Elvis Presley – Mystery Train

Listen to the slap back echo on this song. I could just listen to the intro guitar on a tape loop for eons and eons. Sun records had the best echo of anyone. Everyone since has tried to capture that sound.

“Mystery Train” was written and originally recorded by Junior Parker in 1953 for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records…Phillips got a co-writing credit. Phillips would later claim that he made three major changes to the song, and that these were why he got the co-writing credit. The first was to give the song the title “Mystery Train”, which has been a big part of the song’s appeal ever since. The second was to insist that the number of coaches for the train should be sixteen . Parker had been singing “fifty coaches long”. And the final one was to suggest that the band start the song slowly and build up the tempo like a train gathering steam.

Elvis covered the song. There is a good chance he heard Jr. Parker perform it live.

The song was released as the B side to “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.” One of the best B sides ever. The song peaked at #11 in the Country Charts and #25 in the UK in 1955. RCA bought Elvis’s contract and reissued this single.

Scotty Moore who played guitar on the rack: ‘Mystery Train’ became like a signature thing for me” “That was the first one I played through my custom-made amplifier. It had the same slapback effect that Sam had been using on the overall record.”

Sam Phillips: When Elvis came in I found out that Mystery Train was so embedded in Elvis’ mind that when he started to sing it, it was a natural as breathing. If it’s natural it’s awfully hard to beat, like you’re just rolling off of a log. That’s the feeling you get with Mystery Train.” 

His version was ranked #77 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

From Songfacts

Parker was a renowned Blues musician from Memphis who is best known for this song. He was known more for his singing than for his guitar playing, and never achieved the popularity of players like Buddy Guy and B.B. King. Parker was just 39 when he died in 1971 of a brain tumor.

Elvis Presley recorded the most famous version of this song, also on Sun Records, in 1955.  and is his best-known song that was never a hit – it was released as the B-side of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget.” Other artists to cover the song include Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Ricky Nelson, Tom Fogerty, and The Doors.

Neil Young’s 1983 version on his album Everybody’s Rockin’ has an interesting story behind it. After all, there’s never a short story behind a Neil Young song!
Young came to cover “Mystery Train” by way of performing one of the most sarcastic take-that’s in rock history. As told in Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, Young had tried to make up for the PR nightmare that was the Trans album with an album even more countrified than Hawks & Doves, which would become Old Ways. However, Geffen’s record executives rejected Young’s new excursion, demanding that he make an album of “rock ‘n’ roll” songs instead.

Can you imagine someone with the audacity to think that they can tell Neil Young what to do? So, Young gave them exactly what they asked for, with the same kind of acidulous derision with which Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground delivered Loaded when Atlantic executives demanded an album “loaded with hits.” Young put together an album of ’50s-style rockabilly songs with a band he assembled and called “the Shocking Pinks.” And what jukebox classics they all are!

Geffen’s reaction was to slap Young with a $3.3 million dollar lawsuit alleging that his music had become “unrepresentative of his previous output.” This is also why Everybody’s Rockin’ is so short – Geffen literally pulled the plug on Young and the Shocking Pinks in mid-recording-session. Young responded in an interview with Musician magazine: “To get sued for being noncommercial after 20 years of making records, I thought was better than a Grammy.” He even told Q magazine that he told Geffen to back off, or his threat was that he was going to play country music forever. Is there a single Neil Young fan out there who doubts – for a fraction of a second – that just to go ‘nyah!’, he would have stuck to his guns and played nothing but country music to this day, had Geffen not backed down? Anyway, it’s a nice little cover of “Mystery Train,” isn’t it?

Mystery Train

Train I ride, sixteen coaches long
Train I ride, sixteen coaches long
Well, that long black train got my baby and gone

Train, train, comin’ ’round the bend
Train, train, comin’ ’round the bend
Well, it took my baby, but it never will again
No, not again

Train, train, comin’ down, down the line
Train, train, comin’ down, down the line
Well, it’s bringin’ my baby ’cause she’s mine, all mine
She’s mine, all mine

Train, train, comin’ ’round, ’round the bend
‘Round, ’round the bend
Train, train, comin’ ’round, ’round the bend
‘Round, ’round the bend
Well, it took my baby, but it never will again
Never will again