|Single by Little Junior's Blue Flames|
|B-side||"Love My Baby"|
|Format||10" 78 rpm & 7" 45 rpm record|
|Recorded||September–October 1953 at Memphis Recording Service, Memphis, Tennessee|
|Genre||Blues, Electric blues, Memphis blues|
"Mystery Train" is a song recorded by American blues musician Junior Parker in 1953. Considered a blues standard, Parker, billed as "Little Junior's Blue Flames", recorded the song for producer/Sun Records owner Sam Phillips and it was released on the Sun label. The song was written by Junior Parker (aka Herman Parker), with a credit later given to Phillips.
One commentator noted "One of the mysteries about 'Mystery Train' was where the title came from; it was mentioned nowhere in the song". The song uses lyrics similar to those found in the traditional American folk music group Carter Family's "Worried Man Blues", itself based on an old Celtic ballad, and their biggest selling record of 1930:
- The train arrived sixteen coaches long
- The train arrived sixteen coaches long
- The girl I love is on that train and gone
Parker's lyrics include:
- Train I ride sixteen coaches long
- Train I ride sixteen coaches long
- Well, that long black train carries my baby home
"Mystery Train" was the follow-up single to Junior Parker's 1953 number five Billboard R&B chart release "Feelin' Good" (Sun 187). Accompanying Parker (vocal) is his backup band the "Blue Flames", whose members at the time are believed to have included: Floyd Murphy (guitar); William Johnson (piano); Kenneth Banks (bass); John Bowers (drums); and Raymond Hill (tenor sax).
Elvis Presley version
|Single by Elvis Presley|
|A-side||"I Forgot to Remember to Forget"|
|Format||7" 45 rpm & 10" 78 rpm record|
|Recorded||July 11, 1955 at
Memphis Recording Service, Memphis, Tennessee
|Writer(s)||Junior Parker, Sam Phillips|
Elvis Presley's version of "Mystery Train" was first released on August 20, 1955 as the B-side of "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" (Sun 223). Presley's version would be ranked #77 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list in 2003. It was again produced by Sam Phillips at Sun Studios, and featured Presley on vocals and rhythm guitar, Scotty Moore on lead guitar, and Bill Black on bass. Moore used a country lead break, and toward the end of the record is an echo of the 1946 "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis. For Presley's version of "Mystery Train", Scotty Moore also borrowed the guitar riff from Junior Parker's "Love My Baby" (1953), played by Pat Hare.
Victor released a pop version of the song by "The Turtles" with backing by the Winterhalter ork (Victor 6356) in December 1955. Billboard wrote that Presley's version had "cut a swath in the country field." Paired with "I Forgot to Remember to Forget", the record was in the Top 10 in Billboard's C&W listings.
RCA Victor rereleased this recording in December 1955 (#47-6357) after acquiring it as part of a contract with Presley. This issue of the song peaked at # 11 on the national Billboard Country Chart.
Although "Mystery Train" is now considered to be an "enduring classic", the flip side of this record "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" reached the Billboard National Country music chart #1 position by February 1956, remained there for 5 weeks, and stayed on the charts for 39 weeks. The May 12, 1956 issue of Billboard listed "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" at the #1 "Country & Western" "Top Juke Box Hit Records" for the period January–April 1956 with no mention of "Mystery Train". It was the first recording to make Elvis Presley a nationally known country music star.
Black, who had success with the Bill Black Combo, once said to a visitor to his house in Memphis, as he pointed to a framed 78rpm Sun Record of "Mystery Train" on the wall, "Now there was a record."
The Band version
In 1973, with the blessing of Sam Phillips, Robbie Robertson of The Band wrote additional lyrics for "Mystery Train", and the group recorded this version of the song for their Moondog Matinee album. They later performed the song with Paul Butterfield for their 1976 "farewell" concert The Last Waltz.
A variety of musicians have recorded "Mystery Train", including:
- 1965 – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
- 1969 – Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash during the Nashville Skyline sessions
- 1970 – The Doors from Live in Detroit (released 2000), Live in Philadelphia '70 (released 2005), Live in Boston (released 2007), and live in Pittsburgh as part of "Black Train Song" from 1997's The Doors: Box Set
- 1972 – Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed from Me & Chet
- 1974 – Alvin Lee from In Flight
- 1976 – Kingfish from Kingfish in Concert: King Biscuit Flower Hour (released 1996)
- 1977 – Jerry Garcia Band from Pure Jerry: Theatre 1839, July 29 & 30, 1977 (released 2004)
- 1980 – UFO from No Place to Run
- 1981 – Tom Fogerty from Deal It Out
- 1981 – The Soft Boys feat. Robyn Hitchcock from Two Halves For the Price of One (live); also another version on 1976-81 (released 1992)
- 1981 – Gene Summers from Gene Summers in Nashville
- 1983 – Neil Young from Everybody's Rockin'
- 1986 – Emmylou Harris from Thirteen
- 1986 – The Flying Burrito Brothers from Live from Europe
- 1992 – Stray Cats from Choo Choo Hot Fish
- 2005 – Rick Danko from Cryin' Heart Blues (with Paul Butterfield)
- 2010 – Robert Gordon and Link Wray from Live Fast, Love Hard! (recorded 1978)
- 2012 – The Grascals from Life Finds a Way
- Junior Parker at AllMusic
- Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). Encyclopedia of the Blues. University of Arkansas Press. p. 463. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
- Escott, Colin (1990). Mystery Train (liner notes). Rounder Records. pp. 1–2. CD SS 38.
- "American Experience | The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be Unbroken". Pbs.org. Retrieved 2010-11-29.
- Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 8 - The All American Boy: Enter Elvis and the rock-a-billies. [Part 2]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu.
- Floyd Murphy is a brother of Matt "Guitar" Murphy. Dahl, Bill (1996). All Music Guide to the Blues. Miller Freeman Books. p. 197. ISBN 0-87930-424-3.
- Burke, Ken and Dan Griffin. The Blue Moon Boys - The Story of Elvis Presley's Band. Chicago Review Press, 2006. pg. 48. ISBN 1-55652-614-8
- "Search Articles, Artists, Reviews, Videos, Music and Movies". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2010-11-29.
- Blue Moon Boys. page 48
- Tosches, Nick. Country - the Twisted Roots of Rock 'n' Roll. DeCapo Press, 1985. pg 54. ISBN 0-306-80713-0
- PARKER, Little Junior : MusicWeb Encyclopaedia of Popular Music
- Gillett, Charlie (1984). The sound of the city: the rise of rock and roll (Rev. ed.). New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-72638-3. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
"Love My Baby" in particular featured some blistering guitar playing by Pat Hare, which inspired the rockabilly style discussed elsewhere.
- Billboard Dec 17, 1955. Reviews of New Pop Records. p 56, 61.
- Presley, Elvis (RCS Artist Discography) samples and labels
- Elvis Presley's Sun Recordings
- The Blue Moon Boys - The Story of Elvis Presley's Band. Ken Burke and Dan Griffin. 2006. Chicago Review Press. page 46. ISBN 1-55652-614-8
- Billboard May 12, 1956. page 56
- Collins, Ace (1996). The Stories Behind Country Music's All-time Greatest: 100 Songs. New York: The Berkeley Publishing Group. pp. 94–96. ISBN 1-57297-072-3.
- The Blue Moon Boys - The Story of Elvis Presley's Band. Ken Burke and Dan Griffin. 2006. Chicago Review Press. page 152. ISBN 1-55652-614-8
- "Acclaimed Music Top 3000 songs". 27 May 2009.
- Moondog Matinee (1973) liner notes
- Gray, Michael (2006). The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. New York-London: Continuum International. p. 127. ISBN 0-8264-6933-7.