Rocket Man (song)

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"Rocket Man"
Elton John - Rocket Man.jpg
Single by Elton John
from the album Honky Château
B-side "Susie (Dramas)"
Released 14 April 1972 (1972-04-14)
Format Vinyl record (7")
Recorded Château d'Hérouville, Hérouville, France; mixed at Trident Studios, London
Genre Soft rock[1]
Length 4:41
Songwriter(s) Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer(s) Gus Dudgeon
Elton John singles chronology
"Tiny Dancer"
"Rocket Man"
"Honky Cat"

"Tiny Dancer"
"Rocket Man"
"Honky Cat"
Audio sample

"Rocket Man" (officially titled "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)") is a song composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin and originally performed by John. The song first appeared on John's 1972 album Honky Château and became a hit single, rising to No. 2 in the UK and No. 6 in the US. On 21 October 2016, the song was certified Silver by the British Phonographic Industry for sales of 200,000 digital downloads.

Rolling Stone lists it as No. 245 of its 500 greatest songs of all time.

Song information[edit]

The song was inspired by the short story "The Rocket Man" in The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, and echoes the theme of David Bowie's 1969 song "Space Oddity" (both recordings were produced by Gus Dudgeon). But according to an account in Elizabeth Rosenthal's book His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John, the song was inspired by Taupin's sighting of either a shooting star or a distant aeroplane.

The song describes a Mars-bound astronaut's mixed feelings at leaving his family in order to do his job. Rosenthal's account goes on to relate that the notion of astronauts no longer being perceived as heroes, but in fact as an "everyday occupation", led Taupin to the song's opening lines: "She packed my bags last night, pre-flight. Zero hour: 9 a.m. And I'm gonna be high as a kite by then."

Musically, the song is a highly arranged ballad anchored by piano, with atmospheric texture added by synthesizer (played on the recording by engineer Dave Hentschel) and processed slide guitar. It is also known for being the first song in John's catalog to feature what would become the signature backing vocal combination of his band at the time, Dee Murray, Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone.

"Rocket Man" was ranked #242 in the 2004 list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, though it dropped to #245 in the list's 2010 revision.

Another song called "Rocket Man" (and also based on Bradbury's short story "The Rocket Man")[clarification needed] was released by the musical group Pearls Before Swine on their 1970 album The Use of Ashes. In an interview in Billboard magazine, Taupin acknowledged that the song, written by Tom Rapp, had been a direct inspiration for his own lyrics. Rosenthal's account indicates that Rapp's lyrics were inspired by the writings of noted science-fiction author Ray Bradbury. Due to some similarities in Elton John's "Rocket Man," some[who?] presume this song might also be an allusion to David Bowie's character Major Tom. Bowie himself made the connection[citation needed] during live performances of "Space Oddity" in which he called out, "Oh, Rocket Man!"[2][citation needed]

The first stanza of "Rocket Man" was thought of by Bernie Taupin whilst he was on the motorway heading to his parents' home; he had to "repeat it to himself for two hours," which was "unfortunate",[3] but in later interviews he said that since it gave him a hit, it was all worthwhile.

The song has been a staple of John's concerts. Among numerous other performances, John played "Rocket Man" at the launch site of Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998.

The song includes the line, ""And I'm gonna be high as a kite by then". The website Schmoop commented, "The phrase "high as a kite" is a common idiom almost always used to refer to drug use. There's nothing to suggest that lyricist Bernie Taupin really intended the double entendre, but the song did come out at the peak of stoner '70s culture. The usual meaning of the expression, which Taupin would have been familiar with, is highly intoxicated.

Music video[edit]

In May 2017, an official music video for "Rocket Man" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival as a winner of Elton John: The Cut, a competition organized in partnership with AKQA, Pulse Films, and YouTube in honour of the fiftieth anniversary of his songwriting relationship with Bernie Taupin. The competition called upon independent filmmakers to submit treatments for music videos for one of three Elton John songs from the 1970s, with each song falling within a specific concept category. "Rocket Man" was designated for the animation category, and was co-directed by Iranian refugee Majid Adin and Irish animation director Stephen McNally;[4][5] the video was inspired by Adin's own migration to England, portraying a character envisioning himself as an astronaut to draw parallels between the song's lyrics and the experiences of a refugee.[6][7]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

1."Rocket Man"4:38
2."Suzie (Dramas)"3:21

In 2003, Universal Records released both a 12-inch vinyl (promotional only) & CD maxi-single with three new remixes of the song:

  • A. "Rocket Man (KDME remix)" - 4:20
  • B1. "Rocket Man 03" - 4:01
  • B2. "Rocket Man (Royal Garden's Radio mix)" - 4:19

Of these, "Rocket Man 03" was also included on the Rocket/Island/Mercury EP "Remixed," along with four other remixes of Elton recordings.


Chart performance[edit]

Kate Bush version[edit]

"Rocket Man"/"Candle in the Wind"
Rocket Man-Candle in the Wind.png
Single by Kate Bush
from the album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin
A-side "Candle in the Wind"
Released 25 November 1991
Format CD, vinyl record (7" and 12"), audio cassette
Genre Reggae, art rock
Length 5:02
Label Mercury
Songwriter(s) Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer(s) Kate Bush
Kate Bush singles chronology
"Love and Anger"
"Rocket Man"/"Candle in the Wind"
"Rubberband Girl"

"Love and Anger"
"Rocket Man"
"Rubberband Girl"

Kate Bush released a cover of "Rocket Man" in 1991 as part of the Elton John/Bernie Taupin tribute album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin. Her reggae-inflected version of "Rocket Man" was a commercial success, reaching number 12 on the UK singles chart and number two in Australia (held off the top spot by Julian Lennon's "Saltwater"). In 2007, the track won The Observer readers' award for Greatest Cover of all time.[18] The B-side of the single was Bush's recording of another Elton John classic, "Candle in the Wind."

From the age of 11, Elton John was my biggest hero. I loved his music, had all his albums and I hoped one day I'd play the piano like him (I still do). When I asked to be involved in this project and was given the choice of a track it was like being asked 'would you like to fulfill a dream? would you like to be Rocket Man?'... yes, I would.

— Kate Bush[19]

Track listings[edit]

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

7" vinyl / cassette single

1."Rocket Man"5:02
2."Candle in the Wind"4:29

12" vinyl / CD single

1."Rocket Man"5:02
2."Candle in the Wind"4:29
3."Candle in the Wind" (Instrumental version)4:28


All titles:[19]

Additional musicians on "Rocket Man":[19]


Chart (1991–1992) Peak
Australian ARIA Singles Chart[20] 2
Dutch Single Top 100[21] 27
Dutch Top 40[22] 22
French SNEP Singles Chart[23] 45
German Singles Chart[8] 36
Irish Singles Chart[9] 17
Swiss Singles Chart[24] 20
UK Singles Chart[25] 12
U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks[26] 11

David Fonseca version[edit]

"Rocket Man"
Single by David Fonseca
from the album Dreams in Colour
Released 2007
Format Digital download, Radio
Recorded 2007
Genre Soft rock
Length 4:38
Label Universal Records
Songwriter(s) Elton John, Bernie Taupin
David Fonseca singles chronology
"Rocket Man"
"Kiss Me, Oh Kiss Me"

"Rocket Man"
"Kiss Me, Oh Kiss Me"
Music video
"Rocket Man" on YouTube

The Portuguese singer David Fonseca released his version of the song as a single in Portugal reaching #12 in the Portuguese Top 20. The song, full title "Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)", also appears on David Fonseca's third album Dreams in Colour released in 2007 and on the Dreams in Colour: Tour Edition released in 2008. The music video was directed by David Fonseca himself.[27] Fonseca also regularly performs the single live in his concerts.[28]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (2007) Peak
Portuguese Singles Chart (Top 20) 12

Other cover versions[edit]

Use in media[edit]

"Rocket Man" has been featured in several films and television series.

  • Notable uses in cinema include the 1996 action film The Rock, Disney's 1997 comedy film RocketMan, the 1998 biography film Without Limits, the science fiction film K-PAX (2001), the 2017 action spy comedy Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which also stars John as himself, and the closing credits of The Astronaut Farmer (2007).
  • The song was briefly sung by an Binome named Captain Quirk in the first season of the Mainframe Entertainment series ReBoot in the episode Talent Night.
  • The song was used in a 1997 AT&T commercial showing a man on a business trip sending his wife a goodnight fax from an airplane and then speaking to her from the phone in the airplane seat back.[38][39]
  • The song has been used in several television series, including episodes of the FX show Nip/Tuck, Life on Mars, episode 3-3 of Six Feet Under, episode 3-08 of Cold Case, episode 3-11 of Numb3rs ("Killer Chat"), the Eurovision episode of the Greek comedy series
  • The song was also played during the 40th and 45th anniversaries of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing and the day after the death of Neil Armstrong in the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts in Anaheim, California and Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
  • The Norwegian company Statoil also used the song for one of their commercials, part of the song being covered by Silje Gulbrandsen Hagen and the latter part sung by Elton John.[40]
  • In the song "Home Life" by John Mayer, he sings "I am not a rocket man," a reference to the song.
  • When Elton John and fellow singer-pianist Billy Joel tour together, their concerts are often billed as "Rocket Man Meets Piano Man," the latter being a reference to one of Joel's well-known hits.
  • In the computer game World of Warcraft, a large rocket is under construction at the town of Area 52 (an obvious pun on Area 51). Occasionally, a non-player character called "Experimental Pilot" walks up to one of the workers and a conversation starts between the two, the dialogue being based on the lyrics to "Rocket Man".[41]
  • In a fifth-season episode of The Big Bang Theory, Howard Wolowitz changes the ringtone on his phone to this in order to convince his fellow astronauts to give him the call sign "Rocketman." The plan backfires when, during a Skype call with NASA, Howard's mother (off screen) announces that his Froot Loops are getting soggy, causing the other astronauts to use the sobriquet "FruitLoops" instead.
  • The song was used in a 2017 Samsung advertisement.[42]
  • In May 2015, the song is used at the end of The Blacklist as Liz and Red head out of town in the final episode of the season S02E22
  • In February 2018, Jim Bob's Music Massacre dissected the lyrics in S01 E01 after identifying that they did not quite make sense.[43]

Use in diplomacy[edit]

In September 2017, President Donald J. Trump referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un as "Rocket Man" in one of his tweets, in apparent reference to the song.[44]

At their 2018 summit in Singapore, Kim Jong-Un reportedly asked about the nickname, to which Trump asked if he was familiar with the song. In July 2018, some media sources reported that when Mike Pompeo went to North Korea on a diplomatic trip, he brought a CD of the song, autographed by Trump, as a gift to Kim; this was later denied by the State Department.[45][46]


  1. ^ "The top 50 greatest covers as voted by you". Archived from the original on 11 August 2013. Retrieved 21 February 2016. . The Observer.
  2. ^ On "David Bowie BBC Sessions 1969-1972", Bowie is clearly heard calling out "Oh, Rocket Man!"
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ "Rocket Man by Majid Adin & Stephen McNally | Elton John Music Video". Directors Notes. 1 June 2017. Retrieved 12 January 2018. 
  5. ^ "Blinkink - Stephen McNally - Elton John - 'Rocket Man'". Retrieved 12 January 2018. 
  6. ^ "WATCH: Elton John and Bernie Taupin's 'Tiny Dancer,' 'Rocket Man' and 'Bennie and the Jets' Just Got New Music Videos". Retrieved 26 May 2017. 
  7. ^ "Elton John Premieres Three Music Videos for His '70s Classics". Out Magazine. Retrieved 26 May 2017. 
  8. ^ a b " search results". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  9. ^ a b " search results". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  10. ^ "I singoli più venduti del 1972" (in Italian). 
  11. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Retrieved 7 October 2016. 
  12. ^ "Chart Stats - Elton John - Rocket Man". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  13. ^ "AllMusic (Elton John > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles)". 
  14. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1993). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–1993. Record Research. p. 122. 
  15. ^ " - Elton John - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  16. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1972/Top 100 Songs of 1972". Retrieved 7 October 2016. 
  17. ^ 1972 in British music#Best-selling singles
  18. ^ "The Observer - The top 50 greatest covers as voted by you". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  19. ^ a b c "back side of single sleeve". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  20. ^ " - Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  21. ^ " - Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  22. ^ "De Nederlandse Top 40, week 3, 1992 (Dutch)". Archived from the original on 26 July 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  23. ^ " - Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  24. ^ "Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time) -". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  25. ^ "Chart Stats - Kate Bush - Rocket Man". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  26. ^ "allmusic (Kate Bush > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles)". 
  27. ^ "David Fonseca - "Rocket Man"". YouTube. 16 November 2007. Retrieved 7 October 2016. 
  28. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved 7 October 2016. 
  29. ^ Davies, Sophie (26 January 2008). "Man of Enterprise - Times Online". The Times. London. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  30. ^ David Hofstede (2004). What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History. Back Stage Books. pp. 168–169. ISBN 0-8230-8441-8. 
  31. ^ "Sax All Night overview". 
  32. ^ "The A-Files: Alien Songs – The Chipmunks".
  33. ^ "MP3 Podcast". Retrieved 7 October 2016. 
  34. ^ ": : : puscifer : : :". 21 June 2007. Archived from the original on 21 June 2007. 
  35. ^ "Daphne Rubin-Vega - Chart history". Billboard. 1 November 2003. Retrieved 7 October 2016. 
  36. ^ "Entertainment News & latest headlines from AOL". Retrieved 7 October 2016. 
  37. ^ Pickin' On Series & Iron Horse, Rocket Man, retrieved 2 November 2016 
  38. ^ "Marketing Campaign Case Studies: IT'S ALL WITHIN YOUR REACH CAMPAIGN". Retrieved 13 May 2018. 
  39. ^ "AT&T (Elton John's Rocket Man) - Retro Junk Commercial". 
  40. ^ "Morgenutgaven - Morgendagens helter (Norwegian)". Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  41. ^ "Experimental Pilot - NPC - World of Warcraft". Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  42. ^ Samsung's strangest ad yet: Gear VR video shows an OSTRICH donning the firm's headset and learning to fly, Daily Mail, 31 March 2017
  43. ^ "JimBob's Music Massacre Podcast S01 E01 - Jim Bobs Music Massacre Podcast". Jim Bobs Music Massacre Podcast. 13 February 2018. Retrieved 16 February 2018. 
  44. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  46. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]