After all these years I asked May Pang about John Lennon‘s surprise visit to Elton John‘s 1974 Thanksgiving show at Madison Square Garden. The date was November 28, 1974. I remember it well since I went to the show the next night. You see, I was 17, and it was Thanksgiving. We knew there was no way the parents would let us go that night. All day Friday there was press from the night before. Alas, no Lennon on Friday. The magic was gone.
May recalls that Elton had taken the S.S. France from England to New York. Cynthia Lennon and Julian were also on the boat. Elton came and recorded the piano parts on John’s song, “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” They made a deal that if the single hit #1, John would have to come and perform at an Elton John show.
When the record hit #1 right away, Elton called. “He said, I don’t want to put you on the spot, but we agreed,” Pang recalls. “So we went up to Boston with Elton and watched his show from backstage. Just to see how it worked.”
Then the plan was to choose songs for the New York show. “John said, Let’s do I Saw Her Standing There,’ May says. “He said, It’s Paul [McCartney]‘s song, but it’s ok.’ They did that, Whatever Gets You Thru the Night, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’
Prior to the show, May recalls, everyone went to Thanksgiving dinner at Linda Stein’s house. There was an after party at the Pierre Hotel. And why was Yoko there? “Yoko called us every day. One day I said to her, John is going to play with Elton John at the Garden. We invited her.”
John, May says, made sure she– Pang–was on stage and in sight when he went on with Elton John. “He said he’d be alright if he could see me dancing.”