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March 29, 2024

The Friendship of Elton John and John Lennon in the 1970s

Elton John, the flamboyant singer-songwriter and pianist, and John Lennon, the legendary musician and co-founder of The Beatles, were two of the most influential figures in the history of popular music. Their paths crossed in the 1970s, leading to a remarkable friendship that transcended their mutual admiration for each other’s talents.

Elton and John Lennon wouldn’t actually first meet until 1973. It was during a video shoot for the former Beatle’s fourth solo album Mind Games, and Elton was in awe of meeting his hero. During a conversation with Sean Lennon in celebration of John Lennon’s 80th birthday, Elton revealed: “I was a little bit, obviously I was in awe. I was meeting any of The Beatles and they all treated me so brilliantly, but your dad had that edge that none of the other Beatles had kind of because he wasn’t afraid to say what he thought.”

Even though Elton John and John Lennon were two of the world’s most famous and widely adored musicians, coming from similar backgrounds meant they had a certain level of understanding. And they had the kind of admiration for one another which meant their egos didn’t get in the way.

Elton chatted to John’s son Sean about the reason they got on so well in such a short space of time, saying: “We laughed so much because we talked about the 1950s and ’60s and where we grew up. The radio shows we liked, the songs we liked, we didn’t like, and your dad was just a fountain of knowledge. It was a hand in glove thing and I never thought that would ever happen. There was no attitude. I hate posers and I hate attitude and your dad didn't have any of it.”

He goes on to tell Sean that his dad “was as kind and as generous and sweet and we just hit it off immediately. He was so funny. That’s what I loved about him. And we talked about music, we talked about records we loved.”

Sean responded at the time saying, “And other things. He did other things I heard.....” to which Elton laughed and replied: “Yeah, we did other things. We did a lot of naughty, naughty things together. We had a lot of fun. Oh my god.”

During their friendship, Elton and John Lennon did work together in the studio. Elton provided harmonies and the piano parts for John’s fifth solo album Walls & Bridges, most notably on the track “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.”

Their friendship blossomed during the period John was separated from Yoko Ono, and entered a new relationship with Mae Pang whilst living in between Los Angeles and New York.

Ono was Lennon’s creative confidant and muse in the years prior, and now she was no longer by his side. Similarly, Elton was riding high on the crest of superstardom, so they evidently offered each other a safe space to be themselves in amidst the madness.

“He was physically sick when he came onstage with us that night. You see, I’d made “Whatever Gets you Through the Night,” and I sang on another track on Walls and Bridges, and we made sort of, well, not a hard bargain that if it got to number one, he’d come onstage. And he kept his bargain.

“He came up to Boston to see us, just to check the show out. When he saw all the equipment he said, ‘My God, is this what it’s all about?’ I came by wearing a chocolate-box cover and nothing else. It was his time with May Pang and he was very happy.

“Just to give you an example, he would take my band to the airport and make sure my mother was OK. I’ve never met anybody more thoughtful. I know you read in some books that John would be cruel and had a very cynical sense of humor, and I’ve seen that side of him too. I was with him at a particularly crazy time for him and for me. But underneath it all, I never saw anything else but kindness. He is sacred to me.

“He is the only person in this business who is absolutely, one hundred percent sacred to me.  And even if I’m doing bad things to myself, or if I’m being totally miserable or morose, or being unreasonable to people, I sometimes think, ‘Oh my God, John, if there is really a big pearly gate, you’re going to be standing outside of it and giving me the biggest lecture.’

“That’s  because he’s the only person in this business that I’ve ever looked up to, the only person. I’ve met my equals. I’ve met people who are great like Mike Jagger and Pete Townshend, who I admire tremendously, but they are not in the same league, I’m sorry.” – Elton John in Ticket to Ride by Denny Somach.

At Madison Square Garden during Elton John’s triumphant concert in November 1974, John Lennon joined Elton on stage for a joyous performance of “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” at the height of their friendship, in what would be Lennon’s final ever live performance. Of course, they weren’t to know at the time their duet would enter the history books.

Instead it started out as a bet between the two, with Elton attempting to coax Lennon back into the realm of live performance by wagering that if the single they worked on together reached No.1, they’d perform it together.

Incidentally it was Lennon eating his words, though one lucky audience couldn’t care less given they got to saw the Beatle in the flesh, on stage, for the very last time. Their performance was also fateful for another reason, as it proved to be the catalyst for John and Yoko’s reconciliation.

Fleeting relationships occur often in the music industry, either because of where certain stars are situated at times in their lives or their egos driving them apart. In terms of Elton John and John Lennon however, there was mutual respect and admiration for one another even though wouldn’t see each other that regularly after their on-stage performance together.

John reunited with Yoko the following year, Sean was born, and naturally with fatherhood they drifted apart as the Lennon’s settled into family life together. Not that Elton was miffed with their ‘bromance’ fizzling out, as he still recalls the period as “a dream come true.”

Sean Lennon later asked Sir Elton to be his godfather, and Elton knew the friendship with his father still meant so much despite them not seeing one another often.

“After that and then you were born, I really didn’t hear or see your dad at all and I didn’t mind because you know what, he was so happy being back with your mum, and he was so enchanted having you that it was his life had become another thing and so I didn’t really speak to him or see him that much at all or hear from him. I didn’t mind because it was just the fact that that night was so consequential in the history of his life. The fact that he got back together with your mum and then they had you.”

Of course John and Yoko were together until he was tragically murdered in 1980.

In tribute to the music legend and his good friend, Elton wrote the song “Empty Gardens” in his memory with the help of Bernie Taupin.


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