Elton John – Rocket Man

Great single by Elton John released in 1972. It was off of his album Honky Château. Like Bennie and the Jets there are some words that I had no clue in what he was singing. The most commonly misheard lyric in this song is “Rocket Man, burning out his fuse up here alone.” I would mumble words through that until I caught a word somewhere down the line.

The inspiration for Bernie Taupin’s lyrics was the short story The Rocket Man, written by Ray Bradbury. The sci-fi author’s tale is told from the perspective of a child, whose astronaut father has mixed feelings at leaving his family in order to do his job. It was published as part of the anthology The Illustrated Man in 1951.

This was produced by Gus Dudgeon, who worked with David Bowie on his 1969 song “Space Oddity.” Both songs have similar subject matter. Elton practically owned the early seventies.  Elton had 9 No. 1 Hits, 7 Top 10 Hits, and 67 Songs in the Billboard 100 so far.

The song peaked at #6 in the Billboard 100, #8 in Canada, and #2 in the UK in 1972. 

From Songfacts

Space exploration was big in 1972; the song came out around the time of the Apollo 16 mission, which sent men to the moon for the fifth time.

Bradbury’s story was the basis for another song called “Rocket Man,” which was released by the folk group Pearls Before Swine (fronted by Tom Rapp) in 1970. Taupin says that song gave him the idea for his own “Rocket Man” (“It’s common knowledge that songwriters are great thieves, and this is a perfect example,” he said). In the Pearls Before Swine song, a child can no longer look at the stars after his astronaut father perishes in space.

The opening lyrics came to Bernie Taupin while he was driving near his parents’ house in Lincolnshire, England. Taupin has said that he has to write his ideas down as soon as they show up in his head, or they could disappear, so he drove though some back roads as fast as he could to get to the house where he could write down his thought: “She packed my bags last night, pre-flight. Zero hour, 9 a.m., and I’m gonna be high as a kite by then.”

From there he came up with the song about a man who is sent to live in space as part of a scientific experiment.

The song can be interpreted as a symbol of how rock stars are isolated from their friends, family and from the real world by those with power in the music industry. Some lyric analysis as part of the rock star isolation theory:

“I’m burning out his fuse up here alone” – Rocketing through space on stage.

“Higher than a kite” – Feeling outside the box called normal.

“Mars” – “The place he is when he’s high; don’t need to be raising children when you’re an addict. It’s a “cold” place, being an addict and larger than life when you want to be “Normal” and a “Rocketman” at the same time.

Around the 2:20 mark, some synthesizer comes into the mix, accentuating the space motif. Elton didn’t dabble in synths, so a studio engineer named Dave Hentschel played it. Hentschel operated an ARP 2500 synthesizer at Trident Studios in London, where producer Gus Dudgeon did overdubs and mixing for the album. When Dudgeon found out they had the synth, which was introduced in 1971, he had Hentschel play it and ended up using it in the final mix.

Hentschel got the call again on the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album when Dudgeon had him create the opening section to “Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding” on the ARP. In the 1977 movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, an ARP 2500 plays the notes that summon the aliens.

When Elton played the Soviet Union in 1979, this was listed on the program as “Cosmonaut.”

This was Elton’s biggest hit to that point, outcharting his first Top 10 entry, “Your Song.” It had a huge impact on his psyche, as it gave him the confidence to know that he could sustain his career in music.

Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens’ nickname was “The Rocket,” which led to lots of highlight videos of him pitching in slow motion with this song playing in the background. He earned the nickname because of his outstanding fastball, but later came under scrutiny when the league learned that his rocket fuel may have been steroids. Clemens denied the allegations and was never convicted of steroid use.

Kate Bush covered this in 1991 for an Elton John tribute album called Two Rooms (a reference to John and Taupin writing separately). Her version hit #12 in the UK.

Bush told NME that this is one of her favourite songs of all time. “I remember buying this when it came out as a single by Elton John,” she said. “I couldn’t stop playing it – I loved it so much. Most artists in the mid seventies played guitar but Elton played piano and I dreamed of being able to play like him.”

When years Elton and Bernie Taupin asked Bush to record one of their songs for Two Rooms, she chose “Rocket Man.” They gave her complete creative control which was both exciting and a bit daunting for the singer. “I wanted to make it different from the original and thought it could be fun to turn it into a reggae version,” she said. “It meant a great deal to me that they chose it to be the first single release from the album.”

William Shatner performed a spoken-word version of this song at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards, for which he was the host. Bernie Taupin did the introduction. 

At a show in Anaheim, California on August 22, 1998, Jim Carrey joined Elton for a duet of this song. Carey gave a real performance before sitting at the piano and bashing his head into the keys. 

On an episode of the television show Family Guy, Stewie does a spoken version of this song. 

This was used in a 2017 commercial for Samsung’s Gear VR where an ostrich learns to fly after using the flight simulator on the device.

Speaking at the United Nations on September 19, 2017, American president Donald Trump excoriated North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, referring to him as “Rocket Man” because of his missile program. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself,” Trump declared. This song immediately began trending.

This wasn’t the first time the phrase was used in this context: The Economist put Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, on the cover of their July 8, 2006 issue with the headline “Rocket Man.”

American country group Little Big Town covered the song for the 2018 Elton John tribute album Restoration. Their version features sounds from NASA’s Mission Juno. The Juno project explored the planet Jupiter unlocking some of the secrets of the planet and the sounds from Juno’s Waves radio instrument were weaved throughout Little Big Town’s harmonies.

“One of the main reasons why we chose ‘Rocket Man’ was because we were so intrigued by not just, of course, Elton John, but by using the sounds from the Juno project so we had all these Jupiter noises,” said Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild.

Rocket Man

She packed my bags last night pre-flight
Zero hour nine AM
And I’m gonna be high as a kite by then
I miss the earth so much I miss my wife
It’s lonely out in space
On such a timeless flight

And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
‘Till touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I’m a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
‘Till touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I’m a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them if you did
And all this science I don’t understand
It’s just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man

And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
‘Till touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I’m a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
‘Till touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I’m a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
And I think it’s gonna be a long long time

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

53 thoughts on “Elton John – Rocket Man”

      1. not sure that it’s right, but I believe I’ve read American astronauts just get their normal military pay, no extras for being in space… not sure about the ones who are scientists and not military personnel. Not a job one would do for the cash, apparently.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. if then was now… picture August 1969 “Hi I’m Neil Armstrong, and I’ve walked in some pretty big shoes. And believe me, if you’re on the moon you don’t want blisters when the nearest drug store is 238 000 miles away. That’s why I wear these Sketchers walking shoes… (voice over – Get your Neil Armstrong signature Sketchers today at Walmart, Target or call us now at 1-800…”)

        Liked by 2 people

  1. So many great songs by these two. What a pair. Not too many writing partners as good as these guys (maybe Lennon McCartney, they had some success). That Two Rooms disc was also one of the best tribute albums ever done for an artist, IMO.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They did go together perfectly. They also needed each other. When Elton decided to go it alone in the later part of the seventies it didn’t work out very well.
      With Lennon and McCartney they were never as great as they were with each other. They balanced each other out.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Max. It’s been too long buddy.
    I like ‘Rocket Man’ a lot, but I can’t believe it outcharted ‘Your Song’. Wow!
    Funny enough, in the movie ‘Rocketman’, Elton’s manager demanded that Bernie and him find that song ‘clincher’ which would land them a record deal with him.
    When he heard ‘Your Song’ for the first time he said he had not heard anything as good as that since ‘Let it be’.
    Have you seen ‘Rocketman’? I think it’s a really good biopic of Elton and I went in highly skeptical because I grew up on his music. Also Elton’s hands are all over that movie since he was close in the making of it.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. No…I didn’t like that either. Keith Richards had a nasty remark about it lol…something about writing songs for dead blondes…I thought whoa…

        Like

  3. THAT’s what he sings?! I thought it was “burning up his piece of hemp alone.” (I conditioned myself to hear that). Great write up on a legendary song. I still prefer William Joel (probably because I’m an American), but Elton’s music is more cinematic and theatrical, which I tend to favor during certain times in my life. I wish Joel and Elton would make up.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. They had a falling out years ago when they “mutually” ceased the duo world tours. They both have a valid say in the reasons, but Elton was a little harsh on Billy, in my opinion. Billy is still rolling, but he had to postpone his ballpark tours to next year for obvious reasons…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You also have to think of the egos involved. Every performer has an ego or they would not be on the stage…but yea…settle your differences for the people…we all benefit from it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Amen to that. Egos are fascinating too. They both have places of sincere pain in their past. And, it’s relevant and a part of their story and music. That’s why I love reading bios, especially on musicians you write about. Any good book on Badfinger?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. There is only one…out of print
        Without You : The Tragic Story of Badfinger by Dan Matovina
        Ebay price? 114 dollars

        Look for it at flea markets, used book stores…if you find it cheap…grab it!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Gosh, I’ll keep my eyes out for it. You never know. I noticed they’re “mentioned” in several books, but just a chapter or two. It kind of makes their story that more captivating and tragic, I think…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m more of a singles guy also when it comes to Elton…that melody is great.
      There are a couple of his albums that are really good…like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

      Like

      1. Yes, very much so. Growing up I missed the period in the 70s when he was cool…and just got 90s Elton. Hard to revisit his early stuff on those terms lol. I did have the captain fantastic album though and thought it was great. and I think it’s seen one of his average offerings?

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Also…I run into the problem where its a completely different song everyone else is seeing and I’m seeing the same one…that I think has something to do with cache in youtube.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. EJ had such a string of hits during the years I was growing up. I bet he had something in the charts at all times for a decade or more. He’s brought a lot of enjoyment to the world through his music. Hard to choose favorites but this song is right up there.

    Liked by 1 person

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