Elton John – Benny and the Jets

Trying to figure out Elton’s lyrics has always been interesting…not what they mean…I won’t even try that. No, it’s,,, what is he singing?  “he’s got electric boots a mohair suit You know I read it in a magazine, oh” I wasn’t even close. I thought “masseuse” was in there. I don’t think I can even spell what I’ve been singing along with for years. Mick Jagger does this well also.

Regardless of the hard to decipher words…I love the song.

Elton wrote the music to this song as an homage to glam rock, a style  that was popular in the early ’70s, especially in the UK…and of course Bernie Taupin co-wrote it with Elton.

This wasn’t released as a single in the UK, where it was released as the B-side of “Candle In The Wind.” In the US, “Candle In The Wind” was not released as a single because MCA records thought this was better. Elton protested but came around when black radio stations started playing it and it became a hit.

This was also a hit on the R&B charts as it peaked at #15. Elton was surprised at that and wasn’t considering it for a single. He did not think this would be a hit. He was shocked when it went peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, #1 in Canada, and #13 in New Zealand in 1974. It charted at #37 in the UK in 1976.

Elton’s producer Gus Dudgeon wanted a live feel on this recording, so he mixed in crowd noise from a show Elton played in 1972 at Royal Festival Hall. He also included a series of whistles from a live concert in Vancouver B.C., and added handclaps and various shouts.

I do remember seeing  Elton perform this song when he appeared on The Muppet Show in 1977, with a group of Muppets singing along with him at the piano.

 

From Songfacts

“Bennie” is a female character who Elton has described as a “sci-fi rock goddess.” Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics, told Esquire, “‘Bennie And The Jets’ was almost Orwellian – it was supposed to be futuristic. They were supposed to be a prototypical female rock ‘n’ roll band out of science fiction. Automatons.”

It was Elton’s idea to stutter the vocal: “B-B-B-Bennie…” Bernie Taupin thought this worked very well with the futuristic, robotic theme of his lyrics. Said Taupin: “That’s a little quirk of the song which I’m sad to say I had nothing to do with. That and that wonderful big chord at the beginning. I think those two things are what probably made that song so popular. Neither of which I had anything to do with.”

Comic books, movies, and the German photographer Helmut Newton were some of the influences Bernie Taupin threw into the pot when writing the lyrics to this song. Said Taupin: “I’d always had this wacky science fiction idea about a futuristic rock and roll band of androids fronted by some androgynous kind of Helmut Newton style beauty, which was depicted to little great effect on the Yellow Brick Road album cover. I’m not sure if it came to me in a dream or was some way the subconscious of effect of watching Kubrick on drugs. Either way, it was definitely something that was totally formed as a concept, and something that could have morphed into any number of populist items. Could have been comic books or movies. In fact, I can’t help but believe that that Robert Palmer video with all the identical models somehow paid a little lip service to The Jets.”

The falsetto vocal is Elton trying to sound like Frankie Valli. He was a fan of Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons growing up, and went to at least one of their concerts when he was young.

Elton tried to record the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album in Jamaica, since The Rolling Stones had just recorded their Goats Head Soup album in a studio there and encouraged him to try it. Instead of the relaxing tropical paradise they expected, Elton and his crew encountered hostile locals and faulty equipment. They ended up recording the album at the studio in France (The Chateau) where they recorded their two previous albums.

Bernie Taupin says that when he saw the Robert Palmer video for “Addicted To Love,” it portrayed when he envisioned Bennie And The Jets looking like: a dapper frontman backed by robotic models.

Elton performed this on Soul Train, becoming the first white superstar to appear on the show (he was the third white performer overall, following Dennis Coffey and Gino Vannelli). His episode aired May 17, 1975, beating David Bowie by six months. Elton asked to appear on the show, as he was a big fan. He explained on the program that he and his band would often watch it while they were on tour.

Miguel covered this as part of the 40th edition expanded reissue of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in 2014, with Wale contributing vocals. Elton John had Peter Asher produce the nine cover versions, which also included Ed Sheeran’s take on “Candle In The Wind” and Fall Out Boy’s “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting).” Asher, who produced the most successful albums by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, put the track together based on the sound of Miguel’s album Kaleidoscope Dream. Getting Miguel in the studio to record it proved challenging though.

In a Songfacts interview with Asher, he explained: “There was a period when I was hardly in touch with Miguel. I ended up meeting with him backstage at an Alicia Keys concert he was opening, and I said, ‘Did you ever get a chance to listen to the demo I sent you?’ He said, ‘No, I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened to it.’

So, we sat backstage and listened to it for the first time. He plugged in his in-ear monitors into my laptop and I played it to him and he said, ‘I love it. That’s great. Go ahead.’ And he just arranged time to come into the studio and sing it.

And then, he made some suggestions and changed some stuff and added some brilliant background parts and so on. So, it ended up being a combination of the ideas I’d started with, with some ideas he had on top.”

Benny and the Jets

She’s got electric boots a mohair suit
You know I read it in a magazine, oh
B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets

Hey kids, shake it loose together
The spotlight’s hitting something that’s been known to change the weather
We’ll kill the fatted calf tonight
So stick around
You’re gonna hear electric music solid walls of sound

Say, Candy and Ronnie, have you seen them yet
Uh but they’re so spaced out, B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets
Oh but they’re weird and they’re wonderful
Oh Bennie she’s really keen
She’s got electric boots a mohair suit
You know I read it in a magazine oh
B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets

Hey kids, plug into the faithless
Maybe they’re blinded
But Bennie makes them ageless
We shall survive, let us take ourselves along
Where we fight our parents out in the streets
To find who’s right and who’s wrong

Say, Candy and Ronnie, have you seen them yet?
Oh, but they’re so spaced out
B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets
Oh but they’re weird and they’re wonderful
Oh Bennie, she’s really keen

She’s got electric boots
A mohair suit
You know I read it in a magazine oh yeah
B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets
Bennie, Bennie, Bennie, and the Jets, yeah, oh

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

31 thoughts on “Elton John – Benny and the Jets”

  1. Great song. At the time in ’74, I was already a big fan but that song just blew me away when I heard it. His ‘Greatest Hits’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ were the first two albums I bought as a kid.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The think I always loved most about this track is the live feel, but not because of the crowd noise/canned applause. Elton’s vocal and piano have such a live “hall” sound here that it makes me wonder if it was actually recorded in a concert hall without an audience. The room was sounding good that day…whatever room it was recorded in. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. there was a quote in the Rocketman movie, which I think was probably true, with Elton back then telling people basically to not question him because “5% of all the records being sold in the world are by me”. Might well be true back in ’74-75… kind of blows you away to think of anyone that popular, though Beatles probably could claim the same around ’66-67.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. His popularity was on that level. There is no way he could’ve kept it up or he would’ve killed himself probably.
      That is why the Beatles stopped touring.

      Like

  4. I’ve always loved this song, and like you, I know I wasn’t singing the lyrics listed here lol. Never thought about the sound effects until now, but they sure added “sci-fi flair” to the experience. When Elton was hot he was sizzlin. So. Many. Hits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who needed an interpreter…but I just made the sound…same with Rocket Man and some Stones songs.

      Yes he was on fire at the time.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I can believe that totally. Now I do like a lot of lines like the Mohair Suit line…that is original but yea the meaning…I don’t try. Without a lyric sheet I’m lost with a few lines he sings.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Adore this track, I was utterly pissed off that he UK got the morose dull Candle In The Wind in 1974 and everywhere else got the magnificent Bennie. I think Americans who cant bear listening to it have probably OD’d on it’s success in the same way as I can’t bear Candle In The Wind, any version, anymore. In the UK Bennie is not that well known and has never been overplayed.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It was the B side of Candle In The Wind, so I bought that single for the B side but it would have registered as a sale for Candle In The Wind even though it wasn’t at all 🙂 It finally came out in its own right in 1976, but the moment had passed and it was just a minor hit as Elton by then was 3 albums on….

        Liked by 1 person

      2. He didn’t want it out as a single at first until some station in the US started to play it…it’s one of my favorites by him.

        Liked by 1 person

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