Walking in Memphis

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"Walking in Memphis"
Single cover
Single by Marc Cohn
from the album Marc Cohn
  • Dig Down Deep
  • reissue Silver Thunderbird (Live)
ReleasedMarch 1991
reissue June 24, 1991
GenreSoft rock[1]
Songwriter(s)Marc Cohn
  • Marc Cohn
  • Ben Wisch
Marc Cohn singles chronology
"The Heart of the City"
"Walking in Memphis"
"Silver Thunderbird"

"Walking in Memphis" is a song composed and originally recorded by American singer-songwriter Marc Cohn, for whom it remains his signature song.[2] It has been described as "an iconic part of the Great American Songbook".[3]

"Walking in Memphis" reached number 13 in 1991 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. As of 2016, it is the only top-forty hit for Cohn.[4] Additionally, it reached number three in Canada, number seven in Ireland and number 11 in Australia. "Walking in Memphis" has since been covered several times, notably in 1995 by Cher and in 2003 by Lonestar.

Original version[edit]


Marc Cohn was inspired to write "Walking in Memphis" by a 1985 visit to the Memphis, Tennessee area: he was then based in New York City working as a session singer while pursuing a recording contract - "One night while listening to all of my demos, I came to the realization that I shouldn't be signed, because I didn't have any great songs yet. My voice was good and the demos were interesting, but the songs were only just okay. I was 28 years old and not in love with my songs. James Taylor had written 'Fire and Rain' when he was 18, and Jackson Browne wrote 'These Days' when he was only 17. I thought: 'I'm already ten years older than these geniuses. It's never going to happen for me.' So it was a pretty desperate time, and I went to Memphis with that struggle at the forefront of my mind." Cohn made his first excursion to Memphis after reading an interview with James Taylor in which Taylor stated he overcame writer's block by "go[ing] somewhere I've never been, hoping to find some idea I wouldn't get just by sitting at home". Cohn emulated Taylor, choosing Memphis as his destination: "I always knew it was a place I had to visit because so much of my favorite music came from there."[5]

Cohn recalls that on arrival in Memphis: "I did all the [expected] touristy things ... I went to Graceland, and I saw Elvis Presley's tomb and his airplanes".[5] (Cohn would later express misgivings about referencing Presley in the lyrics of "Walking in Memphis": "To me, the song is so minimally about him, but I worry that it gets cast off as another Elvis tribute. It's a testament to the power of his name, even if you just mention it in one verse, the song becomes about him because people focus on it".)[6] Cohn added that a friend told him "there were two things in particular that I had to do, things that would forever change me. They would later become the centerpieces of 'Walking in Memphis'". Cohn added:

The first thing was go to the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church on a Sunday morning to hear the Reverend Al Green preach ... I [soon] had chills running up and down my spine. The service was so deeply moving that I found myself with sweat running down my face and tears in my eyes, totally enveloped by everything I was seeing and hearing. There was something incredibly powerful about Al Green's voice in that context. Even after three hours of continuous singing, his voice only got stronger and his band only got better. I sat there crying in the church, aware of the irony of how I used to cry in Synagogue in Cleveland as a kid — but because I wanted to get the heck out of there! Al Green's service was one of the great experiences of my life."[5]

The second piece of advice from his friend was that Cohn visit the Hollywood Café in Robinsonville, Mississippi (35 miles south of Memphis), to see Muriel Davis Wilkins, a retired school teacher who performed at the cafe on Friday nights. Cohn recalled:

When I arrived, Muriel, who ... was in her 60s, was onstage playing a beat-up old upright piano and singing gospel standards ... I felt an immediate connection to her voice, her spirit, her face, and her smile. I was totally transfixed by her music. While many of the patrons were busy eating and not paying close attention to Muriel, I couldn't take my eyes off her. During her breaks, the two of us would talk. Muriel asked me why I was there, and I told her I was a songwriter trying to find inspiration. I also told her a little bit about my childhood — how when I was two and a half years old, my mom had passed away very unexpectedly, and about ten years later, my dad had passed away and I'd been raised by a stepmother. My mother's death was a central event in my life, and I'd been writing a lot about it over the years, both in songs and in journals. I think a part of me felt stuck in time, like I'd never quite been able to work through that loss. ... By midnight, the Hollywood was still packed, and Muriel asked me to join her onstage. We soon realized that there wasn't a song in the universe that both of us knew in common. A quick thinker, Muriel started feeding me lyrics to gospel songs so that I could catch up in time to sing somewhat in rhythm with her and make up my own version of the melody. Some songs I was vaguely familiar with, and some I didn't know at all. The very last song we sang together that night was 'Amazing Grace'. After we finished and people were applauding, Muriel leaned over and whispered in my ear: 'Child, you can let go now.' It was an incredibly maternal thing for her to say to me. Just like sitting in Reverend Al Green's church, I was again transformed. It was almost as if my mother was whispering in my ear. From the time I left Memphis and went back home to New York City, I knew I had a song in me about my experience there."[5]


Soon after returning to New York City, Cohn began constructing the melody for his Memphis song on his guitar:

I started playing an arpeggiated figure that I liked, but it didn't take long for me to realize that I couldn't play it very well on guitar. So I went to the piano, where that kind of rolling rhythm was easier for me to play. Then I added that first line to the piano riff and I was off to the races. The music for 'Walking in Memphis', except for the bridge, is really just the same thing over and over again. It's an attempt to keep things simple so that the narrative is what the listener focuses on. The story keeps changing; it goes from one scenario to another, all following the thread of my elation, described in the lyric 'Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale'. What's being expressed is my love of music and the spiritual transformation I've always felt through it. The line: 'Tell me are you a Christian child, and I said 'Ma'am I am tonight' - even in the moment I wrote it down, I knew I was getting closer to finding my songwriting voice. To this day, people still ask me if I am a Christian. While I have to admit that I enjoy the confusion the lyric brings, the thing that makes that line work is the fact that I'm a Jew. So many great artists over the years needed to hide the fact that they were Jewish to protect themselves and their families from anti-Semitism, so I'm proud of the fact that I could come right out and practically announce my religion on the first song I ever released.[5]

Cohn has said that it amuses him when listeners infer from the lyrics that he is a Christian or born again. "But to me," Cohn said, "that line could have only been written by a Jew. It's such a Jewish line, and I love that."[7]

Cohn wrote numerous drafts of "Walking in Memphis" before he had a set of lyrics which satisfied him: "When I finished the song, I felt like I had completed a jigsaw puzzle. I wasn't sure if it was a hit, because I was still years away from being signed to Atlantic Records. Six months later [in 1986], after I wrote many of the songs that would later comprise my album 'Marc Cohn', I went back to the Hollywood Café to play them all for Muriel. After I finished, Muriel said to me: 'You know the one where you mention me at the end? That's the best one you got!'"[5] (Muriel Davis Wilkins, born December 6, 1923, would die October 1, 1990, five months before the release of "Walking in Memphis".)[citation needed]

Cohn has said that the song is "100 percent autobiographical". He has described it as a song about "a Jewish gospel-music-lover",[7] and added that "the song is about more than just a place, it's about a kind of spiritual awakening, one of those trips where you're different when you leave.[6]

Commercial performance[edit]

Released as the first single from Cohn's self-titled debut album in March 1991, "Walking in Memphis" debuted at number 87 on the US Hot 100 in Billboard magazine dated March 30, 1991 with a subsequent two-month gradual chart ascent to the top 40, the single's number 38 ranking on the Hot 100 dated May 25, 1991, inaugurating a ten-week top 40 tenure with a peak of number 13 for two weeks,[8] the first week of which was dated July 6, 1991—one day after Cohn's birthday.[citation needed] Overall "Walking in Memphis" spent 23 weeks on the Hot 100. "Walking in Memphis" was also a hit on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart (number 12) and crossed-over to the magazine's C&W chart (number 74).[9][10] In Canada the song peaked at number three on the week dated July 13, 1991.[11]

During its original release in the British Isles, "Walking in Memphis" reached number seven in Ireland but stalled at number 66 in the United Kingdom;[12][13] its September 1991 re-release returned "Walking in Memphis" to the Irish top 20 at number 16 and introduced the single to the UK top 30 with a peak of number 22.[12][14] (The re-release of "Walking in Memphis" replaced the original B-side: "Dig Down Deep," with a live version of "Silver Thunderbird" recorded July 17, 1991.) "Walking in Memphis" was also a top-twenty hit in both Australia and New Zealand, with respective chart peaks of number 11 and number 18.[15][16] In Europe the single charted in France (number 45), Germany (number 25), the Netherlands (number 54) and Sweden (number 36).[15]

At the 34th Grammy Awards, presented in February 1992, "Walking in Memphis" was nominated for Song of the Year, and Cohn was nominated for Best Pop Male Vocalist. Neither award was won, although Cohn did win Best New Artist.

Track listings and formats[edit]

7" single

  1. "Walking in Memphis" — 4:18
  2. "Dig Down Deep" — 5:08

7" single

  1. "Walking in Memphis" — 4:18
  2. "Silver Thunderbird" (live) — 5:26

CD maxi

  1. "Walking in Memphis" — 4:18
  2. "Dig Down Deep" — 5:08
  3. "Saving the Best for Last" — 5:31


Cher version[edit]

"Walking in Memphis"
Single by Cher
from the album It's a Man's World
ReleasedOctober 13, 1995
GenrePop rock
Songwriter(s)Marc Cohn
Producer(s)Christopher Neil
Cher singles chronology
"Love Can Build a Bridge"
"Walking in Memphis"
"One by One"
Audio sample


"Walking in Memphis" was remade by Cher for her twenty-second studio album, It's a Man's World. It was released as the album's lead single in Europe on October 16, 1995. The black-and-white music video intercut footage of Cher singing with footage of an Elvis Presley-like figure - played by Cher - mostly seen walking down the streets of Memphis. Cher, wearing a blonde wig and dark outfit as on the single's picture sleeve, premiered "Walking in Memphis" on the Top of the Pops broadcast of October 19, 1995; her version then debuted at number 11 on the UK Singles chart for the week ending October 28, 1995. After being reprised on the TOTP broadcast of October 26, 1995 (on which Cher sang "Walking in Memphis" groomed as Elvis Presley), her single essentially maintained its UK chart popularity with a number 12 ranking dated November 4, 1995.

Cher's "Walking in Memphis" subsequently made a rapid UK chart descent, dropping out of the Top 100 after a number 68 ranking dated December 9, 1995. It returned to the UK Top 100 charts dated December 20, 1995 (number 97) and January 6, 1996 (number 100), having evidently been boosted by Cher's performance of the song on ITV's The Caballe Family Christmas special broadcast Christmas Eve 1995. Although never issued as a single in North America, "Walking in Memphis" did afford Cher a minor Canadian hit in the autumn of 1996, the album cut receiving enough radio airplay to reach number 60 on the 100 Hit Tracks chart in RPM magazine.

Despite being a comparative failure for Cher, "Walking in Memphis" would be included in the set list for the singer's 1999-2000 Do You Believe? Tour, the first Cher tour subsequent to her recording of the song: in introducing the number Cher would wryly overstate how low was the impact of her take on "Walking in Memphis", first citing Marc Cohn's original as "a huge hit", then her own version as "a huge bomb".[26] Her cover was used on The X-Files in the final scene of the fifth season episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus".[27]

Critical reception[edit]

AllMusic called this cover rousing.[28] Jim Farber stated that it "must be heard to be believed."[29]

Live performances[edit]

Track listings and formats[edit]

UK CD maxi-single Pt 1 (WEA 021 CD1)[30][31]

  1. "Walking in Memphis"
  2. "Angels Running"
  3. "Walking in Memphis" (Shut Up & Dance Instrumental)

UK CD maxi-single Pt 2 (WEA 021 CD2)[31][32]

  1. "Walking In Memphis" (Shut Up & Dance Vocal)
  2. "Walking In Memphis" (Shut Up & Dance Instrumental)
  3. "Walking In Memphis" (Rated P.G. Mix)
  4. "Walking In Memphis" (Baby Doc Mix)

UK 2 x 12" vinyl (0630-13100-0)[31][33]

Same track list as the UK CD Maxi-Single Pt 2.[31]

UK 12" vinyl (WEA032T)[31][34]

  • A1. "One By One" (Junior's Club Vocal)
  • B1. "Walking In Memphis" (Shut Up And Dance Vocal Mix)
  • B2. "Walking In Memphis" (Baby Doc Mix)

US 12" vinyl promo (PRO-A-8428)[31][35]

  • A1. "One By One" (Junior's Pride Mix)
  • A2. "One By One" (Bonus Beats)
  • A3. "One By One" (Piano Dub)
  • B1. "Walking In Memphis" (Shut Up And Dance Mix)
  • B2. "Walking In Memphis" (Rated PG Mix)


Lonestar version[edit]

"Walking in Memphis"
Walking in memphis.png
Single by Lonestar
from the album From There to Here: Greatest Hits
ReleasedAugust 11, 2003
Songwriter(s)Marc Cohn
Producer(s)Dann Huff
Lonestar singles chronology
"My Front Porch Looking In"
"Walking in Memphis"
"Let's Be Us Again"


American country music band Lonestar reached number eight on the Hot Country Songs chart and number 61 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2003 with a remake of "Walking in Memphis" released as a single off the Lonestar album From There to Here: Greatest Hits. This version was featured on Smallville Season 3, Episode 5 "Perry" when Perry White returns to Metropolis.

Lonestar's lead vocalist, Richie McDonald, would recall that during the two years of the band's inaugural phase as a bar band, "Walking in Memphis" was a staple of their set list from the beginning: "After we got our record deal, we stopped doing [any] cover songs but ... a few years later, [we were] in Memphis, Tennessee getting ready to do a benefit for St. Jude's down on Beale Street" - i.e. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital - "[and] we thought this would be a good time to do 'Walking in Memphis,' because we were right there on Beale ... One of the label guys was there [and] said, "Y'all should record that." We started doing it in our live shows and it just became something we wanted to put out."[49]

Music video[edit]

The music video was directed by Milton Lage and premiered in late 2003.


Chart (2003) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[50] 8
US Billboard Hot 100[51] 61

Other versions[edit]

In the summer of 2005, Wouter (nl), the runner-up in Idool 2004, spent eleven weeks in the Top 20 of the Flemish chart with his version of "Walking in Memphis", the track spending three weeks at #3: the track was included on Rock On, Wouter's only album release to-date. "Walking in Memphis" became a #5 hit in Sweden in December 2009 via a remake by Calle Kristiansson, the runner-up finalist in Idol 2009. Kristiansson's version of "Walking in Memphis" was included on his self-titled album issued in January 2010. A concert performance of "Walking in Memphis" by Eric Church was featured in the first installment of the 15-LP (vinyl) box set of Church recordings entitled 61 Days in Church.[52]

The song has also been recorded by Paul Anka (album Classics - My Way/ 2007), Michael Ball (album This Time ... It's Personal/ 2000), Joyce Cobb (album Beale Street Saturday Night/ 2003), Skott Freedman (album Some Company/ 2003), Stefan Gwildis (de) (as "Gestern war gestern" German - album Wünscht du wärst hier/ 2009), Tony Hadley (album Obsession/ 2000), Bert Heerink (nl) (as "Zeven dagen in Memphis" Dutch - album Net op tijd/ 2000), Michael Jones (as "Marcher dans Memphis" French - album Prises et reprises/ 2004), Barb Jungr (album Walking in the Sun/ 2006), the John Tesh Project (instrumental - album Discovery/ 1996) and Ty Herndon (2018).[citation needed]

Songs based on "Walking in Memphis"[edit]

Shut Up and Dance version ("Raving I'm Raving")[edit]

English electronic band Shut Up and Dance released "Raving I'm Raving" on May 18, 1992, based significantly on "Walking in Memphis". Several lyrics were altered including the line "I'm walking in Memphis" becoming "I'm raving I'm raving".[citation needed]

The single reached #2 on the UK Singles Chart in May 1992,[53] but ran into difficulties as they had not obtained clearance. As a result, the track was banned, causing it to fall to #15 the next week then leave the charts completely. Proceeds were ordered to be given to charity. Nonetheless, near the end of 1992, the song did make another appearance on influential compilation Rave 92, as a re-recorded version with slightly edited lyrics and the samples removed.[citation needed]

Scooter version ("I'm Raving")[edit]

In 1996, German hard dance band Scooter released a similar cover entitled "I'm Raving"[54] as a single from their album Wicked!. The single was certified gold in Germany and peaked at number 4 on the German charts.

Music & Media wrote about the song: "Remember Marc Cohn's beautiful piano ballad Walking In Memphis? Change the lyrics in I'm Raving, I'm Raving, add some bagpipe-synths and the semi-live-gimmick patented by Scooter. This makes chart-storming seem effortless."[55]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ Phillips, Tammy (July 4, 2016). "Cohn returns to Memphis for 25th Anniversary of "Walking in Memphis"". WMCA Action News.
  3. ^ SISTI, MARK. "Grammy award winning singer/songwriter Marc Cohn makes appearance in CNY". Uticaod.
  4. ^ "Grammy-winning songwriter Marc Cohn gets reflective on new tour, plays 11/13". azcentral.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Song Stories: Walking in Memphis". KeyboardMag.com. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Brown, G. (November 15, 1991). "Marc Cohn Influenced by Club Singer". Denver Post.
  7. ^ a b Knopper, Steve (July 21, 2011). "Marc Cohn Went Back to 1970 for Latest Album". Chicago Tribrune. Retrieved October 4, 2015.
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  9. ^ a b "Marc Cohn Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  10. ^ a b "Marc Cohn Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
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  14. ^ a b "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
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  33. ^ "Cher - Walking In Memphis". Discogs.com. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  34. ^ "Cher - One By One". Discogs.com. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  35. ^ "Cher - One By One / Walking In Memphis". Discogs.com. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
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  49. ^ "Celebrating 20 Years With Lonestar, by Kathy Stockbridge". NYSMusic.com. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
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External links[edit]