Joining David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" and Lou Reed's "Rock & Roll" is "Bennie and the Jets," Elton John's entry into glam rock's catalog of self-conscious and self-embracing (and sometimes send-up) songs about rock & roll and rock stars.
Decidedly more pop than either of the aforementioned artists' rock, "Bennie and the Jets" is arranged around John's percussive piano downbeats, syncopated with bass and drums on the chorus. On the verses and pre-chorus, the pianist approximates a honky tonk soul style reminiscent of Leon Russell's. John even offers a relatively rare solo, an inspired bit of ivory tickling. The only other instrumentation is acoustic guitar accents and some lighthearted synthesizer riffing -- novel and modern-sounding for the era -- during the vamp fade-out, while John sings the "Bennie, Bennie, Bennie, Bennie, Bennie and the Jets" part in a falsetto. The recording lifts the pseudo-live-in-concert concept from "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," with the sounds of a fake audience applauding and clapping along serving for much of the song's percussion. The sparse production with minimal instrumentation and the heavy use of slap-back echo are also nods to the glam rock sound of early-'70s Bowie and T. Rex.
Taupin's lyrics here fall into the staying-out-of-the-way category; silly stabs at rock & roll debauchery in an ostensibly satirical look at the fluffier aspects of the music business circa 1973: "Hey kids, shake it loose together/The spotlight's hitting something that's been known to change the weather/We'll kill the fatted calf tonight." The album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came out in 1973, a year after Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust LP, and the lyrics of "Bennie and the Jets" seem to be directly influenced by that album. Compare the lyrics of Bowie's title track -- "Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly/The spiders from Mars/Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo/Came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan" -- to Taupin's: "You're gonna hear electric music/Solid walls of sound/Say, Candy and Ronnie, have you seen them yet/But they're so spaced out, Bennie and the Jets/Oh but they're weird and they're wonderful/Oh Bennie she's really keen/She's got electric boots a mohair suit." Perhaps not cause for a lawsuit, but it is quite an homage. However, while both are fantasies, the worst Taupin's innocuous teenybopper anthem gets is the final couplet: "Where we fight our parents out in the streets/To find who's right and who's wrong," while Bowie's gets significantly more sinister, while making a more relevant statement on media icons: "Making love with his ego Ziggy sucked up into his mind/Like a leper messiah/When the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band." Herein lies the difference between classic rock & roll songwriting and disposable -- if fun -- pop music. However, John's song went to number one on the charts.