In 1976, Elton John released Here and There, an album of live recordings from 1974—one side from a royal benefit show in May and the other from the famous Thanksgiving show at Madison Square Garden. It’s got all the earmarks of a quickie, with only nine songs and no big single (although “Love Song” was pressed onto 45s for radio airplay, and deservedly got some). It got up to to #4 on the Billboard 200 album chart in the summer, but was largely forgotten after “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” began roaring up the singles chart.
The original Here and There has liner notes by British DJ Paul Gambaccini describing both shows. He says of the MSG show: “On the uniquely American holiday these thousands were witness not only to Kiki Dee’s opening act but Ray Cooper’s first New York appearance with the Elton John Band.” And also: “Giants were walking the earth.” But there is not one damn word about the giant among giants who was walking the Garden that night: John Lennon, paying off his fabled wager with Elton, who had challenged him to come sing onstage if “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” hit #1.
It’s odd. Surely John Lennon meant a hell of a lot more to “these thousands” than either Kiki Dee or Ray Cooper did, both in 1974 and in 1976. And the songs he performed with Elton and the Muscle Shoals Horns were much more significant than mere live versions of “Crocodile Rock” or “Bennie and the Jets.” I have not been able to determine why the Lennon tracks were left off the original release—legal reasons, if I had to guess—but why his appearance would go unmentioned in the liner notes rhapsodizing about the show, I cannot fathom.
Lennon sang three songs with Elton that night: “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” a couple of weeks after it was the #1 single in America; “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” which was Elton’s new single; and “I Saw Her Standing There.” The latter was released in 1975 as the flipside of “Philadelphia Freedom,” but as best I can tell, the other two remained unreleased until 1981, when they appeared with “I Saw Her Standing There” on an EP released in Europe. “I Saw Her Standing There” was also on Elton’s Rare Masters box set released in 1992. It wasn’t until the superb CD reissue of Here and There in 1995 that all three tracks appeared together as they were heard on November 28, 1974.
Film of “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” surfaced last year on Elton’s website. It was shot by a fan from the 12th row—a fan seated not far away from Yoko Ono, who is prominently featured in it. The video has clearly undergone a great deal of post-production and the audio is dubbed in from Here and There, but all that is forgivable considering the magnitude of what it shows.
On Thanksgiving night, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” was days away from its Hot 100 debut, and the live performance from that night is marvelous. (Lennon is less heavily featured on the studio version, billed as Dr. Winston O’Boogie.) But “I Saw Her Standing There” is the greatest of the three. Elton and Lennon joyfully roar out the lyrics and lead guitarist Davey Johnstone burns the place to the ground. The best part of it, however, might be Lennon’s brief speech beforehand: “We tried to think of a number to finish off with so’s I could get out of here and be sick.”
Later that night, of course, John and Yoko would reconcile after their separation, and he would spend the rest of his life a devoted family man. It would be the last time he ever appeared onstage.