Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Bennie and the Jets" (1974)

96. Elton John, "Bennie and the Jets" (March 2, 1974, #1)

What is it about this one? I have never understood anything about it except my enduring attraction to it. It's plodding, mostly witless, annoyingly fake, the stuttering and hissing an empty mannerism, and yet I have been entranced by it—entranced, I tell you—from the first moment I heard those inevitable piano chords go crashing into the faux crowd noises, from even the very first clunk of noise, as the thing lumbers into existence, even in that moment saying to myself, "What is it about this one?" (At least I know I'm in estimable company—Axl Rose has said this song inspired him to become a singer, and I bet he can't explain it either.) (And now I'm reading on Wikipedia that even the band thought it was "one of the oddest songs we ever recorded," "too plain and unoriginal," and Elton himself thought it a mistake to release as a single.) (And there we all were poised to make it a #1.) I'll guess that the attraction must exist somewhere in the tension between what it purports to be and what it is, a song celebrating a band that seems hard to believe even exists and at any rate the song doesn't appear to be that excited about it, in spite of what it says ("We'll kill the fatted calf tonight, so stick around") and even with all the pro forma hoopla generated, or attempting to be generated, with those obviously dubbed in crowd noises. Instead, it reveals itself as something sturdy and homely, even stalwart, going about its business with no evident second-guessing or even appearing to try hard. And the brilliant, deliberate, hammering chords that pound it home so resolutely over and over by its very sound.

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