Elton John – Rocket Man

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 may be inspired by the short story “The Rocket Man” in The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, and echo 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.

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 1970’s, with each song falling within a specific concept category. “Rocket Man” was designated for the animation category, and was directed by Iranian refugee Majid Adin; the video was inspired by his 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.

Lyrics of “Rocket Man”:

She packed my bags last night, preflight
Zero hour, nine a.m.
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
‘Til touchdown 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
Burnin’ out this 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
Rocket Man

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long, time
‘Til touchdown brings me ’round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Ah, no no no

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long, time
‘Til touchdown brings me ’round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Ah, no no no…
I’m a rocket man
Rocket man
Burnin’ out this 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

Long, long, time
Long, long, time

Ah, no, no, no…
Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no…

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. 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!”

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”. 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.

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