"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.
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")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 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!"
was released by the musical group
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", 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.
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; 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.
All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
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.
Weekly singles charts
|U.S. Billboard 
Kate Bush version
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. 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.
All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
7" vinyl / cassette single
||"Candle in the Wind"
12" vinyl / CD single
||"Candle in the Wind"
||"Candle in the Wind" (Instrumental version)
Additional musicians on "Rocket Man":
David Fonseca version
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. Fonseca also regularly performs the single live in his concerts.
|Portuguese Singles Chart (Top 20)
Other cover versions
- CKBE-FM David Tyler 1991.
- At the 5th Saturn Awards Ceremony, which aired as the Science Fiction Film Awards in January 1978, Taupin introduced William Shatner's spoken word interpretation of the song. It used chroma key video techniques to simultaneously portray three different images of Shatner, representing the different facets of the Rocket Man's character. The performance built up a cult following, and was parodied on the U.S. animated series Animaniacs, Family Guy, Freakazoid!, Futurama, The Simpsons, the Canadian CGI series ReBoot, and in the video for "Where It's At" by Beck. On a 1992 episode of Late Night with David Letterman, Chris Elliott parodied Shatner's performance, complete with chroma key effects. Shatner re-recorded the song for his 2011 album, Seeking Major Tom. In his book What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, author David Hofstede ranked Shatner's performance at #17 on the list.
- Hank Marvin did an instrumental of the song on his 1993 album Heartbeat.
- The John Tesh Project featuring Brandon Fields on saxophone, covered the song from their 1997 album "Sax All Night."
- On the radio show This American Life episode "Classifieds" (2002), a group of amateur musicians who had been found through their classified ads were brought together for one day to rehearse and record "Rocket Man" in a studio. The free MP3 is available online.
- Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips and Maynard James Keenan of Puscifer, Tool (band) and A Perfect Circle released a cover of the track "Rocket Man" for the soundtrack of the 2009 documentary "The Heart is a Drum Machine." The song was released for digital download from the iTunes Store on 15 October 2010. The track can also be heard on Puscifer's website with the title "Rocket Mantastic."
- Daphne Rubin-Vega released a Dance version in 2003 which reached the Club play charts
- Matthew Morrison, from Glee, recorded a duet of the song with Elton John on his eponymous debut album in 2011.
- Neil Diamond covered this song live; a recording of this cover can be found on his album Stages: Performances 1970-2002.
- At the Saturday night concert at PAX Prime 2012, Paul and Storm, accompanied by Jonathan Coulton, Hank Green, MC Frontalot, John Roderick, and Jason Finn performed the song as a tribute to the late Neil Armstrong, who died a week prior.
- Featured on the album Bluegrass Tribute to Classic Rock in 2007, performed by Iron Horse.
- Country music quartet Little Big Town covered the song as part of the 2018 tribute album Restoration: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. The band performed the song live on the I'm Still Standing Grammy telecast, the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards and on their 2018 The Breakers Tour.
- The internet-based synth-pop comedy band Ninja Sex Party on their second cover album Under The Covers II.
Use in media
"Rocket Man" has been featured in several films and television series.
- 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), 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 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. 
- 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.
- 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".
- 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 Fruit Loops are getting soggy, causing the other astronauts to use the sobriquet "FruitLoops" instead.
- The song was used in a 2017 Samsung advertisement.
- 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.
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- ^ On "David Bowie BBC Sessions 1969-1972", Bowie is clearly heard calling out "Oh, Rocket Man!"
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- ^ "Kate Bush - Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time) - hitparade.ch". Retrieved 2009.
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- ^ "David Fonseca - "Rocket Man"". YouTube. 16 November 2007. Retrieved 2016.
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- ^ Davies, Sophie (26 January 2008). "Man of Enterprise - Times Online". The Times. London. Retrieved 2009.
- ^ 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.
- ^ "Sax All Night overview". Allmusic.com.
- ^ "MP3 Podcast". Podcast.thisamericanlife.org. Retrieved 2016.
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- ^ "Morgenutgaven - Morgendagens helter (Norwegian)". Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved 2009.
- ^ "Experimental Pilot - NPC - World of Warcraft". Retrieved 2012.
- ^ 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
- ^ "JimBob's Music Massacre Podcast S01 E01 - Jim Bobs Music Massacre Podcast". Jim Bobs Music Massacre Podcast. 13 February 2018. Retrieved 2018.