The Bet That Led To John Lennon Joining Elton John At Madison Square Garden In 1974

Elton John welcomed the iconic member of The Beatles for what turned out to be his last live performance.

By Andy Kahn Nov 28, 2023 7:25 am PST

The Beatles founding member John Lennon made his final appearance live in concert on November 28, 1974. The surprise performance occurred during an Elton John show on Thanksgiving night at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Lennon emerged mid-way into John’s main set at the first of two nights at MSG. John addressed the audience as Lennon took the stage.

“Seeing as it’s Thanksgiving, we thought we’d make tonight a bit of a joyous occasion by inviting someone up with us onto stage,” John said.
“And ah, I’m sure he will be no stranger to anyone in the audience when I say it’s our great privilege and your great privilege to see and hear Mr. John Lennon!”

The collaboration kicked off with Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night,” which was originally recorded with Elton John for Lennon’s 1974 solo album Walls And Bridges. According to JohnLennon.com, Lennon explained the circumstances that led to the collab:

“I was fiddling about one night and Elton John walked in with Tony King of Apple. Elton said, ‘Say, can I put a bit of piano on that?’ I said, ‘Sure, love it!’ He zapped in. I was amazed at his ability: I knew him, but I’d never seen him play. A fine musician, great piano player. I was really pleasantly surprised at the way he could get in on such a loose track and add to it and keep up with the rhythm changes – obviously, ‘cause it doesn’t keep the same rhythm. And then he sang with me. We had a great time.”

Lennon’s sit-in came about following a bet in which he promised to join John on stage if “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” reached #1, which it did. According to JohnLennon.com:

“When they finished the recording, John told Elton that he was the only Beatle that had not achieved a #1 single. Elton’s response was to bet John that if ‘Whatever Gets You Thru the Night’ went to #1, John would join Elton on stage at New York’s Madison Square Garden at Thanksgiving.”

Lennon’s promise-fulfilling appearance at MSG was not limited to joining John on “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.” The sit-in continued with a rendition of The Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” which Elton had covered and issued as a successful single earlier that year. Lennon’s guest spot ended with him singing lead on The Beatles’ classic “I Saw Her Standing There” – introduced by Lennon as “a number of an old estranged fiancee of mine called Paul.”

The evening was also reportedly noteworthy as it marked a reunion backstage between Lennon and his estranged wife Yoko Ono, with the pair resuming their relationship early in 1975. Below is lo-fi video footage from the “Elton John Lennon” performance:

Officially released audio of the concert can be streamed below:

Whatever Gets You Thru The Night

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

I Saw Her Standing There

Setlist

Elton John at Madison Square Garden

  • Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
  • Candle in the Wind
  • Grimsby
  • Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
  • Take Me to the Pilot
  • Bennie and the Jets
  • Grey Seal
  • Daniel
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  • Burn Down the Mission
  • You're So Static
  • Whatever Gets You Thru the Night  
  • Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds  
  • I Saw Her Standing There  
  • Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
  • Honky Cat
  • All the Girls Love Alice
  • Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
Encore
  • Crocodile Rock
  • Your Song
  • The Bitch Is Back

[Updated article originally published November 28, 2016]

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