Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

Help support this site! Consider clicking an ad from time to time. Thanks!


Mystery Train

Written by Junior Parker and first recorded by Little Junior’s Blue Flames (1953).
Hit version (as a B-side) by Elvis Presley (C&W #10 1955).
Also recorded by Junior Wells (1967), The Band (1973), Neil Young (1983).

From the wiki: “The original recording of ‘Mystery Train’ was written by Herman ‘Junior’ Parker and recorded by him (billed as Little Junior’s Blue Flames) at Sun Studios in 1953. And, of the many groundbreaking songs recorded by Elvis Presley during his storied career, ‘Mystery Train’ has come to be regarded key to understanding his unique place in the Rock and Roll canon, with Sam Phillips, as producer of both the Parker and Presley recordings, serving as mid-wife.

“For Elvis, the double-sided hit (‘Mystery Train’ was first released as the B-side to “I Forgot to Remember to Forget’) was his, and Sun Records’, most successful release to-date and, ironically, the last recording Presley would make for Sun or Phillips. Its chart showing ensured that a major label (like RCA) couldn’t help but notice the young, dynamic singer.

“Recording ‘Mystery Train’, Elvis positioned himself between Country and R&B, in the exact sweet spot Phillips had been searching for. (Phillips is famously quoted, saying ‘If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.’) ‘I don’t sound like nobody’, Elvis remarked when first introducing himself two years before to the Sun Studios receptionist. On ‘Mystery Train’, it would be hard to disagree.

“Phillips recalls (from Peter Guralnick’s excellent Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley) ‘It was the greatest song I ever did on Elvis. It was a feeling song that so many people had experienced – I mean, it was a big thing, to put a loved on a train; are they leaving you forever? It was pure rhythm. And at the end, Elvis was laughing, because he didn’t think it was a take, but I’m sorry, it was a fucking masterpiece. Bill Black, bassist on the song and a member of the combo supporting Presley on all his earliest recordings, opines ‘Now there was a record.

“The Band covered ‘Mystery Train’ twice. First, on their 1973 Blues and R&B tribute album, Moondog Matinee; then, a live version for their farewell concert, The Last Waltz, with Paul Butterfield on harmonica.

“Neil Young came about recording ‘Mystery Man’ when Geffen Records balked at releasing his Country-fied album, Old Ways, insisting, instead, that Young produce an album of Rock ‘n Roll songs. Young put together an album of ’50s-style Rockabilly songs, Everybody’s Rockin’, with a band he called ‘The Shocking Pinks’ but Geffen, unhappy again with the material, pulled the plug halfway through the recording sessions, resulting in an album that clocked in at only 25-minutes (at a time when the typical album contained 35-45 minutes of material).

“In November 1983, following the commercial failure of Everybody’s Rockin’, Geffen sued Young for $3.3 million, on the grounds that this record and its predecessor were ‘not commercial’, and ‘musically uncharacteristic of [his] previous recordings.’ Young filed a $21 million countersuit, alleging breach of contract since Young had been promised no creative interference from the label.

“The suit backfired against Geffen, with label owner David Geffen personally apologizing to Young for the suit and for interference with his work.

“‘Mystery Train’ ranked #77 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

Elvis Presley, “Mystery Train” (1955):

Junior Wells, “Mystery Train” (1967):

The Band, “Mystery Train” (1973):

Neil Young, “Mystery Train” (1983):

Comments are closed.