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, January 1972
Genre Soft rock[1]
Length 4:41
Writer(s) Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer(s) Gus Dudgeon
Elton John singles chronology
"Tiny Dancer"
"Rocket Man"
"Honky Cat"
Music sample

"Rocket Man" (officially titled as 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 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 airplane. The account goes on to relate that the notion of astronauts no longer being perceived as heroes, but in fact as an "everyday occupation", led him 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."

It is widely considered one of the greatest recordings in music history, and by many accounts one of the most beloved songs ever recorded. Rolling Stone lists it as #245 of its 500 greatest songs of all-time.

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.

Song information[edit]

The lyrics in the song, inspired by the short story "The Rocket Man" in The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, and written by John's longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, describe a Mars-bound astronaut's mixed feelings at leaving his family in order to do his job. 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. It was later changed 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 version was inspired by the writings of noted science-fiction author Ray Bradbury. Due to some similarities in Elton John's "Rocket Man," some presume this song might also be an allusion to David Bowie's character Major Tom. Bowie himself made the connection during live performances of "Space Oddity" in which he called out, "Oh, Rocket Man!"[2]

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". As 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.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

No. Title Length
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
Writer(s) Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer(s) Kate Bush
Kate Bush singles chronology
"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 #12 on the UK singles chart and #2 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.[12] 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[13]

Track listings[edit]

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

7" vinyl / Cassette
No. Title Length
1. "Rocket Man" 5:02
2. "Candle in the Wind" 4:29
12" vinyl / CD
No. Title Length
1. "Rocket Man" 5:02
2. "Candle in the Wind" 4:29
3. "Candle in the Wind" (Instrumental version) 4:28


All titles:[13]

Additional musicians on "Rocket Man":[13]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1991–1992) Peak
UK Singles Chart[14] 12
Australian ARIA Singles Chart[15] 2
Dutch Single Top 100[16] 27
Dutch Top 40[17] 22
French SNEP Singles Chart[18] 45
German Singles Chart[4] 36
Irish Singles Chart[5] 17
Swiss Singles Chart[19] 20
U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks[20] 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
Writer(s) Elton John, Bernie Taupin
David Fonseca singles chronology
"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.[21] Fonseca also regularly performs the single live in his concerts.[22]

Chart performance[edit]

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

Other cover versions[edit]

Use in other media[edit]

"Rocket Man" has frequently been used in filmmaking and television production.

  • Notable uses in cinema include the 1996 action film The Rock, the 1997 comedy film RocketMan, the 1998 biography film Without Limits, the science fiction film K-PAX (2001), and the closing credits of The Astronaut Farmer (2007).
  • In the 1996 action film The Rock, Nicolas Cage's character asks an enemy if he likes the song "Rocket Man". The man replies in the negative leading to Cage informing him that he's the rocket man while blasting him through a window with a VX rocket.
  • 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 Ellinophreneia and as the theme song for the 2005 BBC drama Rocket Man. In the pilot episode of Showtime's Californication, a cover version performed by My Morning Jacket is used as the credits song, and a remix of Elton John's original is featured in the season three finale, as well as in the closing credits of the series finale. In an episode of the animated comedy Family Guy (Season 3, episode 5), Stewie Griffin sings the song (in the style of William Shatner). In the pilot episode of The Greatest American Hero from the early 80's, the song is sung by Joey Scarbury. The song was also used as background music for Channel Four comedy programme Trigger Happy TV and as early as 2014 in the SYFY channel's Ascension miniseries. The song was also featured at the end of the season 2 finale of The Blacklist.
  • During Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens' tenure with the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros, "Rocket Man" was often played at Yankee Stadium and Minute Maid Park when Clemens was involved in a game. The song was also played on the Fenway Park organ as Clemens took the mound as a member of the Boston Red Sox, where he first received the nickname "Rocket."
  • 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.
  • In the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, in episode "The Friendship Contraction" (season 5, episode 15), Howard Wolowitz uses the song as his ringtone in an attempt to get another astronaut to give him the nickname, "Rocket Man" but finally fails. And in the episode "The Re-Entry Minimization" (season 6, episode 4), Howard sings the song when he is alone after his return from space.
  • 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.[32]
  • In the song "Home Life" by John Mayer, he sings "I am not a rocket man," a reference to the song.
  • When Sir 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.
  • A television commercial for the 2012 Volkswagen Passat features the song, with people mistaking the chorus lyric "burning out his fuse up here alone" for other similar-sounding words such as "burning out this useless telephone." The mondegreen is meant to highlight the clarity of the speakers in the automobile.[33]
  • The song and its lyrics are a recurring theme in Alastair Reynolds's short story "Understanding Space and Time" with Elton John making several appearances.
  • 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 the song Rocket Man.[34]
Preceded by
"Working Class Hero" by John Lennon
Q magazine british-year song
Succeeded by
"Heroes" by David Bowie


  1. ^ The top 50 greatest covers as voted by you at the Wayback Machine (archived 11 August 2013). The Observer.
  2. ^ On "David Bowie BBC Sessions 1969-1972", Bowie is clearly heard calling out "Oh, Rocket Man!"
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ a b " search results". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  5. ^ a b " search results". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  6. ^ "I singoli più venduti del 1972" (in Italian). 
  7. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  8. ^ "Chart Stats - Elton John - Rocket Man". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  9. ^ "allmusic (Elton John > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles)". 
  10. ^ " - Elton John - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  11. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1972/Top 100 Songs of 1972". Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  12. ^ "The Observer - The top 50 greatest covers as voted by you". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  13. ^ a b c "back side of single sleeve". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  14. ^ "Chart Stats - Kate Bush - Rocket Man". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  15. ^ " - Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  16. ^ " - Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  17. ^ "De Nederlandse Top 40, week 3, 1992 (Dutch)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  18. ^ " - Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  19. ^ "Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time) -". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  20. ^ "allmusic (Kate Bush > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles)". 
  21. ^ "David Fonseca - "Rocket Man"". YouTube. 2007-11-16. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  22. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  23. ^ Davies, Sophie (26 January 2008). "Man of Enterprise - Times Online". The Times. London. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ "Sax All Night overview". 
  26. ^ "MP3 Podcast". Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  27. ^ [2][dead link]
  28. ^ "Daphne Rubin-Vega - Chart history". Billboard. 2003-11-01. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  29. ^ "Entertainment News & latest headlines from AOL". Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  30. ^ "Paul And Storm - Rocket Man (with Jonathan Coulton, John Roderick, Hank Green, MC Frontalot)". YouTube. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  31. ^ Pickin' On Series & Iron Horse, Rocket Man, retrieved 2016-11-02 
  32. ^ "Morgenutgaven - Morgendagens helter (Norwegian)". Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  33. ^ "The Rocket Man is burning out something, I'm just not sure what". Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
  34. ^ "Experimental Pilot - NPC - World of Warcraft". Retrieved 2 December 2012. 

External links[edit]