May Pang Said John Lennon’s ‘Cheapness’ Made Him Doubt Elton John’s Generosity

John Lennon and Elton John were two huge names in the music industry during the 1960s and 1970s. They crossed paths and quickly became good friends. One year, for Lennon’s birthday, John sent him an extravagant and expensive present. Lennon’s girlfriend, May Pang, said that because Lennon wasn’t one to buy expensive gifts, he doubted the value of the present. 

A black and white picture of Elton John and John Lennon on stage together. Lennon holds a guitar.
Elton John and John Lennon | Steve Morley/Redferns

John Lennon and Elton John became good friends

John met all of The Beatles, but he said he was the most drawn to Lennon

“I was a little bit, obviously I was in awe, I was meeting any of The Beatles and they all treated me so brilliantly, but your dad had that edge that none of the other Beatles had kind of because he wasn’t afraid to say what he thought,” John told Sean Lennon, per Express. “Your dad was as kind and as generous and sweet and we just hit it off immediately. He was so funny. That’s what I loved about him. And we talked about music, we talked about records we loved.”

John featured on the song “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” on Lennon’s album Walls and Bridges. He treasured the experience.

“It was just, for me, it was a dream come true,” he said. “We laughed so much because we talked about the 50s and 60s and where we grew up, you know, Round the Horne in England, the radio shows we liked, the songs we liked, we didn’t like, and your dad was just a fountain of knowledge. It was a hand in glove thing and I never thought that would ever happen.”

The former Beatle once doubted that a birthday gift was valuable

To celebrate Lennon’s 34th birthday, John sent him an extravagant present.

“About a week after John’s birthday, Elton’s present arrived in a box from Van Cleef & Arpels,” Pang wrote in her book Loving John. “John unwrapped the box. Inside it he found a large onyx pendant attached to a gold chain. The pendant was rimmed in gold, and there was an inscription from Elton on the rim. One side of the pendant was made of equal parts gold and platinum, standing for gold and platinum records. The gold was shaped in the form of a wall, the platinum in the shape of a bridge — Elton’s salute to John’s album Walls and Bridges. On the other side the name Winston O’Boogie — one of John’s favorite pseudonyms — had been inscribed in flashing stones.” 

At first, Lennon did not believe that the “flashing stones” were expensive.

“‘They’re rhinestones,'” Pang recalled him saying. “His innate cheapness made him doubt anyone’s generosity.”

Pang expressed doubt that John would have purchased rhinestones but Lennon, still disbelieving, dropped the pendant on the floor and walked away. Later, Pang confirmed with Tony King that real diamonds decorated the pendant.

“When I told John, he dashed over to the bed, scooped up the pendant, held it above his head, and studied the inscription,” Pang wrote. “The stones were diamonds. He carefully put the pendant on a shelf over our bed.”

John Lennon thought Elton John was very talented

Though Lennon didn’t initially treat John’s gift with much respect, he was a fast fan of his music. 

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“I remember hearing Elton John’s ‘Your Song,’ heard it in America — it was one of Elton’s first big hits — and remember thinking, ‘Great, that’s the first new thing that’s happened since we happened.’ It was a step forward,” Lennon told Rolling Stone. “There was something about his vocals that was an improvement on all of the English vocals until then. I was pleased with it.”