Mystery Train - Elvis Presley
I meant to do a series of tracks that cite American towns, but I realise now that the reason that so many towns are mentioned in US rock is because of the central role in their culture of rail travel. Those long interstate distances were best traversed by train and the rhythms of the train wheels on the tracks fed into many 20th century US music forms including the blues, r&b, country and western and rockabilly. And I keep thinking of train songs, rather than town name numbers, so trains it is.
And where better to start than back in 1955, (the year I was born and) the place where much of what followed began: Sam Phillips' Sun Records in Memphis. Many will point to the first recording in which Presley was recorded in his new distinctive style: "That's All Right" but for me "Mystery Train" is THE ONE, the one that pulls together the bits: Elvis's vocal has a great bluesy feel, redolent of the South, and the song is a blues in word structure, but the guitar by Scotty Moore is pure country as he and double bassist Bill Black lay down one of the first great railway rhythms, with Elvis himself on acoustic guitar. You can tell they know they've recorded something extra special by the way Bill Black yells in excitement at the end of the song. Or is it Elvis himself?
And this is the mystery train which took his baby where? Wherever it was, it's brought her back and he's never letting her go again. Simple. Except the train seems to be supernatural, a "long, black train" which is "sixteen coaches long" like a dark spirit of oblivion challenging Elvis to dare, to see into the future; maybe it's even a short chat with the devil. And what a future, the most famous recording artist on the planet, the golden tonsils, and dead at 42. And if you don't believe me, listen to this track: it's still as fresh as hot bread, sounding as though they just finished up recording it in the next room. Spooky.