Remember When: John Lennon Gave His Last Live Performance After Losing a Wager to Elton John

John Lennon’s first live performance in several years also proved to be the last concert appearance of his lifetime. This landmark event might not have happened had not Lennon been goaded into it by his good buddy Elton John, who famously made a crucial bet with the ex-Beatle regarding “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” their No. 1 single together.

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Not only was the concert a byproduct of this song, but the track itself proved a crucial one for Lennon’s solo career. Let’s go back and look at this momentous collaboration.

“Night” Moves

John Lennon recorded his 1974 album Walls and Bridges during his enforced separation from wife Yoko Ono. While many fans remember that as Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” period in Los Angeles, he actually made that record back in New York City with a who’s who of session players. He even produced it himself and did an excellent job in that respect.

One of the songs he had in the pipeline for the album was a jumpy, boogeying record that would get an injection of pep from saxophone player Bobby Keys. Lennon took the title from a phrase he heard channel-surfing one night, but he didn’t think much of the song.

Perhaps that’s why he was more than willing to oblige when Elton John visited the studio and jumped into the session. Not only did John play piano and organ on the recording, but he also joined in on vocals. Lennon relented when others, including John, insisted he should release the song as the single to introduce Walls and Bridges to the world.

To spice things up a bit, John actually wagered with Lennon that “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” would hit the top of the U.S. charts. If it did, Lennon would have to perform it live with John. By that point, each of Lennon’s ex-Beatle bandmates had reached that No. 1 spot, but Lennon had fallen short. This unassuming but fun song, undoubtedly boosted by an appearance by Elton John at the height of his popularity, managed the feat.

Pay Up

Once “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” topped the charts, Lennon was on the hook for the bet made by Elton John. To his credit, he didn’t renege. And it’s not like he snuck into a low-profile show. Instead, he showed up towards the end of John’s Thanksgiving night appearance at Madison Square Garden in 1974.

The appearance was unannounced, which meant Lennon’s appearance on stage sent unsuspecting fans into hysterics. Together, he and John played three songs: “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (Lennon had guested on John’s hit cover of the song), and “I Saw Her Standing There.”

The latter song was notable in that Lennon didn’t sing lead on the original version by The Beatles. Lennon made light of that in the concert introduction to the song, mentioning that his “estranged” ex-partner Paul McCartney had done the honors. Nonetheless, they tore through the song, which was recorded and ended up being released on collections by both Lennon and John.

The Aftermath

One of the folks who attended that show was none other than Yoko Ono, who saw Lennon backstage afterward. While it didn’t lead to an immediate reunion, it was nonetheless a good sign. It wasn’t long after that Lennon returned to New York and resumed his marriage.

Sadly, John Lennon would never play live again after that night. He was talking about touring again on the heels of his Double Fantasy album in 1980, but that wasn’t to be. Thankfully, he made his last appearance a memorable with a little help from a famous friend.

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Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns

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