Elton John

Rocket Man

Song Review by

Taking its cue from the more inventive David Bowie song "Space Oddity," "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long Long Time)" goes exploring in outer space. Musically, it is a moving ballad, but lyricist Bernie Taupin is never going to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry with such dead-end observations as "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." But you get the point: Outer space is lonely. As noted, this ground was already covered to greater effect by Bowie, not to mention Ray Bradbury. The better lines, though, match the aching melancholy melody -- mainly on the chorus, where listeners are presented with the possibility of metaphor: "And I think it's gonna be a long long time/Till 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 burning out his fuse up here alone." From the 1972 Honky Chateau album, which saw John successfully blending a plethora of musical styles -- country, R&B, pop, psychedelic, rock & roll -- "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long Long Time)" begins with a solo John singing a soulful bit of the verse over a gospel-informed piano part. A melodic bass guitar from Dave Glover enters for the verse's second half. Nigel Olsson starts to tap out time on the ride cymbal for the last quarter of the first verse, building into a drum fill that takes the arrangement into the song's memorable chorus. Davey Johnstone strums excellent, rhythmic acoustic guitar parts, as well as an atmospheric slide guitar. The production is beefed up by the ethereal layered vocal harmonies that were a hallmark of John's 1970s productions. The second verse strips back down to John and the piano before building itself up again, this time to include the cheesy analog synthesizer parts of David Hentschel, firmly -- but charmingly -- dating the song. The whole production, by Gus Dudgeon, is well-crafted. New wave (new age?) chanteuse Kate Bush recorded a famous cover of the song (for her album of the same name), released as a single in 1993. In her ambition, Bush decides to approach the chorus as up-tempo reggae, which is a complete buzz-kill to the groovy mood of the song. Aside from that, her ambient-synth approach suits the rest of the song. For an entertaining interpretation, track down golden-throat William Shatner's reading of the song, as presented by Taupin himself at some 1978 science-fiction awards television show (bootleg only).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Honky Château 1972 Universal Distribution / Island 4:41
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 1973 Def Jam / Island / Rocket Group Pty LTD / Universal 0:00
Greatest Hits 1974 Rocket Group Pty LTD / Island / Def Jam / Motown / Polydor / Universal / Universal Music 4:41
No Image 1976
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution
No Image 1980 K-Tel Distribution
No Image 1983 DJM Records 0:00
Sounds of the Seventies: 1972 1989
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:43
The Very Best of Elton John [Polygram] 1990 Polygram / PolyGram 4:42
To Be Continued... 1990 MCA 4:42
No Image 1991 Image Entertainment
No Image 1991 Live / Artisan
British Rock, Vols. 3-4 1995
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 4:40
Kuschelrock, Vol. 10 1996
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:38
Classic Gold [Crimson] 1998
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 4:43
Soft Rock [Universal] 2000
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 4:41
The Greatest Hits 1970-2002 2002 Island / Universal 4:45
Dream Ticket 2004 WAB
Legends: My Generation 2004
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:44
'70s: Gold 2006
Various Artists
Hip-O 4:41
Rocket Man: The Definitive Hits 2007 UMVD / Universal Distribution 4:42
Rocket Man: Number Ones 2007 Island / Mercury 4:43
Legends Informercial Set 2007
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:44
Just Like Belgium: The Definitive Hits 2008 Mercury / Universal Distribution 4:42
No Image 2008
Various Artists
Universal 4:42
Tour of Duty: Top 100 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 4:41
Singers & Songwriters: Troubadours 2010
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:43
Gnomeo and Juliet 2011
Original Soundtrack
Buena Vista 4:42
Singers & Songwriters [Time-Life Box Set] 2011
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 4:43
Now That's What I Call Britain 2012
Various Artists
Decca / EMI 4:42
5 Classic Albums (1970-1973) 2012 Island / Mercury 4:41
Diamonds 2017 Island / Mercury / Universal 4:41
100 Essential Hits, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Brunswick / Pure Records / Universal Music 4:43
Best of British [Universal]
Various Artists
EMI / Universal Distribution / Universal Music TV 4:41
No Image Rock
Fathers Day Classics
Various Artists
Universal / Universal Music 4:41
No Image
Various Artists
Buena Vista 4:43
Rock & Romance Collection
Various Artists
Time Life 4:43
Total Hits, Vol. 2 [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 4:39