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Flashback: John Lennon Joins Elton John Onstage At Madison Square Garden

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It was 44 Thanksgiving’s ago (November 28th, 1974) when John Lennon joined Elton John on stage for a brief set of songs at New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden. Lennon’s appearance happened due to a bet made with Elton earlier that summer when Elton supplied the piano and harmony vocal on Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.” Elton made Lennon promise that if the song hit Number One he would join Elton onstage to perform it. Lennon, who had yet to have a U.S. solo chart-topper, never believed the song would hit the top spot, and agreed. When the song hit Number One, plans were made for Lennon to make a guest appearance at Elton’s New York City show.

Lennon reportedly got cold feet after traveling to Boston and catching Elton’s Boston Garden show, but was talked into honoring his commitment. Only two days before his death, Lennon recalled the entire back-story to his brief stage comeback to BBC Radio: “Elton was in town and I was doing it and needed the harmony. He did the harmony on that and a couple more, and played beautiful piano on it. And jokingly, he was telling me he was going to do this Madison Square Garden concert — he said, ‘Will you do it with me if the record’s Number One?’ And I did not expect it to get to Number One at all. I didn’t think it had a chance in hell. I said, ‘Sure, sure, sure I will.’ He came back and said, ‘OK, it’s time to pay your dues!’ It was the first Number One I had, actually. ‘Imagine’ wasn’t Number One, ‘Instant Karma’ wasn’t Number One — which I all think are better records than ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.’ (The) words are pretty good. But anyway, so what could we sing, that was the point.”

Toward the end of Elton’s New York City show, Lennon was announced, dressed all in black and playing a black and white Fender Telecaster as he, Elton, and the band launched into “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night”; the Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” which he and Elton had re-recorded earlier that year and was Elton’s current single; and the early Beatles classic “I Saw Her Standing There,” a Paul McCartney-sung track that Lennon had never performed after the group’s split.

Photo Courtesy of Bob Gruen/Capitol Records

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