Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mystery Train: The Song, The Book, The Film And The Myth & Show # 552

When referring to Mystery Train, it can be looked at in three ways. There is the song covered by Elvis Presley that was first recorded by American Blues musician Junior Parker in 1953, The 1975 book by Greil Marcus often cited as one of the best books written about pop music and finally the 1989 film by Jim Jarmusch. The film delves into the myth of Elvis and early American music through three stories and characters.

The song “Mystery Train” first appeared under this title in 1953. It was recorded by Sun Records American blues recording artist Junior Parker as a follow up to his single “Feelin’ Good” which charted on the Billboard R&B charts at number five. The genesis of the song itself has been said to come from a few sources. “Mystery Train” was based on The Carter Family’s “Worried Man Blues” released in 1930, which itself was based on an old Irish Celtic folk ballad. The song has since been covered by numerous artists and there are many versions of the song that exist, but it is perhaps best known as being performed by Elvis Presley.

In August of 1955, “Mystery Train” was covered and reworked as the B-side to the Elvis Presley single “I Forgot To Remember To Forget”. For this version of the song Presley changed some of the lyrics, which in turn changed the song’s original somber tone put forth by Junior Parker to a more confident mood and feeling. Musically, guitarist Scotty Moore blended country and blues elements to create a galloping locomotive rockabilly rhythm that echoes the influence of the Merle Travis song “Sixteen Tons” from 1946 and also features a guitar riff from Junior Parker’s 1953 song “Love My Baby”. The changes made to this song also continues the folk tradition and trend in which Junior Parker originally used to create his version of the song in 1953. Despite all the versions recorded of this song, Presley’s version still is consistently considered one of the best versions released.

In 1975, the book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music written by American author and music journalist Greil Marcus was released. This book, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2015, contextualizes and explores the image of America used in rock music, it’s evolution and impact on our culture. The book as previously mentioned is considered one of the most provocative books written about rock music. Marcus places eight songs by American musicians in comparison to the literary models of Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby and Stagger Lee.

In 1989 Jim Jarmusch released the movie Mystery Train. The film separated in three parts, explores the myth of Elvis and its impact on the characters in the film and their lives, taking the myth analyzed by Marcus and the aura created by the song itself to another level. The movie features several musicians placed within acting roles in the film’s narrative construct. Musicians Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Joe Strummer and the voice of Tom Waits all appear in the film. While there are many ways to look at this song and its influence on American culture, the song, the book and the 1989 movie by Jim Jarsmusch all add to the many factors surrounding the Mystery Train title. The title itself in the context of the song has never really been explained and is mentioned nowhere in the song’s lyrics. This is perhaps representative of the myth that it creates. It has been analyzed, discussed and been used to create different art forms, but there still is for lack of a better term a “mystery” surrounding it. The ideas put forth by Mystery Train may be forever “coming around the bend” as it still draws us in no matter which track it takes to get to us.

Saturday Night Playlist:

1. The Slit Plasters - The Dung Fly
2. Moon Duo - Zero
3. Vietcong - Continental Shelf
4. BA Johnston - What A Wonderful Mediocre Day
5. Wavves - King Of The Beach
6. Dave Arcari - Devil's Left Hand
7. The Locusts Have No King - Last Night In My Favourite Bar
8. Tom Waits - Bad As Me
9. Junior Parker - Mystery Train
10. Harmonica Frank - Rocking Chair Daddy
11. Robert Johnson - If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day
12. Daniel Romano - A Losing Song
14. The Hives - Blood Red Moon
15. Joel Plaskett - Broken Heart Songs
16. James O-L & The Villains - Cross Country Canada
17. Chris Crossroads - Lost In The 13th Dimension
18. Sly & The Family Stone - Time
19. Randy Newman - God's Song
20. Elvis Presley - Mystery Train
21. Unrelated Segments - Cry Cry Cry
22. Pow Wows - You Haven’t Got Me Yet
23. Teenanger - Singles Don’t $ell
24. Ramblin' Ambassadors - Lungbucket
25. Nirvana - Hairspray Queen
26. Pluto - Million And Two
27. The Lurkers - Hey You

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for March 21. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.

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