Elton John Refused To Work On John Lennon’s Final Album

Words by Riley Fitzgerald
Graphic by Copyright Bob Gruen

John Lennon’s Milk and Honey was released in 1984. The follow up to the former Beatles’ celebrated return to music following after a 5 year hiatus Double Fantasy, Milk and Honey was something different. It was a posthumous album.

Finished under the direction of Yoko Ono it collected a number of songs Lennon was working on before he was shot to death by a mentally distributed fan on the 8th of December 1980.

New details have emerged in Elton John’s forthcoming autobiography Me that it was the pop pianist who Yoko first turned to when looking for someone to complete the album.

To those unfamiliar with the two stars’ relationship, the choice is not as left of center as it first might seem. Elton and Lennon were good friends. Elton had helped the ex-Beatle write his first number #1 single ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’ in 1974 and the two had recently reconnected in the weeks before Lennon’s death.

Unfortunately, their newly rekindled friendship was not to last.

“Our plane had just landed in Melbourne,” Elton writes, recalling how he heard the news of Lennon’s shooting, “when a stewardess’s voice came over the [loudspeaker], saying that the Elton John party couldn’t disembark.”

“It’s strange,” he continues, “the moment they said it, my heart sank; I just knew it meant someone was dead.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” he then shares. “It wasn’t just the fact of his death, it was the brutality of how it happened. Other friends of mine had died young… But they hadn’t died the way John had died… It was inconceivable.”

Elton, on tour in Australia at the time and unable to attend Lennon’s vigil, then staged his own service in a Melbourne cathedral.

Elton and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin later wrote 1982’s ‘Empty Garden’ in memory of Lennon.

“It’s one of my favorite songs,” Elton recounts, “but I hardly ever play it live. It’s too hard to perform, too emotional… I really loved John, and when you love someone that much, I don’t think you ever quite get over their death.”

A few years later he received a call from Yoko “She said she needed to see me, it was urgent, I had to come to New York right away,” Elton writes “She told me she’d found a load of tapes with unfinished songs John had been working on just before he died. She asked me if I would complete them, so they could be released.”

Elton couldn’t do it. The pain of Lennon’s death burned too brightly in his mind, the brilliance of his work was too staggering to approach.

“I didn’t think the time would ever be right,” he contends. “Trying to work out how to finish songs John Lennon had started writing – I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. And the idea of putting my voice on the same record as his – I thought it was horrible. Yoko was insistent, but so was I.”

Elton felt terrible turning Lennon’s widow down. “Yoko thought she was honoring John’s legacy, trying to fulfill his wishes,” he laments, “and I was refusing to help… I knew I was right, but that didn’t make it any less depressing.”

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