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Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)

by

Elton John



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song is a tribute to John Lennon, who was shot to death in 1980 by a deranged fan. Elton John's wordsmith Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics, but Elton certainly felt a connection to the song, as he was good friends with Lennon and is the Godfather of Lennon's second son, Sean. Elton performed on several of Lennon's songs and even appeared onstage with him at his final concert in 1974.
In the John/Taupin songwriting partnership, Bernie writes the lyrics first and Elton then puts them to music. When writing for the Jump Up album, Elton had some melodies handy and asked Taupin to write words to those, which he did. Taupin has described those songs as "awful" and said, "it's a very messy album." "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)," however, was written their traditional way with the lyrics first, and Taupin has said that it's the only good song on the album.
When he performed this at a sold-out Madison Square Garden show in August 1982, Elton was joined onstage by Lennon's wife Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon.
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Comments (28):

On April 17th 1982, Elton John performed "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)" on the NBC-TV program 'Saturday Night Live'...
One month earlier on March 14th, 1982 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #79; and on May 23rd it peaked at #13 (for 2 weeks) and also spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
Was track one of side two on his sixteenth studio album, 'Jump Up!', the album reached #17 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart (the album did peak at #1 in New Zealand)...
One other track from the album also made the Top 100 chart, "Blue Eyes", it peaked at #12...
R.I.P. Mr. Lennon (1940 -1980) and Mr. John, born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, celebrated his 67th birthday one month ago on March 25th.
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
This is such a well-written song full of allusions to Lennon. It breaks my heart when I hear it.
- Jack, Mesa, AZ
His friend was killed but he still knocks on the door asking if he is home to "play" in his garden that is empty because of the insect (mdc). Now listen to it again. Its one man's expression of friendship and losing a friend... Its heartbreaking.

BTW Elton played the song in Philly in 1995. The MSG stuff is bs, also most of the "fans" walked out to piss because it wasn't on the greatest hits... Sad.... A boy is knocking on his dead friend's door to come out and "play" in the garden that they used to play in together.... Bernie Taupin is an unreal wordsmith.
- j, funville, DE
This is insanity. This song has nothing at all to do with autism. Unreal. John Lennon lived at a brownstone called the Dakota, it had a garden on the roof. Elton would visit and sit with john in the garden. Since some "insect" killed him nothing grows in that garden.... Per the autism ...Stupid is as stupid does.
- j, funville, DE
'Blue Eyes' is another song off the one Taupin panned. Not bad, but I always thought Willie Nelson might sue them over it.
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
When I here this song it reminds me of a boy's struggle with Autism. Listen to the words as you look at the video and see if it makes sense to you. My son has Autism and every word of the song fits his condition.
- Pamela, Farmington, MI
I have always thought the song Empty Garden by Elton John was about what a boy with Autism. I know that this is a strange interpretation;but listen to the words and see for yourselves. I know for a fact that the song was written to honor John Lennon. But I have an autistic son and every word fits the autistic experience through his eyes.
- Pamela, Farmington, MI
These guys grew to be pretty tight friends. it started when John commented he really like a new song named "Your Song" in 1970. They collaborated on some session work at the Caribou Ranch in the Colorado Rockies in about 72 or 3. I also liked Georges tribute as well. Johm was created to be a Rock Giant!
- meocyber, alma, CO
Listen to the beginning and him saying nothing grows no more and so much rain and nothing still doesn't grow there anymore and where amazed
- Ghostgetter, Dallas, TX
As a radio show host and paranormal investigator and knowing about strange and interesting facts, it story goes that where John Lennon was shot the grass hasn't grown on that spot since the shooting and it hasn't been explained why. I heard this years ago but couldn't remember if it was the grass or garden, but it's a paranormal story
- Ghostgetter, Dallas, TX
R.I.P. John Lennon.
- December 8, 2009
- Ash, Charleston, WV
This is easily the best of the J.L. tributes.
- Elmer, Seattle, WA
When Elton appeared on the "Inside the Actor's Studio" in NYC a few years ago he was asked if he would play the song. Elton refused and said he only plays that song at MSG. It's the only place he can play it without getting overcome with grief.
- john, Grand Island, NY
C. from Denver, i agree completely! If the garden is Madison Square Garden it could also just mean play a concert but I like your idea better!
- Lulu, New Orleans, LA
This song tends to make me cry when I hear it. :( The imagery is very vivid.
- Sasha, Winston, MS
Was the song's lyric,"won't you come out to play..." derived from The Beatles' Dear Prudence? I've never seen a comment about it, but maybe it's so obvious as to not warrant mention?
- C., Denver, CO
It's a gorgeous song.
- Kelly, Wilmington, NC
Elton John and John Lennon are 2 of my favourite artists. I really enjoy playing the drums to empty garden, I love it.
- Hayden, Brisbane, Australia
John joined Elton onstage in November 1974 to sing "I saw her standing there" which Lennon said was from "an old, estranged fiance of mine called Paul". Ah that Lennon humor, gotta love it...
- Bill, Downers Grove, IL
It is obvious that John Lennon was one of the most beautiful men to walk the face of the earth. a tragedy how someone so beautiful can be taken away in a blink of an eye. the world would be a better place if john lennon were still walking with us. God bless you John!!!!
- LIZARD KING, Los Angelos, CA
Perhaps the "empty garden among the flagstones" are the thousands of flowers that were left at the entryway to the Dakota that night and through the following days. People simply did not know what to do with their grief and so they gathered outside the Dakota with their flowers and radios and sang his songs into the morning. Yoko had to send her assistant outside saying she loved the singing but it was keeping her awake so would they gather again that Sunday and remember how "John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him." I still miss him every day.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
I saw an old SNL performance the other night, where Elton sang 'Empty Garden'. Heard the song many times before, but knew nothing of it's background, and have only now researched it.
Very moving and sad - a fitting tribute to a great man and composer. I appreciate being able to share your insight on this site. Thank you.
- Paul, Lake Tahoe, CA
I believed the "garden" is Central Park & Johns home, which he loved and spent most of his time with Sean & Yoko being a 'house husband' which he said was very important during those years of retirement. The opening of the song also mentions "What happened here, as the New York sunset disappears" as to place you at the 'scene of the crime', on the sidewalk if front of the Dakota. And the lyric "through their tears, some say he formed his best..." I always thought referred to the vigil in Central Park after Johns death...everyone was sharing memories, songs & opinions of Lennon together. This song is very sad to me and makes me cry because of the images it brings back of that horrible day in NYC. Recently, Elton was on the Actors Studio and he was asked to perform it. He said he couldnt because its still too painful.
- Elizabeth, Bronx, NY
It was my pleasure to see Elton on his solo tour in 2000-2001 once in Iowa City and in my hometown of Omaha. Empty Garden has been favorite song of Elton's for a long time and was thrilled when he played it in Omaha. I was in disbelief. I didn't think he played this song live to often at all. He commented on it before he played it saying that he had been reminded of a dear friend lately.-Shellie Miller, Omaha, NE
- Shellie, Omaha, NE
Elton rarely plays this song in concert; he has said that it is too emotional for him. He does occasionally play it, but, when he does, it is in New York City.
- Andrea Ruhlman, Charlevoix, MI
Jimmy-
In an interview I read recently, Bernie indicated exactly what you suspected. That the garden was, indeed, Madison Square. He and Elton had grown quite close to John and had convinced him that his contributions to 20th century culture were far more profound than a few pop songs. They were both devistated by the loss, as most everyone of that era was. See you at Lange's Deli or Andre's Hardware in B'ville-
Charles M. Bronxville, NY
- Charles, Bronxville, NY
With regards to Lennon appearing onstage with Elton, the night was November 28, 1974 (Thanksgiving night) at Madison Square Garden in NYC. I was there that evening 30 years ago as a teenager. It is to this day the most memorable concert I have ever been to. I have always wondered if the "garden" in Empty Garden was reference to Madison Square Garden being the last venue Lennon performed at, hence with him gone it was now empty. (Is that stretching it a bit?)

Side Note - Elton John has performed at Madison Square Garden more times than any other performer in the history of the Garden.
- Jimmy, Bronxville, NY
In Elton's only performance on Saturday Night Live in 1982 he performed this song, which he found particularly chilling because it was in New York and the city was still in shock from his murder.
- Dan, Old Bridge, NJ
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