Elton John's 1975 appearance on Cher's TV show is spectacular proof that they really don't make 'em like they used to

Elton John and Cher an the Cher show
(Image credit: Cher/YouTube)

During the first few months of 1975, Elton John was not a happy bunny. Living in a rented villa on Tower Grove Drive in the Westside Los Angeles district of Benedict Canyon, he hosted wild, narcotic-fuelled parties, but the late nights were beginning to take their toll. To make matters worse, the increasingly paranoid star was haunted by the spectre of the Manson murders, which had taken place six years earlier a short drive away on Cielo Drive.

“I woke up one morning to find a girl sitting on the end of my bed, staring at me,” John wrote in his 2019 autobiography, Me. “I couldn’t get up, because I never wore anything when I slept. All I could do was sit there screaming at her to get the f**k out. She didn’t say anything back, she just kept staring, which was somehow worse than if she’d spoken."

The uninvited guest was eventually removed by Elton's housekeeper, but the incident didn't help his mood, and the gloominess was apparent when he agreed to guest on the first episode of Cher, the eponymously titled show that heralded the return to television of the former Sonny & Cher star. Grumpy on set, it took Elton eight takes to get through his cover of The Beatles' classic Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, his mood not improved even by the spectacular tin-foil wizard's hat he chose to wear. 

Things perked up significantly when Cher joins him at the piano for a duet version of Elton's own Bennie And The Jets. The pair's voices match perfectly, and for anyone usually baffled by Elton's mouthful-of-marbles diction, it's a revelation to hear Cher sing the lines with such clarity. The two have a ball, Elton gurns at the camera, and both punctuate the performance with delighted squeals and asides.  

The show's finale ramps up the flamboyance to new and spectacular heights. Elton and Cher are joined by another gay icon, Bette Midler, for a medley made up of James Taylor and Carly Simon's Mockingbird, Creedence Clearwater Revival's Proud Mary, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's Ain't No Mountain High Enough – featuring a spoken word cameo from comedian Flip Wilson – and the Jackson 5's Never Can Say Goodbye. 

It's bonkers. Thousands of balloons fill the set. The three musicians are a vision in purest white and glistening silver. Elton sports a giant top hat and a vast necklace made entirely of Christmas tree baubles. And his initial lack of enthusiasm appears to have been entirely vanquished. 

Perhaps the show's biggest legacy was that it introduced Elton to Cher's costume designer, Bob Mackie. Mackie had created the iconic sequinned dress that Marilyn Monroe had worn while serenading President John F. Kennedy during his fortieth birthday party at Madison Square Garden in 1962, and had designed outfits for the likes of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross and Tina Turner.

Mackie would go on to conjure up some of John's most unforgettable fashion triumphs: the sparkling Los Angeles Dodgers uniform worn at the famous Dodger Stadium show a few months later; the majestic Donald Duck costume worm in New York's Central Park in 1980; the legendary "Amadeus" ensemble worn during the Leather Jackets world tour in 1986. And when Elton played his final US Farewell Yellow Brick Road show at Los Angeles’s Dodger Stadium in late 2022, Mackie was called upon to recreate Elton's original baseball costume. 

"I did not expect this," Mackie told Vogue. "I was creating lots of different things for him at the time, and it was just another quick gag. But I am delighted it has become so very famous, and an important moment in Elton’s career."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.