The Meaning Behind “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John and Its Sci-Fi Origins

“Bennie and the Jets” holds a place of pride as one of Elton John‘s most beloved songs. It’s also probably one of his most confusing in terms of the lyrics. That is, if you even hear the lyrics correctly. (Some people certainly don’t.)

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What is the song about? And is it really one of Elton John’s finest live recordings, or was some studio trickery involved? Let’s shake it loose together (whatever that means) and find out all about “Bennie and the Jets.”

Elton and Bernie at a Peak

The catalog of Elton John in the 1970s is quite an incredible thing, when you consider how prolific he was and yet still managed to maintain such a stunning level of quality. But the general consensus is that his 1973 double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is the peak of that time period, the greatest of the great.

The record found John bouncing from genre to genre with effortless grace. Because lyricist Bernie Taupin came from all over the stylistic map with his words, it forced John to come up with such a wide range of musical settings. In the case of “Bennie and the Jets,” the concept was drawn largely from sci-fi, as Taupin explained in an interview (as reported by Songfacts):

“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 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.”

A “Live” Presentation

When you hear “Bennie and the Jets,” you would swear that it was taken from a live performance. But it was recorded entirely in the studio. How did this transpire?

It turns out that the opening piano chord that starts the song was an accident by John in the studio, as he came in a bar before his band was ready. When producer Gus Dudgeon heard the playback, he thought it sounded like the way a band might introduce itself in concert with a striking opening. Thus, the live effects, including the crowd noise, whistles, and dry sound, were all added after the fact.

John always thought the song was a bit bizarre, and he certainly didn’t believe it merited release as a single. He only relented when a Detroit radio station started playing the song on their own, and it caught fire with soul music fans. “Bennie and the Jets” became John’s second No. 1 U.S. single (following “Crocodile Rock.”)

What is the Meaning Behind “Bennie and the Jets”?

“Bennie and the Jets” is written from the perspective of a fan, trying to convince a friend to see the titular band in concert. Under the surface, the song is a celebration of youth culture and how transcendent it can be to watch a popular band, no matter how bizarre they may seem to others, do their thing on stage.

Taupin’s lyrics certainly capture all the wild details: She’s got electric boots, a Mohair suit. They also depict the joyful abandon of the audience: We’ll kill the fatted calf tonight, so stick around. In addition, there are some not-so-subtle allusions to the generational divide: Where we fight our parents out in the street / To find who’s right and who’s wrong.

John’s vocal manages to both sound in awe of the band and slightly tongue-in-cheek at the excess of it all. For a guy who indulged in a lot of that excess during his own concerts, he could easily have been poking fun of himself. In any case, “Bennie and the Jets” remains as charming as ever, because even as musical tastes change, there will always be acts as alluring to youngsters as they are confusing to parents.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


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  1. The story I heard, decades ago, is that the song was considered a dud when they finished with it (it is rather slow and ponderous) so someone got the idea to liven it up with crowd sounds, to try to save it.

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