Prior to the creation of the song, a science fiction author, Ray Bradbury, had written a short story, from the perspective of a small boy whose father is an astronaut. In the story, the father is having mixed feelings about leaving his family in order to do his job.
This too, was inspired by the story by Ray Bradbury and told of a child who was unable to look up at the stars after the loss of his father who was an astronaut.
Taupin said that the opening lyrics came to him as he was driving to his parents’ house in Lincolnshire. He drove as quickly as he could so that he could get home and write them down before he forgot them, repeating the words in his head, over and over again. Like most songwriters, he needs to write ideas for songs down as soon as they come to him or they are gone forever.
The rest of the song developed into a story about a man who is sent to live in space as part of an experiment. Some people feel that 'Rocket Man' is a rip off of David Bowie’s 'Space Oddity' and that the Rocket Man character is Bowie’s Major Tom.
In 1973, following the success of 'Rocket Man,' which was his second hit single, Elton John set up his record label, Rocket Records. The single had reached No.2 in the UK chart and featured on the 1972 album, Honky Chateau.
When Elton John played a concert in the Soviet Union, in 1979, the song was listed on the concert programme with the title, 'Cosmonaut.'
In 1991, Kate Bush released a cover of the song as a single, from the album, Two Rooms: Celebrating the songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. The album is a tribute by sixteen top artists and bands, including, The Who, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner and Sting. Kate’s version of Rocket Man reached No. 12 in the UK singles chart.
Kate Bush’s cover of the song has a reggae vibe to it. She said, “From the age of 11, Elton John was my biggest hero. I loved his music, had all his albums and I hoped one day I'd play the piano like him (I still do). When I asked to be involved in this project and was given the choice of a track, it was like being asked 'would you like to fulfil a dream? Would you like to be Rocket Man?'... yes, I would.”
Rocket Man is currently at No. 245 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.