Once John Lennon established himself as one of the best songwriters ever, there was no going back. He worked hard to disrupt class in college, but he disrupted the music industry even more. John helped usher in the era of the album as an art form. He also wrote some stellar singles along the way. When a young producer felt nervous about how to handleElton John in the 1970s, John Lennon’s advice came from one of the only people who understood the situation.
Elton John and John Lennon dueted on Lennon’s ‘Whatever Gets You Thru the Night’
John worked on the solo album Walls & Bridges in 1974. He made the record during his lost weekend period before he paused his music career for several years.
Walls & Bridges was a breakthrough in John’s solo career. His duet with Elton John, “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” was his first No. 1 single without The Beatles. The album also reached No. 1 on the Billboard album charts (Imagine and Double Fantasy were the only other John solo records to top the charts).
Elton John was riding high when he joined Lennon in the studio in 1974. The singles “Crocodile Rock” and “Benny and the Jets” reached No. 1 in the preceding years. His previous four studio albums — Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Caribou — spent multiple weeks atop Billboard’s albums charts.
A young Jimmy Iovine was nervous about recording Elton on “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” The piano player was at his commercial peak. Lennon gave Iovine advice about how to deal with Elton John, and it came from the perfect person and in the perfect manner.
John Lennon’s advice about how to handle Elton John came from one of the only people who understood the situation
Iovine recalled telling Lennon he was nervous about recording Elton’s part on “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” while the latter was at the height of his fame. Iovine was in charge of the recording session with his boss away, and the nerves were getting to him. Lennon’s advice was succinct, as Iovine told Variety:
“John said, ‘James, he’s as terrified as you. I live my life as a Beatle. It’s very hard for me to get people to be comfortable. Believe me, he’s as nervous as you are.’”Jimmy Iovine recalls John Lennon’s advice about how to handle Elton John
John’s advice sounded like something a dog trainer might say (‘They’re more afraid of you than you are of them!’), but he was one of the only people who could provide the proper viewpoint.
John wrote or co-wrote dozens of No. 1 singles during his time with The Beatles. His musical talents helped take the Fab Four from local heroes to European hitmakers to international superstars. John sang lead on several of The Beatles’ No. 1 hits.
Outside of his former bandmates, there weren’t many musical artists besides John who understood the feeling of being world famous and working in the studio with people who were more or less anonymous. He also knew that, as a superstar, it’s essential to be approachable to those less famous colleagues in order to get the best out of them.
Similarly, John was a famous musician who understood that recording a song is work, and each person involved brings a unique set of strengths. John wrote and sang “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” and Elton John provided vocals and piano (more on that in a minute), but neither of them had the studio know-how to record the song. That’s where Iovine came in.
Even though Iovine was young when he recorded Elton for “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” the studio was his domain. Lennon’s advice helped remind him Elton was just as nervous about entering his space as Iovine was about recording an international icon. Still, the piano man didn’t make life easy on Iovine.
Elton added an extra challenge as Jimmy Iovine recorded ‘Whatever Gets You Thru the Night’
John provided perfect words of wisdom to Iovine as he prepared to record Elton John. Then the “Rocket Man” singer took the challenge to a new level, as Iovine told Variety.
“I said OK — as long as Elton didn’t want to play the piano, because everybody that walked into the studio at that time wanted that Elton John piano sound, and I didn’t know how to mic it,” Iovine said. “So Elton comes in, sings the song, comes into the control room… and says, ‘It needs piano.’ F—! But I learned an incredible lesson that day. I was alone, but I set up mics the way I thought Roy [producer Roy Cicala] would. Elton plays the piano, comes in and listens, and says, ‘Great piano sound!’ John says, ‘He’s famous for that.’”
Iovine became a big-name producer and record company executive later in his career. But first, he took John Lennon’s advice on how to handle Elton John as he worked the controls for one of the biggest solo hits for the ex-Beatle.
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