Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bennie and the Jets

One of Elton's biggest hits, and certainly one of his most unusual.

On the surface, it seems like Elton and Bernie are trying to provide a good-natured musical memorial for the Glam era; giving us a popstar singer named "Bennie" and his band the Jets (a la Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars) through the eyes of the glitterkid fans who were the norm in 1972. The first two lines bear this out as we're invited to come out and hear "electric music, solid walls of sound" from the "so spaced out" Mohair-wearing Bennie and her band. But it's the final verses:

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

which can be interpreted, I think, as a commentary on blind adulation often afforded pop stars by the young- a sort of cult mentality in general, which tends to exacerbate differences between generations in a way which turns often negative. It also can be seen as a statement of defiance by said glam-rock kids, who hold that all can be converted to their way of thinking by "plugging into" Bennie. Either way, it's a suddenly circumspect shift in the lyrics, and it changes, at least to my ears, the whole mood and dynamic of the song.

But of course Elton's musical skills were firing on all cylinders, and he provides another great melody which can sound reflective, celebratory, and melancholy all at the same time despite its monotonous, mechanical lockstep beat. I think a big part of the credit for "Bennie" being as good as it is can be laid at the feet of producer Gus Dudgeon, whom according to most accounts took the somewhat plain track and suggested adding the crowd sounds and slightly off-beat handclaps which make it so distinctive. Elton contributes a nice piano solo in the middle, with just the right touch of echo in the mix to give it that slightly melancholy sound.

However the subject matter was perceived by the masses, it certainly struck a chord; "Bennie" topped not only the pop charts in '73, but the R&B charts that same year as well, despite its lack of anything particularly soulful or funky in it's melody or rhythm.


Roger Green said...

it's the "b-b-bennie". that's the real hook.

Vicky said...

Bennie is a girl singer:
"She's got electric boots..."

Johnny B said...

Right you are. I'll correct that ASAP. Thanks!

Mad Rocket Scientist said...

the song is mainly about marc bolan...not ziggy stardust

Johnny B said...

Well, in all fairness, I said "A la", as in "in the style or manner of". It could be as much a reference to Bolan (this was before he made his Zinc Alloy Ziggy move) as Bowie. I meant glam rockers in a general sense.