Rocket Man was released as the lead single from Elton John’s fifth album Honky Chateau, in March 1972. It was his biggest hit in the US and peaked at number two in the UK. In a career that spanned more than fifty years, Rocket Man became synonymous with Elton John and helped to shape his iconic stage persona. It also served as the inspiration for his acclaimed 2019 biopic of the same name.
The song’s lyrics depict an astronaut who is on a mission into space. He is preparing for takeoff at 9am (“zero hour”), and misses his wife back home on Earth. He also misses his life on the road and wishes that he could be “back in a small town.” The first verse evokes a sense of loneliness and isolation.
While the song was inspired by real events, the astronaut’s story is based on Ray Bradbury’s short story The Rocket Man. Elton John and his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin drew heavily on the work to craft the lyrics of Rocket Man.
Many fans have speculated that the lyric of “High as a kite” is a reference to drug use. This isn’t entirely surprising, as the song was written at a time when Elton John had been struggling with substance abuse. The aforementioned song was recorded just a year after he had begun using cocaine regularly. However, it is important to note that this was well after Rocket Man had sent him barreling toward international fame.