In the middle of John Lennon's work on his 1974 album "Walls And Bridges", he encountered a certain man named Elton John, who was (at the time) the hottest-selling recording artist of the decade. The two got along swimmingly, and Lennon invited Elton to help him create his latest work. With Elton John as a catalyst, the album (and associated singles) began to take a different shape. Upon hearing the catchy pop song "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" (on which he also sings), Elton told Lennon that the song would hit #1. It did. The song sounds more like an Elton John number than a John Lennon single, but no matter. People went right out and bought it! The collaboration also led to Elton John covering The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and Lennon's "One Day at a Time". In what would be Lennon's last live performance, the pair performed "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" and "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" along with the Beatles classic "I Saw Her Standing There" at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving night, November 28, 1974.
Lennon made the rare stage appearance to keep the promise he made that he would appear on stage with Elton if "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" became a number 1 single. The concert was recorded, but not filmed. In 1976, Elton released his concert album "Here And There", which featured a recording of his Madison Square Garden concert, but Lennon's guest spot was not included. After Lennon's death, a single featuring the three songs from the concert was released, and later CD editions of "Here And There" also features those songs.
There are many myths. One of them is that John went back to Yoko after the Elton John concert. Thruth is, Lennon was still living with his girlfriend May Pang at the time, and the pair spent Christmas and New Year's Eve 1974 together in Disneyworld, Florida, together with Lennon's son Julian and Beatles aide Mal Evans.
Yoko Ono attended the concert, with her date Gary Lejeski, and friends Peter Boyle and Loraine Alterman. May Pang had got her the tickets. It was too dark in the hall to discern any faces, so Lennon didn't notice her there. The two never met back stage, but at a reception at the Pierre Hotel after the concert.
Here's a snippet from an interview with John Lennon in 1975, it's from Rolling Stone Magazine:
JOHN: "Elton sort of popped in on the session for Walls and Bridges and sort of zapped in and played the piano and ended up singing 'Whatever Gets You Thru the Night' with me. Which was a great shot in the arm. I'd done three quarters of it, 'Now what do we do?' Should we put a camel on it or a xylophone? That sort of thing. And he came in and said, 'Hey, ah'll play some piano!' Then I heard he was doing 'Lucy' and I heard from a friend - 'cause he was shy - would I be there when he cut 'Lucy'? Maybe not play on it but just be there? So I went along. And I sang in the chorus and contributed the reggae in the middle. And then, again through a mutual friend, he asked if it got to be Number One, would I appear onstage with him, and I said sure, not thinkin' in a million years it was gonna get to Number One. Al Coury or no Al Coury, the promotion man at Capitol. And there I was. Onstage."
"I read somewhere that you were very moved by the whole thing."
JOHN: "I was moved by it, but everybody else was in tears. I felt guilty 'cause I wasn't in tears. I just went up and did a few numbers. But the emotional thing was me and Elton together. Elton had been working in Dick James's office when we used to send our demos in and there's a long sort of relationship musically with Elton that people don't really know about. He has this sort of Beatle thing from way back. He'd take the demos home and play them and... well, it meant a lot to me and it mean a hell of a lot to Elton, and he was in tears. It was a great high night, a really high night... Yoko and I met backstage. And somebody said, 'Well, there's two people in love.' That was before we got back together. But that's probably when we felt something. It was very weird. She came backstage and I didn't know she was there, 'cause if I'd known she was there I'd've been too nervous to go on, you know, I would have been terrified. She was backstage afterward, and there was just that moment when we saw each other and like, it's like in the movies, you know, when time stands still? And there was silence, everything went silent, y'know, and we were just sort of lookin' at each other and... oh, hello. I knew she'd sent Elton and I a flower each, and we were wearin' them onstage, but I didn't know she was there and then everybody was around us and flash flash flash. But there was that moment of silence. And somebody observed it and told me later on, after we were back together again, and said, "A friend of mine saw you backstage and thought if ever there was two in love, it's those two." And I thought, well, it's weird somebody noticed it... So it was a great night."
Thanks to 18 year old Mary Ann and her super 8mm film camera, silent live footage from the famous concert finally appeared on YouTube March 9th, 2011. Lennon enters the stage at 3:42. Mary Ann shares her recollections from the night:
"I was 18 when I took it, and had bought the Super 8 camera specifically for the concert. Yoko was in the 11th row, just across the aisle from us, and seeing her take her seat confirmed the rumor Lennon would be there was for real. When Lennon came on stage, we were standing on our chairs, so the footage of him is fairly shaky, and maybe a minute in length, if that. And it was taken from the 12th row orchestra, so there were various heads I was shooting over while trying not to fall off my seat. I clearly remember my friend yelling at me "the floor is shaking" during the Lennon set."