The adage “A picture can speak a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. For me, the image above – taken by photographer Bob Gruen – encapsulates that notion. It was back in August of 2009 when I opened Bob Gruen’s book John Lennon: The New York Years to page 94 and glanced at the iconic photograph above. I’m also immensely grateful that Mr. Gruen granted his permission to use this photograph here on our blog, so that I might share it and its story with the world.
Regarding an ongoing study of The Beatles, I think that author Robert Rodriguez said it best in the introduction of his book Fab Four Faq 2.; “Once you fall down the rabbit hole, you simply go where it leads”. Learning about The Beatles has taken me in directions I could never have anticipated, including becoming enlightened about each of the four Beatles solo careers post-breakup.
I’ve read so many Beatles books since beginning my journey in 2009, and so many great authors filling my head with accounts of this epic collaboration that I don’t even know which to credit. Larry Kane, Fred Bronson, Robert Rodriguez, and of course photographer Bob Gruen have likely given me the most input regarding the story behind the photo and how Elton John came to be a part of John Lennon’s first solo #1 hit.
So the story goes, it was while John Lennon was working on his album Walls and Bridges in 1974 that Elton John happened to stop in for a visit (and Bob Gruen happened to snap a photo), and the two decided to collaborate on one of its songs; “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”. Elton John played piano and sang backing vocals, and was so sure it would be a hit, he made a bet that if the song reached #1, that Lennon would agree to appear in concert with him. Lennon, skeptical of the songs potential, agreed to the wager.
In November of 1974, John Lennon lost that bet.
On Thanksgiving night of 1974, John Lennon appeared onstage with Elton John at his Madison Square Garden concert, performing “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There”.
In addition to charting at #1 with his own cover of the Lennon/McCartney classic “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” in 1974, Sir Elton would chart at #13 with a song titled “Empty Garden” in 1982, a beautiful tribute to John Lennon two years after his assassination. Sir Elton John is also Godfather to John’s son Sean.
Oh, and the intro sounds familiar doesn’t it? “And live from New York it’s…”
Photo courtesy of © Bob Gruen
used with permission