When George Michael Helped Elton John Hit No. 1
When George Michael was planning to release a version of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” recorded live with Elton John, he received a message from the Rocket Man himself. The gist of that message? Don’t do it.
“Upon hearing of George’s plans to issue the live recording, Elton left a voice message on his answering machine telling him that the song was not strong enough to be released and to do so would mean the end of George’s career,” notes a historical piece on John’s website.
The Wham! frontman didn’t heed John’s warning -- and it turned out to be the right move.
Released in November 1991, the duet version of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” steadily climbed the chart, reaching No. 1 in the U.S. on Feb. 1, 1992.
The two artists became friends roughly a decade earlier. Michael sang on John’s 1985 single “Wrap Her Up” and appeared onstage with him that same year during Live Aid.
“This guy I imagine for his musical talent more than anything else,” John declared before welcoming Michael to the Live Aid stage. “This is one of my favorite tracks of Elton’s,” the Wham! singer declared before launching into the song for the first time.
Watch Elton John and George Michael Perform at Live Aid
Years later, Michael began covering the song in concert during his 1991 tour. In a role reversal from the Live Aid performance, it was John who became the surprise guest when he joined Michael onstage on March 23 at London's Wembley Arena for a rendition of “Don't Let The Sun Go Down on Me.”
It was this live recording that would eventually become the single. In addition to hitting the top of the U.S. chart, the duet reached No. 1 in an additional six countries. It would later be released on John’s 1993 LP Duets, with the singers earning a Grammy nomination for their collaboration.
"Not only was he a good friend, but he was probably one of the most brilliant songwriters this country’s ever produced,” John said following Michael's death in 2016, “and certainly one of the best vocalists ever.”
Watch Elton John and George Michael Perform 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me'