ROCKET MAN by ELTON JOHN
Space exploration was big in 1972; the song came out around the time of the Apollo 16 mission, which sent men to the moon for the fifth time.
The inspiration for Bernie Taupin's lyrics, however, was the short story The Rocket Man, written by Ray Bradbury. The sci-fi author's tale is told from the perspective of a child, whose astronaut father has mixed feelings at leaving his family in order to do his job. It was published as part of the anthology The Illustrated Man in 1951.
Bradbury's story was the basis for another song called "Rocket Man," which was released by the folk group Pearls Before Swine (fronted by Tom Rapp) in 1970. Taupin says that this gave him the idea for his own "Rocket Man" ("It's common knowledge that songwriters are great thieves, and this is a perfect example," he says). In the Pearls Before Swine song, a child can no longer look at the stars after his astronaut father perishes in space.
This was produced by Gus Dudgeon, who worked with David Bowie on his 1969 song "Space Oddity." Both songs have similar subject matter, and lots of people accused Elton of ripping off Bowie, something both Elton and Bernie Taupin deny.
The opening lyrics came to Bernie Taupin while he was driving near his parents' house in Lincolnshire, England. Taupin has said that he has to write his ideas down as soon as they show up in his head, or they could disappear, so he drove though some back roads as fast as he could to get to the house where he could write down his thought: "She packed my bags last night, pre-flight. Zero hour, 9 a.m., and I'm gonna be high as a kite by then."
From there he came up with the song about a man who is sent to live in space as part of a scientific experiment.
The song can be interpreted as a symbol of how rock stars are isolated from their friends, family and from the real world by those with power in the music industry. Some lyric analysis as part of the rock star isolation theory:
"I'm burning out his fuse up here alone" - Rocketing through space on stage.
"Higher than a kite" - Feeling outside the box called normal.
"Mars" - "The place he is when he's high; don't need to be raising children when you're an addict. It's a "cold" place, being an addict and larger than life when you want to be "Normal" and a "Rocketman" at the same time.
The most commonly misheard lyric in this song is "Rocket Man, burning out his fuse up here alone." This was the centerpiece of a 2011 commercial for the Volkswagen Passat, where folks came up with all kinds of interpretations of the last few words: telephone, cheap cologne, motor home, provolone. A couple in a Passat can correctly interpret the words thanks to the car's premium sound system, and all is well. This wasn't the first time the song was used in a commercial; it was also featured in ads for AT&T.
Elton John named his record company Rocket Records after this song. He started the company in 1973; it was the label that released Neil Sedaka's comeback songs.
There was another song called "Rocket Man" that Bernie and Elton knew about when they wrote this. It was released by a group called Pearls Before Swine and came out in 1970.
When Elton played the Soviet Union in 1979, this was listed on the program as "Cosmonaut."
This was Elton's biggest hit to that point, outcharting his first Top-10 entry, "Your Song." It had a huge impact on his psyche, as it gave him the confidence to know that he could sustain his career in music.
Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens' nickname was "The Rocket," which led to lots of highlight videos of him pitching in slow motion with this song playing in the background. He earned the nickname because of his outstanding fastball, but later came under scrutiny when the league learned that his rocket fuel may have been steroids. Clemens denied the allegations and was never convicted of steroid use.
Kate Bush covered this in 1991 for an Elton John tribute album called Two Rooms (a reference to John and Taupin writing separately). Her version hit #12 in the UK.
William Shatner performed a spoken-word version of this song at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards, for which he was the host. Bernie Taupin did the introduction.
At a show in Anaheim, California on August 22, 1998, Jim Carrey joined Elton for a duet of this song. Carey gave a real performance before sitting at the piano and bashing his head into the keys.
On an episode of the television show Family Guy, Stewie does a spoken version of this song.
This was used in a 2017 commercial for Samsung's Gear VR where an ostrich learns to fly after using the flight simulator on the device.
GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD by ELTON JOHN
The Yellow Brick Road is an image taken from the movie The Wizard of Oz. In the movie, Dorothy and her friends follow the yellow brick road in search of the magical Wizard of Oz, only to find they had what they were looking for all along. It was rumored that the song was about Judy Garland, who starred in the film. See a photo and learn more in Song Images.
Elton and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin went to Jamaica to record the album, but the studio was so horrible that the project was abandoned there, with only a rough version of "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" actually being recorded. This, and the rest of the album, were recorded in France at Strawberry Studios (The Chateau d'Hierouville).
Bernie Taupin writes the lyrics to Elton's songs. He often seems to write about Elton, but this one appears to be about him. The lyrics are about giving up a life of opulence for one of simplicity in a rural setting. Elton has enjoyed a very extravagant lifestyle, while Taupin prefers to keep it low key.
Speaking about the song, Taupin said: "It's funny, but there are songs that I recall writing as if it was yesterday. And then there are those I have absolutely no recollection of, whatsoever. In fact, I'd have to say that for the most part, if someone was to say that the entire Yellow Brick Road album was actually written by someone else, I might be inclined to believe them. I remember being there, just not physically creating.
There was a period when I was going through that whole "got to get back to my roots" thing, which spawned a lot of like minded songs in the early days, this being one of them. I don't believe I was ever turning my back on success or saying I didn't want it. I just I don't believe I was ever that naïve. I think I was just hoping that maybe there was a happy medium way to exist successfully in a more tranquil setting. My only naiveté, I guess, was believing I could do it so early on. I had to travel a long road and visit the school of hard knocks before I could come even close to achieving that goal. So, thank God I can say quite categorically that I am home."
Bernie's canine imagery, including the part about sniffing around on the ground, is a sly poke at Linda's two little dogs. Linda was a girlfriend of Elton John's.
In 2008, Ben & Jerry's created a flavor of ice cream in honor of Elton John called "Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road." Made of chocolate ice cream, peanut butter cookie dough, butter brickle and white chocolate chunks, it was made to commemorate Elton's first concert in Vermont (home of the ice cream makers) on July 21, 2008 at the Essex Junction fairgrounds. Elton had played every other state before his Vermont show. He had some of the ice cream before the show.
Ben Folds told Rolling Stone magazine for their 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time issue: "He was mixing his falsetto and his chest voice to really fantastic effect in the '70s. There's that point in 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,' where he sings, 'on the grooound' - his voice is all over the shop. It's like jumping off a diving board when he did that."
BENNIE AND THE JETS by ELTON JOHN
Elton wrote the music to this song as an homage to glam rock, a style defined by outrageous costumes that was popular in the early '70s, especially in the UK. Artists like David Bowie and Gary Glitter got into the act, but for Elton, it was an extension of his personality - he really was gay and liked to wear feminine clothes on stage. He became known for his wild appearance and collection of gaudy sunglasses.
"Bennie" is a female character who Elton has described as a "sci-fi rock goddess." Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics, told Esquire, "'Bennie And The Jets' was almost Orwellian - it was supposed to be futuristic. They were supposed to be a prototypical female rock 'n' roll band out of science fiction. Automatons."
It was Elton's idea to stutter the vocal: "B-B-B-Bennie..." Bernie Taupin thought this worked very well with the futuristic, robotic theme of his lyrics. Said Taupin: "That's a little quirk of the song which I'm sad to say I had nothing to do with. That and that wonderful big chord at the beginning. I think those two things are what probably made that song so popular. Neither of which I had anything to do with."
Comic books, movies, and the German photographer Helmut Newton were some of the influences Bernie Taupin threw into the pot when writing the lyrics to this song. Said Taupin: "I'd always had this wacky science fiction idea about a futuristic rock and roll band of androids fronted by some androgynous kind of Helmut Newton style beauty, which was depicted to little great effect on the Yellow Brick Road album cover. I'm not sure if it came to me in a dream or was some way the subconscious of effect of watching Kubrick on drugs. Either way, it was definitely something that was totally formed as a concept, and something that could have morphed into any number of populist items. Could have been comic books or movies. In fact, I can't help but believe that that Robert Palmer video with all the identical models somehow paid a little lip service to The Jets."
This was also a hit on the US R&B charts, known at the time as the "Black" charts. Elton was especially proud of this, as he was influenced by many black musicians.
Elton did not think this would be a hit. He was shocked when it went to #1 in America. John claims he rarely knows which of his songs will be hits.
The falsetto vocal is Elton trying to sound like Frankie Valli. He was a fan of Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons growing up, and went to at least one of their concerts when he was young.
Elton's producer Gus Dudgeon wanted a live feel on this recording, so he mixed in crowd noise from a show Elton played in 1972 at Royal Festival Hall. He also included a series of whistles from a live concert in Vancouver B.C., and added hand claps and various shouts.
Elton tried to record the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album in Jamaica, since The Rolling Stones had just recorded their Goats Head Soup album in a studio there and encouraged him to try it. Instead of the relaxing tropical paradise they expected, Elton and his crew encountered hostile locals and faulty equipment. They ended up recording the album at the studio in France (The Chateau) where they recorded their two previous albums.
Bernie Taupin says that when he saw the Robert Palmer video for "Addicted To Love," it portrayed when he envisioned Bennie And The Jets looking like: a dapper frontman backed by robotic models.
This wasn't released as a single in the UK, where it was released as the B-side of "Candle In The Wind." In the US, "Candle In The Wind" was not released as a single because MCA records thought this was better. Elton protested, but came around when black radio stations started playing it and it became a hit.
Elton performed this on Soul Train, becoming one of the few white performers ever to play the show (David Bowie is another). Elton asked to appear on the show, as he was a big fan. He explained on the program that he and his band would often watch it while they were on tour.
This was featured in the movie My Girl 2. Its played when Vada and Nick are exploring Los Angeles.
On Elton John's "Red Piano" tour (2007-2009), he would open with this song. He had old neon casino signs that spelled out ELTON. During the opening da da dada da notes, the lights would go on with each note.
Elton performed this song when he appeared on The Muppet Show in 1977, with a group of Muppets singing along with him at the piano. Elton's outlandish costumes were a running joke during the episode, and at one point Sam The Eagle was coerced into dressing like Elton.
In 1999, Mary J. Blige reworked this into a song called "Deep Inside." Elton played piano on the track.
PHILADELPHIA FREEDOM by ELTON JOHN
Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics to most of Elton John's songs, but Elton would occasionally suggest titles. Elton requested a song with the title "Philadelphia Freedom" in honor of his friend, the tennis player Billie Jean King. At the time, there was a professional tennis league in America called World Team Tennis, and in 1974 King coached a team called the "Philadelphia Freedoms," becoming one of the first women ever to coach men. Taupin had no obligation to write lyrics about King, and he didn't - the song was inspired by the Philadelphia Soul sound of groups like The O'Jays and Melvin & The Blue Notes, and also the American bicentennial; in 1976 the US celebrated 200 years of independence.
Elton John and Billie Jean King became good friends after meeting at a party. Elton tried to attend as many of her matches as he could, and he promised King a song after she gave him a customized track suit. Elton and Billie Jean King would become icons of the gay and lesbian community, but at the time, they were both still in the closet, since athletes and entertainers faced a backlash if they revealed their homosexuality. Elton was often answering questions about why he hadn't settled down with a girl, and King avoided the subject as best she could, but was forced to come out in 1981 when a former lover sued her for palimony. King was married to a man up until her outing, and Elton was married to a woman from 1984-1988.
On the single, it said this song was dedicated to "B.J.K." (Billie Jean King) and "The Soulful Sounds Of Philadelphia."
This song was a huge hit in America, following up another #1 single from Elton John, his cover of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds." Elton dominated the charts at this time, but it didn't always make him happy, as he felt he was being overexposed. He told Melody Maker in June 1975: "In America I've got 'Philadelphia Freedom' going up the charts again. I wish the bloody thing would piss off. I can see why people get sick and tired of me. In America I get sick and tired of hearing myself on AM radio. It's embarrassing."
Running 5:21, this was one of the longest dance hits of the '70s. A few months earlier, a national radio programer declared that he would no longer play any Elton John song over 4 minutes long because they were screwing up his playlists (Program directors liked short songs because they could play more of them. Elton's opuses like "Daniel" and "Funeral For A Friend" had a way of screwing up the "14 Hits In A Row" format). Elton knew this would be a hit, and was happy to screw the programmer by making it long, knowing he would have to play it anyway.
Elton said this was "one of the only times I tried to deliberately write a hit single."
Elton often put interesting B-sides on his singles, which made them more valuable. On this, the B-side was a live duet of The Beatles hit "I Saw Her Standing There" that Elton recorded with his friend John Lennon. Elton had previously sung on Lennon's "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" and also released a version of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," which was written by Lennon.
In 1975, Elton become one of the first white performers to appear on the TV show Soul Train, which was an honor for him. He performed this song and "Bennie And The Jets."
Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy was the first album to enter the US charts at #1. This was due to advance orders, as the album was widely anticipated.
Depending on where he was performing, Elton would sometimes alter the lyrics of the song, swapping "Philadelphia" for his present location. He would only do it if he could make it fit, so "Cincinatti Freedom" was a go, but Cleveland didn't get customized.
CIRCLE OF LIFE by ELTON JOHN
The tag-line for the animated motion picture The Lion King was "Life's greatest adventure is finding your place in the Circle of Life." Lyricist Tim Rice was reportedly stunned by how quickly composer Elton John was able to put Rice's words to music. This effort was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination, but lost to "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" from the same movie, also written by Tim Rice, and composed and sung by Elton John. The movie's version of this song in the opening scene was sung by Carmen Twillie, and Elton John's version is included on the soundtrack.
The Lion King went on to become the best-grossing traditionally animated feature of all time, with the songs playing a key part. The song is also featured frequently in attractions that include The Lion King at Disney theme parks, such as parades.
This is one of Elton's favorite songs in his considerable canon. Working on The Lion King got him out of the cycle of recording and album and then touring, and it led to more work on musicals, as he later contributed to Aida, Billy Elliot and The Vampire Lestat.
Elton prefers "Circle Of Life" to his other Lion King hit contribution, "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" While he rarely plays the later in concert, "Circle" is often in his setlist, as Elton thinks the lyric is "brilliant."
The song is one of the few hits Elton wrote without his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin. There were no hard feelings, as Taupin fully supported the effort. It was Tim Rice who approached Elton about putting the music to his words. Rice says that the movie studio didn't think Elton would do it, but when he asked, Elton was very excited to work on the project.
Disney had another hit on their hands the following year with the movie Pocahontas, and once again, they made reference to the circle of life in the movie's theme song, "Colors Of The Wind," as the heroine sings, "we are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop that never ends."
Jennifer Hudson performed this on season three of American Idol during Top 9 week when Elton John was the guest mentor.