Meaning of “Rocket Man” by Elton John

“Rocket Man” is a 1970s song by the renowned English singer Elton John. The lyrics of “Rocket Man” tell the story of an astronaut who is filled to the brim with mixed feelings about leaving his family and friends behind to embark on a mission to space. While in space, the lonely astronaut misses his wife back on Earth so much he can’t wait to get back home.

The lyrics of this iconic song were heavily inspired by a 1950s short story titled “The Rocket Man” by the late American author Ray Bradbury. Bradbury’s story is about an astronaut who is torn between going to space and being with his family. He dearly wants to be with his family yet he loves the stars in space.

On multiple occasions, the astronaut tries quitting his beloved job to spend time with his wife and kid (Doug). However, his obsession for the stars wouldn’t let him. But one day, he summons the courage to quit. But before doing so, he decides to go on one final trip to space. Sadly, during the trip, the rocket he’s flying in crashes into the sun killing him instantly. His wife and son become so overcome by sorrow that they spend the rest of their lives avoiding the sun. In so doing, the pair end up becoming nocturnal.

The story above acted as the main foundation and inspiration for Elton’s “Rocket Man” whose lyrics were penned by Elton’s long-time songwriting partner Bernie Taupin. It is noteworthy that Taupin himself has confirmed the inspiration of his lyrics came from Bradbury’s short story.

Lyrics of "Rocket Man" by Elton John

Interpretation of the lyrics of “Rocket Man”

Many analysts have referred to the lyrics of the tune as telling the sad story of how in the real world, musical artists (especially very successful rock stars) are forced by their work to constantly be away from their families and friends. However, neither Elton nor Taupin has confirmed this interpretation as the real meaning of “Rocket Man”.

Bernie Taupin got the lyrics of song’s opening lines while driving

Taupin has said on multiple occasions that he came up with the famous opening lyrics of the song while driving. According to him, he was around his parents’ house when the idea popped into his mind. He then quickly drove to their house and wrote down the following lines:

“She packed my bags last night, pre-flight
 Zero hour: 9:00 a.m
And I’m gonna be high as a kite by then”

It was from the above lines that Taupin developed the story of the astronaut missing his family.

Accusations of ripping off the song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie

Many have accused Elton and Taupin of “stealing” the idea for “Rocket Man” from the lyrics of the 1969 song “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. Taupin and Elton have denied the accusations. It is noteworthy that both songs have quite similar themes. In addition to that, “Space Oddity” was released a few years before “Rocket Man”. And as if all that isn’t enough, the English record producer Gus Dudgeon produced both songs. Dudgeon produced Bowie’s “Space Oddity” before producing “Rocket Man” a few years later. Based on these facts, it’s likely Elton and his songwriting partner Taupin might have been inspired by “Space Oddity” to write theirs.

Facts about “Rocket Man”

  • The official and full title of this song is “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)”.
  • Elton John wrote this song along with Bernie Taupin. The latter wrote the lyrics of the song whereas Elton composed the music.
  • Producer Gus Dudgeon produced this track all by himself. FYI: Dudgeon died tragically in 2002 along with his wife in a car crash. His  tragic death came exactly three decades after producing this song.
  • On 14 April, 1972, the track was officially released. It was a single from Elton’s fifth studio album titled Honky Château.
  • The song has been used in several commercials since its release in the 1970s. One of the most notable commercials featuring this track was the Volkswagen Passat commercial which came out in 2011.
  • “Rocket Man” happens to be one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s favorite songs. He used the song during a lot of his political rallies.
  • In 1973, Elton John founded the record label The Rocket Record Company. The label was named after this song. Besides Elton himself, the label signed the likes of Cliff Richard, Blue, Kiki Dee and Neil Sedaka.
  • In 2004, the Rolling Stone magazine placed “Rocket Man” at number 242 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time“. However, in their 2010 list, it dropped a few spots to number 245.
  • Prior to Elton’s “Rocket Man”, there was another song titled “Rocket Man” which came out in 1970. That song was released by a psychedelic folk band from America called Pearls Before Swine. The band was active from 1965 to 1974. Taupin himself once said that song inspired the lyrics of “Rocket Man”.
  • The 2019 biographical musical film Rocketman about the life of Elton was inspired by the title of this track. The film stars Welsh actor and singer Taron Egerton as Elton John.
  • In 1972, “Rocket Man” peaked at numbers 2 and 6 on the UK Singles Chart and U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts respectively.
  • President Donald Trump made “Rocket Man” popular again in 2017 when he called North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un “little Rocket Man”.
  • In September 2018, rapper Young Thug officially released a remix of “Rocket Man” titled “High“. The remix made the original song popular once again in 2018.

Who sings the backing vocals on “Rocket Man”?

Two members of Elton John’s band (drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray) provided the song’s backing vocals.

Does “Rocket Man” have an official music video?

Yes. However, the official music video was made almost half a century (in 2017) after the song first came out (in 1972). The clip was shot by the Iranian refugee filmmaker Majid Adin. Below is the official video clip of this iconic song:

The clip above basically tells the sad story of a Muslim refugee who immigrates illegally to a foreign country with the sole aim of bettering his life and that of his family back home. The clip tries to shed light on the plights of immigrants.

Which musical artists have covered “Rocket Man”?

Since this iconic tune was released in 1972, it has been covered by many singers. One of the most notable cover versions was done by singer Kate Bush in 1991. The single was so successful it peaked at number 12 in the UK.

Why did Donald Trump call Kim Jong-Un “Rocket Man”? And was he referring to Elton John’s “Rocket Man”?

Yes. Trump was referring to Elton’s song “Rocket Man” when in his speech at the UN in 2017, he called Kim “little Rocket Man”. Trump used the hilarious insult because of Kim’s refusal to stop testing nuclear weapons. FYI: nuclear weapons are often delivered using rockets.

When the two leaders settled their differences in 2018, Trump reportedly gifted a CD copy of “Rocket Man” to Kim Jong-Un.

Has “Rocket Man” won a Grammy Award?

No. To date, the song hasn’t had the honor of winning a Grammy.

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6 Responses

  1. Cristian says:

    Great piece. Really enjoyed this bit of bio. Loved the song, particularly its superfluous use by R Gervais during a scene in which he gets high on smack to aliviate the pain caused by the loss of his wife to cancer. That’s in his new series “The After Life”.
    P.S.
    The article has a suggested update of September 2018, however it contains very recent references of 2019. Might want to “update” that. 😊

  2. Thedpo says:

    I thought it was about a drug addict? Wife kicked him out of the house. He got high, so high it was like reaching Mars. He’s alone in this situation. Addicted to the rush but missed his family dearly at the same time. He left because “Mars” is not a place to bring up a family. He hints others are not aware of his addiction either.

  3. Jomo Mbube says:

    I’ve always thought this was a coming out song – “I’m not the man they think I am at home, oh no no no…. I’m a rocket man” as opposed to being a socket man, Elton loves the rocket.

  4. Frannie Gelb says:

    That’s what’s so great about this song! It is so relevant to multiple interpretations. It can address and heal loss in a number of ways. Thank you Bernie and Elton.

  5. I was a child of 9, when I first heard this song. With an urban life and seeing black men return from Vietnam with addictions such as heroin, I always assumed…even as a child, that these lyrics were about someone getting high and overdosing. What thoughts for a child, right? However, oddly enough…this song…and Daniel always made me happy/sad.

  1. September 26, 2018

    […] yo”High” is a song by American rapper Young Thug and the renowned English singer-songwriter Elton John. Actually the song is considered the official remix of the iconic Elton John song titled “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)”. […]

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