Setlist History: John Lennon Joins Elton John for his Final Show

Elton John and John Lennon were good friends who made a bet in early 1974, which thank goodness, the piano player won.

The ever-adventurous John decided he didn't want to fly from London to NYC during his six week break between the end of his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Tour and the start of the Caribou Tour. He chose to take the band and Lennon's son, Julian, on a cruise across the pond on the SS France.

1974 Crew Pass for Elton's tour.

Once in New York, Elton helped out on Lennon's newest creation "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" adding piano, organ, and vocals to the upbeat number.

When it was completed Lennon confided with John that he was the only Beatle who hadn't earned a #1 single as a solo artist.

Ringo's "Photograph" topped the charts in '73 which was co-written by George Harrison who had three #1s, his first being "My Sweet Lord" in 1970. Paul McCartney's "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" went to the top in '71 and the floodgates opened.

"Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" was a phrase Lennon heard when he was flipping the dials in bed late one night with his assistant-turned-girlfriend May Pang.

The promo ad for the song back in 1974.

"One time, he was watching Reverend Ike, a famous Black evangelist, who was saying, 'Let me tell you guys, it doesn't matter, it's whatever gets you through the night.' John loved it and said, 'I've got to write it down or I'll forget it,'" Pang recalled.

While at the historic Caribou Ranch Recording Studio in Colorado where Elton was recording Caribou, Lennon visited to lay down some vocals for John's cover of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" under the pseudonym Dr. Winston O'Boogie.

Elton John telling Howard Stern about "the bet."

When the session was over Elton not only guaranteed "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" would get Lennon off the schneid, but he bet the Beatle that when it did he had to sing it with him on stage.

As luck would have it, the song did go to #1 in the fall, just as John was headed to Madison Square Garden.

Despite being John freakin Lennon, in his adopted hometown of New York City, he was nervous. He hadn't performed in front of a big crowd in a couple years. He was also more than a year estranged from Yoko who had suggested in mid-1973 that he have a "lost weekend" with the 23 year-old assistant and maybe that would help solve the couple's marital issues.

That lost weekend famously turned into an 18-month love affair that reached a crossroads that night at MSG. Elton allegedly, sneakily, worked with Lennon's assistant to get Yoko tickets to the gig.

She then sent her husband a bouquet of gardenias and a note of good luck on his return to the stage, but no word that she would be in attendance as he was nervous enough.

Lennon wore one of the flowers on his lapel when he took the stage after a warm introduction from Elton. And then they ripped into a speedy version of the nation's #1 hit.

Elton John and John Lennon singing "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" at MSG in '74.

To return the favor they followed it with "Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds" which would go #1 for Elton in a few months and become such a staple in his sets he would play it more times than anyone other than The Hooters.

Then they played the Beatles classic "I Saw Her Standing There."

In 1971 Lennon explained to Dick Cavett that Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds is not about one of his favorite hallucinogens.

Once Lennon left, Elton played a few more songs to end the set. During the encore Lennon returned to join the band in a joyous rendition of "The Bitch Is Back."

Years later Elton would say how happy he was that Lennon joined him that night, deeming it the greatest night of his career.

"John had really lost touch with sound systems and light shows. He never went to shows. And he said yes. And thank God he did because I have that memory. New York has that memory for people who were there. And it got him back with Yoko," John told PBS, noting Lennon came on stage to "the greatest ovation I've ever heard for anyone in my life."

Lennon and Yoko got back together and the next year she gave birth to Sean Ono Lennon who has become an excellent musician himself.

In 2022 Pang released a documentary of that 18-month adventure which is titled, The Lost Weekend: A Love Story.

You can order it via

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Last updated: 27 Feb 2024, 17:02 Etc/UTC