Elton John
Elton John & John Lennon


During recording sessions for John Lennon’s album Walls and Bridges, which carries the collaboration with Elton John Whatever Gets You through the Night, Elton John also recorded other John Lennon songs with the composer, including Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Lennon sang on the song as Dr. Winston O’Boogie and provided rhythm guitar. According to Wikipedia, this song is the only Beatles cover to reach #1 on the U.S. singles chart. Elton John was working on his autobiographical album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy at the time, which included Someone Saved My Life Last Night. Sometime during that Summer of 1974 Elton John also recorded the single Philadelphia Freedom. He was at the top of his game, producing albums and singles that dominated the scene in the mid-1970s.

More than seven years after the Beatles’ version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, released during the Summer of Love, Elton John seems to have bought into Lennon’s idea (voiced explicitly in the song Mind Games) that with a little updating, the same vision of Peace and Love could be revived. Elton John’s Lucy in the Sky is longer and more varied in texture, and while eliminating the influence of Ravi Shankar in the original's tamboura, he introduces the song instead to the reggae inflection of Bob Marley. Though not the first reggae to reach a wider English speaking audience beyond Jamaica, Bob Marley and the Wailers' album Burnin’, released in the U.S. October 1973, made a deep impression. It was available in the U.S. only months after the Jamaican movie The Harder They Come, featuring Jimmy Cliff as both actor and reggae singer, began playing in midnight theaters across America around April 1973. Among other songs providing context, Marley & the Wailers' album introduced I Shot the Sheriff, a version of which Eric Clapton released in July 1974, the same month Elton John's version of Lucy was recorded. Clapton's Sheriff would go on to be a Top 10 hit in the UK in August, and number one in the U.S. during September of that year. (As Van Dyke Parks’ Discover America illustrated, the “other” culture for Americans was beginning to be Caribbean, if not Jamaican, replacing the British “other” cultures of India and North Africa. Reggae would prove to be far more of an influence on American pop music than raga.)