November 1974: Elton John Wins Beatle Bet

Elton John and John Lennon at Madison Square Garden, 1974
Photo Credit
Steve Morley/Redferns

Elton John was already a guaranteed chart force by the end of 1974, but he was so sure that his friend and hero John Lennon would do well with a song they sang together that he made an unforgettable bet on it - and created a classic rock and roll moment in the process.

Read More: December 1974: When 'Elton John Greatest Hits' was the Biggest Record in America

Elton and the former Beatle came together in the studio in the summer of that year, recording two songs: a cover of The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," sung by Elton with Lennon on backing vocals and guitar; and a new song of John's, "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night," on which Elton sang back-up and played piano. Lennon took inspiration for his new song from a late-night channel-surfing session. "He would pick up phrases from all the shows," May Pang told Radio Times in 2005. "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.'"

Nearly five years after The Beatles split up, Lennon was still the only one of The Fab Four to not top the pop charts with a solo single. Elton was so convinced "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" would be the one to put him over the top that he made a bet with his new friend: if it topped the charts, Lennon would have to appear at one of Elton's concerts. "I just wanted to see him play live, which he'd hardly done at all since The Beatles split up," Elton later wrote in his memoir Me.

On Nov. 16, 1974, Elton was proven right: "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" topped the Billboard Hot 100. And Lennon kept his promise: on Nov. 28, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Elton introduced the former Beatle for a three-song set: "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (which, as issued by Elton, would become the first song to top the Hot 100 in 1975) and another Beatles tune, "I Saw Her Standing There" - introduced by Lennon as "a number by an old, estranged fiancée of mine called Paul." The set would prove to be Lennon's final live performance.

Read More: December 1974: John Lennon Appears on 'Monday Night Football'

"In my whole career, I've honestly never heard a crowd make a noise like the one they made when I introduced him," Elton wrote in Me. "It just went on and on and on. But I knew how they felt."

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