Rocket Man (I Think It’s Gonna Be a Long Time)
Writer(s): Elton John, Bernie Taupin (see lyrics here)
Released: April 14, 1972
First Charted: April 22, 1972
Peak: 6 US, 11 CB, 5 GR, 6 HR, 39 AC, 1 CL, 2 UK, 8 CN, 13 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 1.2 UK
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 3.0 radio, 141.9 video, 910.87 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Honky Château was Elton John’s fourth top-10 album in the United States and first in a run of six platinum-selling chart-toppers. The album was preceded by lead single “Rocket Man,” which became Elton John’s second top-10 hit in both the United States and UK.
The song traversed similar territory to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” released three years earlier. Both songs were “about a lonely dude drifting through space,” UCR but Bernie Taupin, who wrote the words to Elton’s song, said it wasn’t an influence. Instead, he said he was inspired by the short story “The Rocket Man” in the 1951 anthology The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. The story “is told from the perspective of a child, whose astronaut father has mixed feelings at leaving his family in order to do his job.” SF
That story also inspired the 1970 song “Rocket Man” by Pearls Before Swine, which Taupin acknowledged as an influence. That song took the perspective of “a child [who] can no longer look at the stars after his astronaut father perishes in space. SF Taupin shaped a story of “a man who is sent to live in space as part of a scientific experiment.” SF The Mars-bound astronaut is conflicted about leaving home. Taupin “emphasize the personal over the sci-fi” UCR with lyrics about the astronaut’s wife packing his bags and how Mars isn’t the kind of place to raise your kids. The song has also been interpreted as a commentary on “how rock stars are isolated…from the real world.” SF “John’s melody underscores the words with a melancholy, wistful tone, while the production brings in a light element of futuristic sheen, never abandoning that fragile, perfect melody.” UCR
Kate Bush, who recorded the song for the 1991 Two Rooms tribute album to John and Taupin, said this is her favorite song of all time. She said, “I remember buying this when it came out as a single…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.” SF
First posted 7/23/2022; last updated 7/13/2023.