Every music producer has their signature style, but to have a decade-spanning career like Pharrell Williams’, you have to know when to switch it up — unless you want to drop off the face of the earth when that style goes, well, out of style. (Speaking of, whatever happened to Rich Harrison?)
Pharrell has a few tricks he employs quite often — almost to the point of parody — but the “Happy” hitmaker and The Voice coach isn’t afraid to hunt down new sounds, and sometimes that has unexpected results. Here are 10 songs that Pharrell either co-wrote or produced (either solo or as a part of the Neptunes) that you’d never guess he had a hand in creating.
No Doubt, “Hella Good”
Before she teamed up with Pharrell for “Hollaback Girl” and “Wind It Up,” Gwen Stefani worked with the Neptunes on this danceable tribute to Bay Area slang (though they’re sometimes only credited as songwriters, the band has said Pharrell and Chad Hugo concocted the beat). The song was the band’s first major collaboration with an outside artist, and the two acts have already reunited for as-yet-unreleased new music (including a session with Sia).
Missy Elliott, “On & On”
Thanks to the Neptunes’ menacing chainsaw synthesizers and bubbling sound effects, the only thing dated about this cut from the rapper’s 2005 album is her shout-out to America’s Next Top Model winner Eva Pigford. It may not have been a Timbaland production, but it’s the kind of sonic curveball the rapper has made a career out of providing.
Solange, “I Decided”
The younger Knowles sister became an indie darling with her slick 2012 EP True, but she recruited Pharrell to help her travel back to the 1960s and 1970s on her Motown-inspired Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. Perky pianos and handclaps make this song one of his most unplugged tracks (at least, unplugged-sounding) to date.
Scissor Sisters, “Inevitable”
The Scissor Sisters worked with the likes of Calvin Harris and Diplo on their fourth studio album, Magic Hour, but the band says Pharrell came in with a particularly unique agenda — to get the Scissor Sisters “on black radio,” as band member Scott “Babydaddy” Hoffman explained. Too bad for Pharrell — the song was never released as a single.
Fefe Dobson, “In the Kissah”
The Canadian musician’s spunky pop-punk got some help from the Neptunes on her sophomore album, Sunday Love, but even a collaboration with a A-list producers couldn’t change the album’s fate. The record was canceled when she was dropped by her label shortly before its scheduled release. (It eventually saw the light of day online.)
N.E.R.D. featuring Santigold, “Soldier”
Pharrell has always indulged his rock side with his band N.E.R.D., but the punk sounds of this frantic, drum-heavy contribution to the 90210 soundtrack instead recall Santigold’s old band, Stiffed, more than they resemble the producer’s usual output (and he’s on the track itself).
Ed Sheeran, “Runaway”
Some of the production on Ed Sheeran’s sophomore album, x, wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Justin Timberlake’s solo debut, Justified. But when Pharrell messes around with acoustic guitars, he usually can’t resist leaving his fingerprints all over it — keyboard blips and beats that sound like they were banged out on empty paint cans.
Adam Lambert, “Trespassing”
When pop artists work with Pharrell, the end product can feel a little farmed-out, with the performer relying more on Pharrell’s beats-for-hire than the other way around. It’s rare that a Pharrell production sounds like it was custom-created for its star, but the funky title track from the American Idol runner-up’s second album appears to be an exception.
Fall Out Boy, “w.a.m.s.”
If it weren’t for the space-age synthesizers that rear their heads halfway through the track from the band’s 2008 album, Folie à Deux, Pharrell’s presence would be nearly undetectable on this guitar-driven track. “Pharrell was really cool,” drummer Andy Hurley said about their sessions. “He laid down beats and [frontman] Patrick [Stump] would come up with vocals and melodies. It happened so fast.”
Travis Barker, “Come N Get It (featuring the Clipse)”
Virginia rap duo Clipse worked closely with Pharrell when they signed to the Neptunes’ Star Trak Entertainment — so closely, in fact, that the Neptunes produced the entirety of two of their albums. But on this mixtape track with the Blink-182 drummer, the sound that made them famous is nowhere to be heard while Pharrell stays behind the scenes.