Setlist History: John Lennon Performs Live With Elton John

These days when an artist plays with a fellow musician on stage it can be special and even memorable, if not common. However, on November 28, 1974, when an unannounced John Lennon walked on stage to perform three songs at an Elton John show, it was anything but common. The Beatle had performed three songs that special night with the band, starting with “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night,” from his 1974 solo album, Walls and Bridges. He followed with versions of The Beatles' “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” from 1967’s Yellow Submarine and “I Saw Her Standing There” from 1963’s Please Please Me.

Elton John's setlist by

At the time, Elton John was one of the world's biggest pop stars, but an unusual live appearance by Lennon was enough to take some of Elton’s mighty thunder away. It was stated that the former Beatle was nervous about being onstage for a huge crowd again, with the boisterous roar evoking the heights of Beatlemania a decade earlier.

The first song Lennon played, “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night,” was the subject of a bet between the two artists. Lennon was the only former Beatle yet to have achieved a number one solo single, and he agreed to Elton's proposal that if “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” made it to number one in the charts that they would perform together at Elton's Thanksgiving concert at New York's Madison Square Garden. Elton had contributed vocals and keyboards to two of Lennon’s original songs, one of which was “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.” Lo and behold, in the same month of Elton’s show, the song reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Elton John & John Lennon - "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" (Live)

In one of his last major interviews with David Sheff from Playboy, Lennon talked about the wager he had with Elton, which led to his surprise appearance that Thanksgiving night. “Elton sang on a single that turned out to be a cut from Walls And Bridges, “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.” He sang harmony on it and he really did a damn good job. So I sort of halfheartedly promised that if "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" became number one, which I had no reason to expect, I'd do Madison Square Garden with him. So one day Elton called and said, 'Remember when you promised...' It wasn't like I promised some agent or something, so I was suddenly stuck. I had to go on stage in the middle of nothing." Lennon and Sheff later published the interview in the book, All We Are Saying.

Elton John & John Lennon - "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Live The Beatles cover)

“I Saw Her Standing There” was suggested by Elton to play at the Madison Square Garden show. Lennon introduced the song by saying, “I'd like to thank Elton and the boys for having me on tonight. We tried to think of a number to finish off with so I can get out of here and be sick, and we thought we'd do a number of an old, estranged fiancé of mine, called Paul. This is one I never sang, it's an old Beatle number, and we just about know it.” A live recording the “I Saw Her Standing There” performance was later issued as the b-side to Elton John's 1975 single, “Philadelphia Freedom.”

Elton John & John Lennon - "I Saw Her Standing There" (Live The Beatles cover)

"Elton wanted me to do “Imagine,” but I didn't want to come on like Dean Martin doing my classic hits. I wanted to have some fun and play some rock and roll and I didn't want to do more than three because it was Elton's show after all. He suggested “I Saw Her Standing There” and I thought 'great', because I never sang the original of that. Paul sang it and I did the harmony. When I came off stage I said to the waiting journalists, ‘It was good fun, but I wouldn't like to do it for a living.' I'm not against live performances, but I haven't got a group and I haven't put a stage show together. I'm just not keen on it right now, but I may change my mind,” said Lennon in the interview with Sheff.

Sadly, Lennon’s unannounced performance at Madison Square Garden became his final concert appearance for an audience before his tragic death six years later.

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