Why Elton John Refused to Work on John Lennon’s Posthumous Album

John Lennon and Elton John had a solid friendship that developed through their mutual love of music. The two collaborated on a few tracks, and John even helped Lennon get his only number one hit. John was emotionally struck by Lennon’s untimely death but refused to work on Lennon’s posthumous album, even after being invited to work on it by Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono. 

Elton John shares how he reacted to the death of John Lennon

Elton John and Marc Bohan perform 'Born to Boogie' at the recording studios at the Tittenhurst home owned by John Lennon
Elton John and Marc Bohan | Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns

John Lennon was one of music’s biggest titans, and the world was shocked when he was assassinated in New York in 1980. Elton John recalled being heartbroken when he heard about Lennon’s death. In his autobiography Me (shared via Cosmopolitan), John wrote his plane had landed in Melbourne, Australia, when he heard the tragic news. 

“Our plane had just landed in Melbourne when a stewardess’s voice came over the [loudspeaker], saying that the Elton John party couldn’t disembark,” John shared. “It’s strange. The moment they said it, my heart sank; I just knew it meant someone was dead. I couldn’t believe it. 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.”

John reveals why he didn’t work on Lennon’s posthumous album

In 1984, Lennon’s posthumous album, Milk and Honey, debuted four years after his death. The album consisted of a number of songs Lennon was working on before his death that were then finished by Ono. Ono had asked Elton John if he wanted to work on this album, but he declined as he didn’t believe he could ever figure out how John Lennon would finish these songs. 

“I didn’t think the time would ever be right,” John elaborated. “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.”

Still, John felt terrible declining Ono’s invitation as she just wanted to finish her husband’s work. 

“Yoko thought she was honoring John’s legacy, trying to fulfill his wishes, and I was refusing to help,” John continued. “I knew I was right, but that didn’t make it any less depressing.”

Elton rarely performs the tribute song he made for the former Beatle

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The Beatles Song John Lennon Called His ‘First Real Major Piece of Work’

Following Lennon’s death, Elton John wanted to figure out a way to honor his late friend. In 1982, John and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin wrote “Empty Garden” to honor Lennon. While Sir Elton called it one of his “favorite songs,” he rarely performs it as he finds it “too hard to perform.”

“It’s one of my favorite songs, but I hardly ever play it live,” John admitted. “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.”