Elton John

Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)

Song Review by

This mournful ballad is a peon to John Lennon from his friends Elton John (piano/vocals) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics). “Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnny)”, initially issued on Jump Up (1982), is their reaction to the senseless murder of Lennon in December of 1980. The track was among the handful to have reunited Taupin and John who had effectively gone their respective ways in 1976. The mutual admiration between Lennon and John began in earnest after the pair had collaborated on the chart-topping “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” -- featured on Lennon’s Walls And Bridges (1975) album. As a direct result of the single becoming a #1 hit, Lennon joined the Elton John band onstage at Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving in 1975. This brief performance would be Lennon’s final concert appearance. The former Beatle also credited Elton with reuniting he and Yoko Ono backstage at the MSG show. This would ultimately result in the birth of Elton’s Godson -- and the couple’s only child Sean Ono Lennon -- on the senior Lennon’s 35th birthday, October 9th, 1975. “Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnny)” is a heartfelt tribute that recalls some of the more introspective and inspired compositions from the John/Taupin team -- such as “Candle In The Wind” and “Come Down In Time”. Taupin’s analogy of Lennon as a gardener throughout the song is both apt and poignant. Couplets such as “But now it all looks strange/It’s funny how one insect can damage so much grain” or the chorus “Who lived here/He must have been a gardener who cared a lot/Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop” perfectly capture the overwhelming sense of incomprehensible loss that generations of Lennon’s enthusiasts felt. The track became a Top 20 hit during the spring of 1982, although Elton abandoned performing it live until the mid ‘90s because -- as the artist explained to interviewer David Frost in 1994 -- it was “simply to painful to play.” However, he did begin adding it to his repertoire later in the decade.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Jump Up! 1982 MCA 5:08
Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1979-1987) 1987 MCA 5:14
To Be Continued... 1990 MCA 5:11
Greatest Hits: 1976-1986 1992 Island / Mercury / MCA 5:11
Dream Ticket 2004 WAB
No Image 2007 Universal Distribution 5:08
Diamonds 2017 Island / Mercury / Universal 0:00
No Image Rock