In anticipation of next week’s release of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road reissue — featuring covers of the singer’s 1973 landmark album by Fall Out Boy, Ed Sheeran and Emeli Sandé, among others — John spoke to Rolling Stone about Miguel’s recently released take on “Bennie and the Jets” with Maybach Music rapper Wale.
“Miguel’s done a fantastic job,” John says. “It really makes the best of what the song is all about. And it is an unusual song. It’s not what I think is a hit record, but then that’s probably why it was a hit record, because it didn’t sound like anything else before. It’s important not to copy, and that’s what Miguel did.”
Miguel supplants the song’s iconic piano stabs with thumping, distorted drums, making the cover initially feel like Elton-goes-to-a-rave before the singer emulates John’s soulful croon. Wale replaces the song’s original piano solo with a verse about the dangers and whims of the media to herald and criticize musicians.
Wale’s verse on the track may not be as incongruous as expected. In 1999, Beastie Boys shared a previously unreleased cover of the song on the anthology Sounds of Science, with Biz Markie handling lead vocals. And as John told Rolling Stone earlier this week, he’s been thinking about how to incorporate hip-hop beats into his music for years and even booked studio time with Eminem in 2006. (Tragically, the session was booked on the same day Em’s fellow rapper, best friend and mentor Proof passed away.)
“I’d love to [incorporate hip-hop]. I just don’t know how to do it,” John said. “I’d have to work with someone who knows about it, like a Pharrell or a Kanye, who I respect tremendously. I might do a couple of tracks with Pharrell. It’s just a matter of when and where, and should I do it, the mood that I’m in. You can never tell. It’s happenstance and luck, basically.” John played piano on Kanye’s 2010 hit “All of the Lights.”
John and lyricist Bernie Taupin recently took a long look back at the album for Rolling Stone. “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 said. “The audience sounds were taken from a show we did at the Royal Festival Hall years earlier. The whole thing is very weird.”
“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,” added Taupin.
John originally protested making the song a single, but faced increased pressure from his record label. “I had an argument with MCA and the only reason I caved was because the song was the number one black record in Detroit,” admitted the singer. “And I went, ‘Oh my God.’ 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.”
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road “Super Deluxe Edition” Covers
1. Ed Sheeran – Candle in the Wind
2. Miguel featuring Wale – Bennie and the Jets
3. Hunter Hayes – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
4. The Band Perry – Grey Seal
5. John Grant – Sweet Painted Lady
6. Emeli Sandé – All The Girls Love Alice
7. Imelda May – Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock And Roll)
8. Fall Out Boy – Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
9. Zac Brown Band – Harmony
Additional reporting by Andy Greene.