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Rocket Records to 21 at 33 (1974–1979)
John formed his own MCA-distributed label Rocket Records and signed acts to it – notably Neil Sedaka (“Bad Blood”, on which he sang background vocals) and Kiki Dee – in which he took a personal interest. Instead of releasing his own records on Rocket, he opted for $8 million offered by MCA. When the contract was signed in 1974, MCA reportedly took out a $25 million insurance policy on John’s life.
In 1974 a collaboration with John Lennon took place, resulting in Lennon appearing on John’s single cover of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, the b-side of which was Lennon’s “One Day at a Time. In return John was featured on “Whatever Gets You thru the Night” on Lennon’s “Walls and Bridges” album. Later that year, on Thanksgiving Day, in what would be Lennon’s last live performance, the pair performed these two number 1 hits along with the Beatles classic “I Saw Her Standing There” at Madison Square Garden in New York. Lennon made the rare stage appearance with John and his band to keep the promise he made that he would appear on stage with John if “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” became a number 1 single.
Caribou was released in 1974 and, although it reached number 1, it was widely considered a lesser quality album. Reportedly recorded in a scant two weeks between live appearances, it featured “The Bitch Is Back” and the lushly orchestrated “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”.
John performing, 1975.
Pete Townshend of The Who asked John to play a character called the “Local Lad” in the film of the rock opera Tommy, and to perform the song “Pinball Wizard”. Drawing on power chords, John’s version was recorded and used for the movie release in 1975 and the single came out in 1976 (1975 in the US). The song charted at number 7 in England. Bally subsequently released a “Captain Fantastic” pinball machine featuring an illustration of John in his movie guise.
On the 1975 autobiographical album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, John revealed his previously ambiguous personality, with Taupin’s lyrics describing their early days as struggling songwriters and musicians in London. The lyrics and accompanying photo booklet are infused with a specific sense of place and time that is otherwise rare in John’s music. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” was the hit single from this album and captured an early turning point in John’s life.