Andrew Watt: "Elton John tracked his entire piano part in under an hour on Ordinary Man - it was pretty incredible"

Elton John
(Image credit: Mackenzie Sweetnam/WireImage)

How Do You wrangle Elton John to appear on your album? If you’re Ozzy Osbourne - or, more accurately, Sharon Osbourne - you just ask him.

“Sharon's his best mate,” Ozzy explains. “And I'm Sharon's husband, so...”

As for why Ozzy thought John would be the perfect addition to the Ordinary Man title track, he continues, “It just reminded me of an Elton song - the phrasing of it. So I said to Sharon, ‘Will you ask him?’ And it turned out everything was in the right place at the right time.”

From a geographical standpoint, the right place was an Atlanta studio, which is where Watt was discharged to record with John (this is after, it’s worth noting, Watt had traveled to Abbey Road Studios in London to conduct the 40-piece orchestra that also appears on the song).

Of working with John in Atlanta, Watt recalls, “Elton asked me to make a chord chart, and so I wrote one out and put it in front of him and he sat at the piano and played the parts. He went piece by piece as he learned it, and then he started going for full takes of the song.”

As for how long the process took? “He literally tracked his entire piano part in under an hour,” Watt says. “It was pretty incredible.”

What happened next, however, was perhaps even more incredible.

“We’re in the studio listening back to the song, and Elton’s harmonizing along with Ozzy’s vocal,” Watt says. “And it just clicked in that moment: I asked him, ‘Would you mind doing some singing?’ He said, ‘Not at all.’ And he took the second verse. It wasn’t planned. And Ozzy loved it. Those words take on a whole new meaning when Elton sings them.”

All in a day’s work - if, in fact, you can even call it work.

“The whole thing was such an amazing experience,” Watt says. “And Ozzy, not only did he put all these opportunities in my life, he also gave me the confidence to go and do it. It wasn’t work - it’s a dream.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.