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How John Lennon's last live performance came from losing a bet with Elton John

·Contributor
·4-min read
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 28:  MADISON SQUARE GARDEN  Photo of John LENNON, performing live onstage - last live appearance, with Elton John, playing Fender Telecaster guitar with capo  (Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns)
John Lennon's last live appearance at Madison Square Garden in New York (Steve Morley/Redferns)

Anytime John Lennon walked onto a stage, everyone knew they were witnessing a special moment.

But on this day 47 years ago, the ex-Beatle strode out into the spotlight at Madison Square Garden in New York City and not even he would have realised it was going to be his last ever live concert performance.

Lennon was welcomed to the stage by Elton John during the legendary piano man’s USA tour after losing a friendly bet over how well a single would do in the charts.

Lennon had not performed live in two years after quitting solo touring not long after the break-up of The Beatles in 1970.

READ MORE: 'The Beatles: Get Back': This mammoth trip down memory lane is an absolute treat

But after a turbulent period when he split from Yoko Ono and flitted between New York and Los Angeles, Lennon returned to the studio in 1974 for solo album Walls and Bridges, including a session with Elton John.

Elton John played keyboard and contributed vocals to the song Whatever Gets You Thru the Night. 

The two had disagreed on the commercial worth of the song, with Lennon convinced it wouldn't do that well. John insisted it was a smash-in-waiting and they agreed that if the single was a hit, Lennon would join his friend on stage during his upcoming North American tour.

Madison Square Garden: Photo of Elton John and John Lennon, Lennon's last live appearance, November 28th, 1974. (Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns)
Elton John and John Lennon share the stage at Madison Square Garden, 1974. (Steve Morley/Redferns)

Of course, the single went to number one - his biggest solo chart hit during his lifetime - and the wager had to be met.

The occasion was arranged for November 28, 1974, Thanksgiving Day, at a triumphant Madison Square Garden show.

Three quarters of the way through John’s blistering set, the massive crowd at the first of two consecutive NYC shows were stunned to see the legendary Beatle appear from the wings.

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Lennon was in playful form with his pal, and they launched into the all-important collaborated hit single as their opening number together.

The audience was then given a special further treat when they broke into a rendition of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, which John introduced as “one of the best songs ever written.”

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 28:  MADISON SQUARE GARDEN  Photo of John LENNON, performing live onstage - last live appearance, with Elton John  (Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 28: MADISON SQUARE GARDEN Photo of John LENNON, performing live onstage - last live appearance, with Elton John (Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 28:  MADISON SQUARE GARDEN  Photo of John LENNON, performing live onstage - last live appearance, with Elton John  (Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 28: MADISON SQUARE GARDEN Photo of John LENNON, performing live onstage - last live appearance, with Elton John (Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns)

Revelling in the fun, Lennon then went into the archives for one of his band’s early classics, I Saw her Standing There, and joked with the audience about the song’s provenance. He told them the song was "a number of an old estranged fiancé of mine called Paul. This is one I never sang.”

After that hat trick of hits, Lennon ceded the spotlight back to his countryman and left the stage for the last time.

READ MORE: Sir Paul McCartney ‘never got around to’ telling John Lennon he loved him

While nobody knew the historic significance of that night, it's also said to be of massive personal import to the Liverpool-born singer. After an 18 month split from Yoko Ono, that Madison Square Garden gig is also reportedly the night they first met up again ahead of their proper getting back together months later.

Their son Sean was born nine months later, and the couple asked John to become his godfather in tribute to that night.

While he was finished with live shows, a year later Lennon recorded a short TV studio performance of Slippin and Sliding and Imagine at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel for British TV show, A Tribute to Sir Lew Grade, the UK television executive.

In subsequent years, he and Ono took time out from music to spend time with baby son Sean, only returning to the studio five years later for album Double Fantasy.

Lennon was assassinated by Mark Chapman three weeks after its release.

WATCH: New documentary tells the story of The Beatles' last ever live performance together

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