Mystery Train

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"Mystery Train"
Mystery Train single cover.jpg
Single by Little Junior's Blue Flames
B-side"Love My Baby"
ReleasedNovember 1953 (1953-11)
RecordedSeptember–October 1953
StudioMemphis Recording Service, Memphis, Tennessee
Songwriter(s)Junior Parker
Producer(s)Sam Phillips
Official audio
"Mystery Train" on YouTube

"Mystery Train" is a song written and recorded by American blues musician Junior Parker in 1953. Originally performed in the style of a Memphis blues or rhythm and blues tune, it was inspired by earlier songs and later became a popular rockabilly song, as first covered by Elvis Presley, then numerous others.[2]

Composition and recording[edit]

Music historian Colin Escott noted "One of the mysteries about 'Mystery Train' was where the title came from; it was mentioned nowhere in the song".[3] 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,[2] and their biggest selling record of 1930:[4]

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

Junior Parker, billed as "Little Junior's Blue Flames", recorded "Mystery Train" for producer/Sun Records owner Sam Phillips.[5] The sessions took place at Phillips' Memphis Recording Service, in Memphis, Tennessee, during September and October 1953. Accompanying Parker on vocal is his backup band the "Blue Flames", whose members at the time are believed to have included: Floyd Murphy on guitar,[6] William Johnson on piano, Kenneth Banks on bass, John Bowers on drums, and Raymond Hill on tenor sax.[3]

"Mystery Train" was the follow-up single to Junior Parker's 1953 number five Billboard R&B chart release "Feelin' Good".[7] The song did not reach the singles chart.

In 1973, with the approval 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.[8]

Elvis Presley version[edit]

"Mystery Train"
Mystery Train Sun ,223.jpeg
Single by Elvis Presley
A-side"I Forgot to Remember to Forget"
ReleasedAugust 20, 1955 (1955-08-20)
RecordedJuly 11, 1955
StudioMemphis Recording Service, Memphis, Tennessee
Producer(s)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".[10] In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at number 77 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[11] Sam Phillips at Sun Studios again produced the recording, 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 fingerstyle picking, with a touch of slapback echo.[12] Moore also drew on elements from earlier songs, such as the guitar riffs from Junior Parker's "Love My Baby" (1953),[13] played by Pat Hare, and "Sixteen Tons" (1946) by Merle Travis.[14][15]

Paired with "I Forgot to Remember to Forget", the single reached the Top 10 in Billboard's C&W listings.[16]

RCA Victor re-released this recording in November 1955 (#47-6357) after acquiring it as part of a contract with Presley. This issue of the song peaked at number 11 on the national Billboard country chart. That same month, RCA Victor also released a pop version of the song by the Turtles (not to be confused with the 1960s pop group, the Turtles) with backing by Hugo Winterhalter and his Orchestra (47-6356).

"Mystery Train" is now considered to be an "enduring classic".[17] It was the first recording to make Elvis Presley a nationally known country music star.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bill Dahl. "Junior Parker | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  2. ^ a b Among the many cover versions are two on the 2021 Americana Railroad on RENEW / BMG "American Railroad" released on November 26th. One is by Rocky Burnette with James Intveld on guitar and Barry Goldberg on piano. The other is performed by James Intveld with Barry Goldberg on Hammond B3 organ. Both were produced by Carla Olson. Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "Mystery Train". Encyclopedia of the Blues. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 463. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
  3. ^ a b Escott, Colin (1990). Mystery Train (Album notes). Junior Parker, James Cotton, Pat Hare. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Rounder Records. pp. 1–2. CD SS 38.
  4. ^ "American Experience | The Carter Family: Will the Circle Be Unbroken". Retrieved November 29, 2010.
  5. ^ Robert Palmer (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. p. 237. ISBN 978-0-14-006223-6.
  6. ^ Floyd Murphy is a brother of Matt "Guitar" Murphy.
  7. ^ Sun Records number 187
  8. ^ Moondog Matinee (1973) liner notes
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Sun Records number 223
  11. ^ "Search Articles, Artists, Reviews, Videos, Music and Movies". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on May 13, 2007. Retrieved 2010-11-29.
  12. ^ Blue Moon Boys. page 48
  13. ^ "PARKER, Little Junior : MusicWeb Encyclopaedia of Popular Music". Archived from the original on 2006-06-14. Retrieved 2012-07-03.
  14. ^ Gillett, Charlie (1984). The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll (Rev. ed.). New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-72638-3. Retrieved July 6, 2012. "Love My Baby" in particular featured some blistering guitar playing by Pat Hare, which inspired the rockabilly style discussed elsewhere.
  15. ^ Tosches, Nick. Country - the Twisted Roots of Rock 'n' Roll. DeCapo Press, 1985. pg 54. ISBN 0-306-80713-0
  16. ^ Billboard, December 17, 1955. Reviews of New Pop Records. pp. 56 and 61.
  17. ^ Burke, Ken and Griffin, Dan. The Blue Moon Boys - The Story of Elvis Presley's Band. Chicago Review Press, 2006, p.46. ISBN 1-55652-614-8
  18. ^ 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.