In the summer of 1994 Elton John and Billy Joel hit the road for a co-headlining trek that packed stadiums all across the country. It was a crazily competitive summer with Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles all on the road at the exact same time, but the chance to see the two piano icons finally share a stage was irresistible and the tour sold out everywhere it went.
Each show began with Billy and Elton duetting on “Your Song,” “Honesty” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” John and his band then played a set, followed by Joel and his own band. They wrapped it up with a bunch of covers like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Great Balls of Fire” before the inevitable “Piano Man” finale. Most nights Elton came out to sing “My Life” with Billy during his set, and Billy returned the favor by coming out for “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” during Elton’s portion of the show.
The tour was such a huge success that they went back out together in America the following year, and then they took it overseas in 1998. (Here’s video of them duetting on “Bennie and the Jets” at a 1998 show in Tokyo.) They resumed in America three years later, downscaling to arenas but dramatically jacking up ticket prices. The insanely lucrative tours continued in 2002, 2003, 2009 and 2010, but the following year John vented his frustrations with his touring partner to Rolling Stone.
“At the end of the day, he’s coasting,” John said. “I always say, ‘Billy, can’t you write another song?’ It’s either fear or laziness. It upsets me. Billy’s a conundrum. We’ve had so many cancelled tours because of illnesses and various other things, alcoholism. . . He’s going to hate me for this, but every time he goes to rehab they’ve been light. . . Billy, and this is tough love. Billy, you have your demons and you’re not going to get rid of them at rehab light. You’ve got to be serious. People adore you, they love you and respect you. You should be able to do something better than what you’re doing now.”
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Needless to say, Joel didn’t appreciate the “tough love” and the two musicians haven’t played together a single time since, though he insists he’s open to it. “It’s absolutely possible I’d play with Elton again,” Joel told Rolling Stone in 2013. “Sometimes he runs off at the mouth. I haven’t even heard from him since [he gave that interview]. I guess that ‘Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.'”
Joel has been touring steadily over the past two years, and some nights he tells the crowd that playing with the “other guy” was frustrating since he only wanted the show to feature hits. Just in case anyone was confused by the reference, he often follows it up by playing a bit of “Your Song” and laughing at the line “I don’t have much money.” “Bullshit,” he said one night. “You do.”