Elton wrote the music to this song as an homage to glam rock, a style defined by outrageous costumes that was popular in the early '70s, especially in the UK. Artists like David Bowie and Gary Glitter got into the act, but for Elton, it was an extension of his personality - he really was gay and liked to wear feminine clothes on stage. He became known for his wild appearance and collection of gaudy sunglasses.
"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."
This was also a hit on the US R&B charts, known at the time as the "Black" charts. Elton was especially proud of this, as he was influenced by many black musicians.
Elton did not think this would be a hit. He was shocked when it went to #1 in America. John claims he rarely knows which of his songs will be hits.
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'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 hand claps and various shouts.
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.
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.
Elton performed this on Soul Train, becoming one of the few white performers ever to play the show (David Bowie is another). 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.
This was featured in the movie My Girl 2
. Its played when Vada and Nick are exploring Los Angeles.
On Elton John's "Red Piano" tour (2007-2009), he would open with this song. He had old neon casino signs that spelled out ELTON. During the opening da da dada da notes, the lights would go on with each note.
Elton performed this song when he appeared on The Muppet Show in 1977, with a group of Muppets singing along with him at the piano. Elton's outlandish costumes were a running joke during the episode, and at one point Sam The Eagle was coerced into dressing like Elton.
In 1999, Mary J. Blige reworked this into a song called "Deep Inside." Elton played piano on the track.