Meaning of “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John

First off, let it be known that the titular “Bennie and the Jets” are actually a fictional band created by Elton John and the song’s co-writer, Bernie Taupin. And Elton sings this song primarily from the viewpoint of an adoring fan of the group. And this is done in a comical way as in to make fun of young people who mindlessly follow musicians not based on the sound they produce per se but rather due their style, gimmicks and special effects. Or as Taupin reportedly put it, this track is meant to serve as a satire of the pop music industry.

However, John goes a little deeper than that, particularly in the second verse. He uses cryptic language but basically alludes to “Bennie and the Jets” being representative of the gender gap between their fans and their fans’ parents, with the recognition of generational differences being a major theme is overall American society at the time this track came out.

At the time “Bennie and the Jets” was released, Elton John would have been 26 years old. So it is possible at that point that he was mature and experienced enough to poke out at the younger generation of music fans.  And for the most part, that seems to be what he is doing in this song. However he is doing so primarily in a lighthearted manner as when it comes to glam rock, the same musical style he is criticizing, he is about as flamboyant as they have ever come.

Trivia/Facts

  • Axl Rose acknowledged this as the one track which really convinced him that he “had to be a performer”. He made this statement while inducting Elton John into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
  • “Bennie and the Jets” managed to top the Billboard Hot 100 and did the same on Canada’s RPM Top Singles Chart. Meanwhile in 1976, it peaked at number 37 on the UK Singles Chart.
  • At first Elton and his boys weren’t feeling this track, considering it to be “really odd”. However, the late Gus Dudgeon (1942-2002), who produced the song, added special effects to give it a live ambiance, despite it being recorded in a studio, which has since become one of the song’s trademarks.
  • The aforementioned special effects which Dudgeon incorporated included samples from a 1971 Jimi Hendrix album (“Isle of Wight”) and a 1972 Elton John concert at Royal Festival Hall, London.
  • “Bennie and the Jets” originally came out as part of Elton’s John iconic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album.
  • This was the opening track on the setlist of Elton John’s renowned Red Piano Tour, which took place from 2004 ’til 2009.
  • According to Elton John, the titular “Bennie” is a female and “the Jets” a girl band.
  • “Bennie and the Jets” was written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, who assisted the Rocketman with writing many of his classics.

“Bennie and the Jets” brought Elton John more African American fans

In addition to its success on the Hot 100, the song also scored big on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart (which has since been renamed Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs). This feat marked the first time Elton John broke the top 40 on Hot Soul chart list. Owing to this song’s acceptance by African-American audiences, John eventually made an appearance on the iconic “Soul Train” show, a primarily-Black musical-variety show. Upon appearing on the show, John made history by becoming the first major White performer to do so.

Covers/Sampling/Interpolation of “Bennie and the Jets”

This song has been covered, sampled or interpolated by a number of popular artists, including the likes of:

  • Mary J. Blige
  • The Beastie Boys
  • Solange Knowles
  • Lady Gaga

Miguel and Wale also performed it at the 40th Anniversary Celebration of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” in 2014.

Furthermore, Elton himself sang it alongside the Muppets on a 19777 episode of The Muppet Show.

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