Why Elton John Didn’t Want ‘Bennie and the Jets’ to Be a Single
Decades after its release, Elton John‘s “Bennie and the Jets” is one of the most famous rock songs of its era. During an interview, John said he didn’t want the song to be a single but he “caved” to a record executive after an argument. Interestingly, the song’s co-writer revealed he pictured Bennie as a particular kind of rock star.
What Elton John and Bernie Taupin were thinking when they wrote ‘Bennie and the Jets’
Like all of the songs on John’s album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, “Bennie and the Jets” had lyrics by Bernie Taupin. During an interview with Rolling Stone, Taupin discussed what he was thinking when he wrote lyrics for the track. “I saw Bennie and the Jets as a sort of proto-sci-fi punk band, fronted by an androgynous woman, who looks like something out of a Helmut Newton photograph,” Taupin said. For context, Newton was an erotic photographer.
The lyrics of “Bennie and the Jets” inspired John’s instrumentation for it. “When I saw the lyrics for ‘Bennie and the Jets,’ I knew it had to be an off-the-wall type song, an R&B-ish kind of sound or a funky sound,” John recalled. “The audience sounds were taken from a show we did at the Royal Festival Hall years earlier. The whole thing is very weird.”
Why Elton John finally decided the song should be a single
If John had his way, “Bennie and the Jets” might not be a famous song. “I didn’t think ‘Bennie and the Jets’ should be a single,” John revealed. “I had an argument with MCA and the only reason I caved was because the song was the No. 1 Black record in Detroit.”
The popularity of “Bennie and the Jets” in Detroit surprised John. “And I went, ‘Oh my God,'” he recalled. “I mean, I’m a white boy from England. And I said, ‘Okay, you’ve got it.’ It just shows you that you can’t see the wood through the trees. To this day, I cannot see that song as a single.”
The way the world reacted to ‘Bennie and the Jets’
John said he still doesn’t view “Bennie and the Jets” as a single. That didn’t stop the song from becoming prominent on singles charts. “Bennie and the Jets” spent 18 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. It reached No. 1 for one week. Its parent album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, lasted on the Billboard 200 for 111 weeks. It was No. 1 for eight weeks.
“Bennie and the Jets” was considerably less popular in the United Kingdom. According to The Official Charts Company, the song reached No. 37 in the U.K. and stayed on the chart for five weeks. Meanwhile, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road reached No. 1 and stayed on the chart for 102 weeks. Even if John didn’t see “Bennie and the Jets” as a single, it became a hit in the United States.