Elton John’s triple-platinum song, “Rocket Man,” is still orbiting in popular culture 50 years after its initial release. Just last year, pop sensation Dua Lipa sampled the 1972 lyrics for the collaborative single, “Cold Heart,” with Elton John. Other artists like Little Big Town, William Shatner, and Kate Bush have also covered the iconic song.
What is it about the spacey “Rocket Man” that keeps it grounded in our hearts all these years later?
“Rocket Man” is a song for those who feel isolated and lonely.
“Rocket Man” has incredible staying power because it speaks to that universal and dreaded feeling of being alone. John wrote the track with his longtime collaborator, Bernie Taupin, about how he felt stardom had separated him from his loved ones. It’s lonely out in space, John sings. I’m a rocket man / Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.
Fame comes with a price, and the John-Taupin team felt its stinging effects. The loneliness that the duo felt, however, wasn’t felt in a vacuum. Everyone feels their own varying degree of lonely at some point in their life making the “Rocket Man” a familiar friend.
How space exploration inspired this song.
While feeling alone was not a new concept in the 1970s, space exploration was. “Rocket Man” debuted right around the time that the Apollo 16 mission sent astronauts to the moon for the fifth time. Space was the final frontier, and it was finally within our reach. Taupin rode this wave of space hype and penned “Rocket Man” for John’s Honky Château album. The acclaimed songwriter also leaned into the science-fiction short story, The Rocket Man by Ray Bradbury, for inspiration.
What does “Rocket Man” truly mean? What is the meaning behind the lyrics?
In the mid-1900s, space got closer to earth with the first space missions rocketing off the planet. It was suddenly another reality, another escape. This closeness, however, only opened up the door to more questions. And all this science / I don’t understand / It’s just my job five days a week / A rocket man, John sings.
So, “Rocket Man” became a cry for fellowship—does anyone else feel lost like me?
Listen to “Rocket Man” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin below.
Photo by Greg Gorman.