The Lockdown Sessions

Elton John

The Lockdown Sessions

Like many of us during the COVID pandemic, Elton John got to know a few of his neighbors very well. Unlike most of us, his neighbors are also famous musicians, and these serendipitous encounters have led to some of the highest-profile collaborations of his career. A chance meeting with Charlie Puth—“he lived three doors away from me”—was the first in a series of impromptu lockdown sessions launched via email and Zoom calls. After a few scattered tracks had come together, Elton had an epiphany. “I suddenly thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m a session musician again,’” he tells Apple Music, recalling his early days as a not-yet-famous piano player. “And it was just like, ‘You know what, I love this.’ To play on other people’s records, to hear different music and be able to fit in with someone else’s thoughts is an incredibly inspiring and moving thing to do.” And because it’s Elton—the host of Apple Music Radio’s Rocket Hour, where timeless classics mingle with the latest hits from upcoming artists—there’s a mix of old and new. Lil Nas X, Young Thug, and Nicki Minaj are here, as are the late Glen Campbell, Eddie Vedder, and Stevies Wonder and Nicks. “They’ve all taught me something at 74 years of age,” he says. “I think if that can happen in your life and you listen and learn something from these people, it’s a bonus.” As a further bonus, Sir Elton takes us track by track through each collaboration on the album.
“Cold Heart” (PNAU Remix) with Dua Lipa “She was the most professional, brilliant, well‐rehearsed, humble, fabulous, glamorous, beautiful person. I just took to her immediately. Future Nostalgia is one of my favorite albums of the year. She has a certain energy that kind of reflected and inspired me, too. But it was her professionalism and her humility that really struck me.”
“Always Love You” with Young Thug and Nicki Minaj “He came over; I went, ‘What do I call you? Thug? Young Thug? Mr. Thug?’ He said, ‘No, just call me Jeffery.’ He was very humble and very sweet and asked my advice: ‘What do you think I should do as I go on?’ I said, ‘Did you sing in the gospel choir?’ ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Then sing a little bit more—use more melody as well as rapping, because you do that brilliantly.’ He came into the studio and he just freestyled it all the way. What he did on the track was amazing, and then we thought we're going to have to have a female to answer it. Eventually we got hold of Nicki. I never knew Nicki could sing. I’d just heard her rap. She sang beautifully. She really captured the meaning of the song.”
“Learn to Fly” with Surfaces “They had a hit in America at that particular time and they wanted me to play and maybe do some vocals on their next single. I went up to the studio, and I did my first ever Zoom recording. I put a piano and I did voice on it. And so really that was the first Lockdown track I did. When I go into those situations, I say, ‘Listen, I’m playing on your record. If you don’t like anything, tell me. It’s not going to hurt my feelings.’ They were very, very forthright like that. I put the piano on, then I did the harmonies and the vocals. I love decisive people, so it made it very easy.”
“After All” with Charlie Puth “Charlie Puth and I were in the studio—just the two of us. He’s got a little home studio with all his keyboards and his synths, his Pro Tools. I went up there, played electric piano, and actually wrote the song all the way through. This and the Stevie Wonder song are very unusual for me because I wrote them all the way through without a lyric and the melody. Charlie wrote some words, and I did a vocal, he did a vocal, and that came from that.”
“Chosen Family” with Rina Sawayama “Rina’s album was one of the most amazing records I heard that year. The most frustrating thing for people like her is that they couldn’t tour, because she’s such a visual artist, and you can imagine what the song was going to be like. She was stuck in COVID and we became email friends, and I fell in love with her. I just absolutely adore her. ‘Chosen Family’ is such a beautifully written track, and it’s so important now to bring people together in the divided world that we live in.”
“The Pink Phantom” with Gorillaz feat. 6LACK “I just love the fact that Damon [Albarn] works with so many different people, and he’s not afraid to take a chance. They’re not in it for the glamorization and the glory, they’re in it because they’re working with people they like. And they might not be the biggest‐selling records in the world, but that doesn’t matter to them. Damon used to think I had a pink Phantom, but I didn’t. If I was going to have a Phantom, then it probably would have been pink. I haven’t really had anybody rapping on my records before. To hear 6LACK rapping and Damon weaving me in and out of this dreamlike track was hypnotic and fascinating for me.”
“It’s a sin” (global reach mix) with Years & Years “Olly [Alexander] did a version of ‘It’s a sin’ acoustically. It’s a beautiful song. The lyrics say everything about being gay. It’s a genius lyric by Neil Tennant and a genius record. It’s a tribute to the Pet Shop Boys, and how their music has influenced me, has given me so much pleasure. And it showed the brilliance of both of them creating music and lyrics that sum up being gay. I’ve never written those kinds of songs. It’s me paying tribute to two people who have given me so much pleasure all my life.”
“Nothing Else Matters” with Miley Cyrus feat. WATT, Yo-Yo Ma, Robert Trujillo & Chad Smith “Miley is a fairly new artist in a way, because she’s kind of making different music from when she started, you know, ‘Wrecking Ball.’ I was so impressed with her voice on ‘Nothing Else Matters.’ I’ve always loved Metallica and I always loved that song. It’s the same kind of version, except there’s a piano at the beginning and the end…and there’s Yo‐Yo Ma.”
“Orbit” with SG Lewis “Sam Lewis is someone I’ve been looking at for a long time. He’s a young British producer; I’ve interviewed him on Rocket Hour and played his tracks. I went to the studio in London with his lyricist and wrote a song called ‘Orbit.’ He sent me a track which I didn’t like because it was too Eltonish. I wanted balls. I wanted to dance. I said, ‘Sam, go ahead and destroy what I've done. Just keep the bits you like. The reason I wanted to work with you is that I wanted you in it.’ What he finished up with I love, because it's a bit Depeche Mode, a bit New Order. It’s totally what I wanted. I didn’t want it to sound like Elton John doing a dance record with an Elton John song, which was too formulaic. Dance records aren’t formulaic, with bits and snatches of melodies.”
“Simple Things” with Brandi Carlile “She wrote me a letter 18 years ago asking me to play on her album, the most beautiful letter saying how much I’d meant to her as an artist. She came to Vegas and I played on her record. And we’ve become friends ever since. For her to sing on ‘Simple Things,’ it’s like a dream come true, a bucket list moment. I watched her grow and become the artist she is. She’s exactly the same as me, she wants to help young people. It’s one of my favorite songs. It’s a sort of song I would have written with Bernie.”
“Beauty in the Bones” with Jimmie Allen “This came about because of my friend Bruce Roberts, who’s been having a lot of bad health. Bruce is a songwriter who I’ve known for years, and he played me this track. I liked the song, a different kind of song to all the rest, a different kind of genre. I wanted to support Jimmie because he’s a young rising star. He’s unknown over here, he’s just starting out.”
“One of Me” with Lil Nas X “All the people I work with knew what they wanted, and so did Lil Nas X and Giles Martin. They were decisive people. I’d say, ‘Is that too much?’ He said, ‘Yes, a bit too much, calm it down a bit.’ And I think they used the bare bones of the piano I did, because I did some other funky stuff. And maybe it shifted the track from what they wanted it to be and made it a bit too Elton. And I also sang a little on the Lil Nas X track, but they didn’t use that either. And that's fair enough. It’s their record. I give them as much as they want, and they can just take it away and just use what they want. You have to accept that you’re playing on someone else’s record.”
“E-Ticket” with Eddie Vedder “I got to know Eddie Vedder because he comes to a lot of shows, especially in Hawaii, where he has a place. He gave me a beautiful ukulele. I’ve always loved him, and I love what he stands for. Eddie left a note for me in the studio saying it would be one of his bucket list items if I would ever write a song to one of his lyrics. So I wrote two—one for him and one for me. How lovely to be able to do something for someone who's as joyous as that.”
“Finish Line” with Stevie Wonder “I put the electric piano down. He came and played acoustic piano and then did the harmonica solo. Then we put the Kanye West choir on, which really made the difference. And then Stevie put his vocal on. I haven’t heard Stevie sound so young since he was about 19, just before he did Talking Book; it’s an ‘Uptight’ Stevie. I’m the Ernie Wise to him on that record, because I’m just the straight man. You just listen to what he does vocally and instrumentally, and you think, ‘Oh, my god, this is a true genius.’ I’m obviously a huge fan of his, and he’s still younger than me, which I loathe. On this track that we did, he produced something very special that Stevie Wonder fans haven’t heard for a long time.”
“Stolen Car” with Stevie Nicks “I didn’t know Stevie that well. When I say bucket list of vocalists, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie would be two of my choices. It’s just a dream come true. She has a style of her own; I never get fed up listening to her. When people like Stevie Wonder, Eddie Vedder, Stevie Nicks, and Brandi Carlile say yes to you straight away, it really makes you feel special. On this record, we sound like an old married couple in a car like Thelma and Louise going to Big Bear and having an argument, pulling over by the side of the road.”
“I'm Not Gonna Miss You” with Glen Campbell “I got a phone call from Glen Campbell’s people saying the last song he wrote was called ‘I’m Not Gonna Miss You.’ And when that came out, I said in an interview that I thought it was one of the most beautiful songs that I ever heard because it was very short and sweet, but it was about his battle with Alzheimer’s. They said they were doing a remake of the album with people duetting with him. ‘Would you sing that song?’ I said, ‘Yes, absolutely, I’d love to sing that with him.’”

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