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Arts & Life

Without Michigan music fans, Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets might’ve never taken off

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Ludmilla Joaquina Valentina Buyo
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Public Domain
Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" became popular in Detroit thanks to music director Rosalie Trombley at the Windsor radio station CKLW.

One of the perks of living on the east side of Michigan is that you can occasionally tune into radio stations across the border in Windsor. A recent piece from the CBC tells the story of how Elton John’s hit song “Bennie and the Jets” may owe part of its popularity to one of those stations and its Detroit audience. 

Originally, Elton John didn’t have high hopes for the song. He thought it was “plain and unoriginal,” according to the CBC’s Rich Terfry. However, through the work of a dedicated music producer and a well-versed music director, the song became something incredibly unique and iconic.

Despite John’s worries, music producer Gus Dudgeon thought the song had serious potential, and he set to work making “Bennie and the Jets” into a wholly original recording. He added reverb for the feel of a concert hall, and the sound of a cheering crowd to make it sound live.

 

John was insistent that the song wouldn’t be released as a single. But Rosalie Trombley, a music director at the Windsor radio station CKLW, picked up the song and played it frequently, reaching audiences in Michigan as well as Canada. Trombley was known for identifying songs that reach the top of the charts. She was also a trailblazer, one of very few women in prominent radio jobs at the time.

 

Through Trombley, “Bennie and the Jets” made its way into Detroit, ending up as the top song in the city. This led to a domino effect, and the song spread across the U.S. and Canada, eventually topping the charts in both countries.

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