No. 37: Elton John, ‘Rocket Man’ – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
“She packed my bags last night, pre-flight…”
Elton John‘s ‘Rocket Man’ is not the first classic rock song about a lonely dude drifting through space. Hell, it may not even be the best, although a debate on the merits of this track versus David Bowie‘s ‘Space Oddity’ (which, hint-hint, we just might see later on in the Top 100 Classic Rock Songs list) is a conversation for another day.
What sets ‘Rocket Man’ apart also happens to be what makes the music of John and his songwriting partner, lyricist Bernie Taupin, stand the test of time, fads, and fading fame.
Elton and Bernie practice a unique division of labor — Taupin writes lyrics almost as stand-alone poetry, with an eye toward the rhythms of pop music. Then Elton sits at a piano with a pile of these lyrics and tries to write songs. Some of his/their biggest hits have emerged after just a half-hour or less at the piano, and if he can’t find the hook quickly, Elton will simply walk away.
Taupin’s lyrics for ‘Rocket Man’ emphasize the personal over the sci-fi. The astronaut’s wife packs his bags; Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids. 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.
Would the song be as successful if John had the skill to write lyrics and melody? Perhaps. But it might not accomplish its emotional goals with quite as much grace.
Watch Elton John Perform ‘Rocket Man’