “An horse and cart, blanche.” —ERB

Prince (Alexander Nevermind, Christopher, Joey Coco)

In the wake of Prince’s death, many reflected not just on his own iconic albums and singles, but on the gems he provided his peers — and most of those songs didn’t bear his best-known moniker or his birth name. In 1984, he penned “Sugar Walls” for Sheena Easton under the pseudonym Alexander Nevermind. Two years later, the Bangles included his song “Manic Monday,” simply credited to Christopher, on their album Different Light. Both tracks peaked in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. And Prince had some curveballs among his pseudonymous writing credits: Kenny Rogers’ 1986 deep cut “You’re My Love” was written by one Joey Coco, known to most as the Purple One. —ERB