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Mystery Train

Sun Dec 16, 2012 11:28 am

First post but long time lurker amazed at folks knowledge and virtual academic dissection of all things Elvis. Love paying this site a visit every day.

Depending on my mood, Mystery Train is either at the top or very near the top of my favourite songs of all time. I appreciate that everyone's first exposure to the song was from a different decade and, due to my age, mine was in the 1980s when it was already deemed a classic Sun track. If I had one Elvis wish it would be for a live 1955/56 live recording to surface.
So what I am wondering out loud is how highly did Elvis himself rate the song in 1955/56 when it was new?
I ask because an admittedly brief look at I think Keith Flynn's website (or a link from the site, I can't remember) of live tracks from the period shows that he didn't choose to play it live very often whereas he did continue to play 'Baby Let's Play House' regularly throughout 1956 and of course on his second national TV appearance. Now this suggests to me that 'Baby Let's Play House' was either his favoured non-RCA song of the time or the one he thought an audience would rather hear.
Any views?

Re: Mystery Train

Sun Dec 16, 2012 11:53 pm

MayDayMalone wrote:First post but long time lurker amazed at folks knowledge and virtual academic dissection of all things Elvis. Love paying this site a visit every day.

Depending on my mood, Mystery Train is either at the top or very near the top of my favourite songs of all time. I appreciate that everyone's first exposure to the song was from a different decade and, due to my age, mine was in the 1980s when it was already deemed a classic Sun track. If I had one Elvis wish it would be for a live 1955/56 live recording to surface.
So what I am wondering out loud is how highly did Elvis himself rate the song in 1955/56 when it was new?
I ask because an admittedly brief look at I think Keith Flynn's website (or a link from the site, I can't remember) of live tracks from the period shows that he didn't choose to play it live very often whereas he did continue to play 'Baby Let's Play House' regularly throughout 1956 and of course on his second national TV appearance. Now this suggests to me that 'Baby Let's Play House' was either his favoured non-RCA song of the time or the one he thought an audience would rather hear.
Any views?


First of all, nice to read your post!

"Mystery Train" remains one of Elvis' ten greatest recordings, and it will outlive all of us! It is one of those records where you wonder, "Where did THAT come from?"

As for your post, I'm sure Elvis liked "Mystery Train" at the time of release, and dutifully played it at every show, as he did with each new single. That said, fans don't have a ton of data for what he played between August 1955 (when Sun 223 was issued) and January 1956 (when RCA 6420 came out); the site you reference posts speculation as much as fact, so one cannot determine if "Mystery Train" fell out of favor in concert. What we do know is the other side of the single, "I Forgot to Remember to Forget," did much better on the charts, hitting Billboard US Country #1 in February 1956. So "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" is almost certainly a concert mainstay in the period, although Elvis did not play it on CBS-TV's "Stage Show" either. We also know that "Mystery Train" was filmed as part of his set in Cleveland in October 1955, although the footage remains "lost."

It remains interesting that, on the other hand, "Baby Let's Play House" was one of two Sun recordings that Elvis did introduce on network TV (the other being a cover of Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes") before he introduced anything from RCA. It seems clear that Elvis chose to give America the songs that were really getting attention in concert, and that meant covers of Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Carl Perkins and Little Richard, along with his Sun cover of Arthur Gunter's recent R&B hit. And perhaps he was asserting himself in front of the RCA executives who felt Steve Sholes signed the "wrong guy" from Sun. He'd play his RCA debut when he was good and ready.

Ironically, "Mystery Train" is one of the last of the original ten Sun sides that fans still do not have in a live recording from the '50s ("Milkcow Blues Boogie" is the other). Boy, would I love to hear one before I am no longer here.

And, of course, when Presley returned to formal stage appearances on July 31, 1969, "Mystery Train" was in the set. Elvis performed it in concerts thereafter through to 1977, save 1974.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 12:16 am

Well stated, Doc. No question Elvis "listened to his audience" and wanting to succeed in early '56, he used what worked in concert. It was not a time to play it safe.

MT

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 12:19 am

MayDayMalone wrote:Any views?


At the acclaimed UK Cambridge Folk Festival this year, Elvis' Mystery Train was played over the PA to several thousand people and sounded fantastic. It's also one of the guitar parts Scotty Moore was still able to replicate right up to his retirement. To hear it played live, was glorious.

As great as Mystery Train is, I've always thought it took an unfair front seat to Milk-cow and Good Rockin', which to me are superior Sun sides. I'm not saying Mystery Train is over-rated, I just think Good Rockin', and certainly Milk-cow, are underrated in comparison.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 12:31 am

Bill Tanner wrote:
MayDayMalone wrote:Any views?


At the acclaimed UK Cambridge Folk Festival this year, Elvis' Mystery Train was played over the PA to several thousand people and sounded fantastic. It's also one of the guitar parts Scotty Moore was still able to replicate right up to his retirement. To hear it played live, was glorious.

As great as Mystery Train is, I've always thought it took an unfair front seat to Milk-cow and Good Rockin', which to me are superior Sun sides. I'm not saying Mystery Train is over-rated, I just think Good Rockin', and certainly Milk-cow, are underrated.


I agree with that last sentence there.

"Milkcow Blues Boogie" is one of the true underrated gems in the Elvis catalogue. It's just about one of the finest early Rock / R&B recordings, so original, so cool, so unlike anything else I've ever heard.

Like many things when listing favourite Elvis songs/performances, my mind can change on any given day or mood, but "Milkcow Blues Boogie" is always right up there.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 1:22 am

Good Time Charlie wrote:Like many things when listing favourite Elvis songs/performances, my mind can change on any given day or mood, but "Milkcow Blues Boogie" is always right up there.


You are a man of taste.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 1:59 am

Bill Tanner wrote:As great as Mystery Train is, I've always thought it took an unfair front seat to Milk-cow and Good Rockin', which to me are superior Sun sides. I'm not saying Mystery Train is over-rated, I just think Good Rockin', and certainly Milk-cow, are underrated in comparison.


"Mystery Train" deserves every accolade it has ever received.

All the Sun sides have their merits, and certainly "Good Rockin' Tonight" is THE template for the rockabilly genre, but neither "Milkcow Blues Boogie" nor "Good Rockin' Tonight" may be called otherworldly. And, in fact, any such comparisons are futile. Elvis, Scotty and Bill, with the Sam behind the board, take "Mystery Train" to a whole nother level.

This is what I meant by the 1955 Sun recording outliving us all.

It's like "Rocket 88" or "Earth Angel," or "Johnny B. Goode," or "A Change Is Gonna Come," or "Gimme Shelter," or "Like A Rolling Stone," or "Strawberry Fields Forever," or "What's Going On," or "Every Breath You Take," or "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or "Lose Yourself."

It stands alone in the canon.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 2:34 am

[quote="drjohncarpenter
Elvis performed it (Mystery Train) in concerts thereafter through to 1977, save 1974.[/quote]

Oh, really...?


Sincerely MB280E

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 5:00 pm

Many thanks for the replies folks.

I'm a scientist by trade so I am particularly drawn to referenced, evidence-based opinions, threads and posts (so thank's Doc for your original reply) so in the absence of any contemporary quotes I thought a play count would be a reliable illustration of its popularity - if Mystery Train went down a storm in concerts post-August 1955 and was regarded as highly back then that it is now, it would have either been sung as well as, or instead of, Baby Lets Play House throughout 1956


drjohncarpenter wrote:It remains interesting that, on the other hand, "Baby Let's Play House" was one of two Sun recordings that Elvis did introduce on network TV (the other being a cover of Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes") before he introduced anything from RCA. It seems clear that Elvis chose to give America the songs that were really getting attention in concert, and that meant covers of Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Carl Perkins and Little Richard, along with his Sun cover of Arthur Gunter's recent R&B hit. And perhaps he was asserting himself in front of the RCA executives who felt Steve Sholes signed the "wrong guy" from Sun. He'd play his RCA debut when he was good and ready.


MysteryTrain wrote:Well stated, Doc. No question Elvis "listened to his audience" and wanting to succeed in early '56, he used what worked in concert.

MT


So yes to the above
I suppose this suggests 'Mystery Train' wasn't as great a contemporary crowd-pleaser as 'Baby Let's Play House' was and its elevation to greatness is retrospective.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 5:11 pm

drjohncarpenter wrote: And, of course, when Presley returned to formal stage appearances on July 31, 1969, "Mystery Train" was in the set. Elvis performed it in concerts thereafter through to 1977, save 1974.


’Mystery Train’/ ‘Tiger Man’ was performed in 1974. I have been reliably informed that he sang it in Murfreesboro, TN on March 19, 1974 and that the existing soundboard captured only part of this performance.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 5:14 pm

Paul Simon has called this the greatest rock & roll song ever recorded. I tend to agree. Elvis was never more perfect.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 8:38 pm

Doc, you state this is one of Elvis' 10 greatest recordings. I would probably agree, but I would have to think a long time to come up with a list of his 10 greatest recordings. Wow! That could be a multi page thread here.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 9:34 pm

MB280E wrote:
drjohncarpenter wrote:Elvis performed it (Mystery Train) in concerts thereafter through to 1977, save 1974.


Oh, really...?


Yes, really...!

To address -- briefly -- your side-issue, inconsequential comment:
Until a tape surfaces with a 1974 performance of "Mystery Train," the statement holds.

Thank you.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 9:42 pm

stevelecher wrote:Doc, you state this is one of Elvis' 10 greatest recordings. I would probably agree, but I would have to think a long time to come up with a list of his 10 greatest recordings. Wow! That could be a multi page thread here.


Well, when I set a parameter for a savvy, definitive, representative 2 CD collection of Elvis' entire career, it took me days of head-scratching, list-revising and more than a week to come up with the final track list.

Elvis - At Your Request
http://www.elvis-collectors.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=38553

And it did indeed inspire a multi-page thread.

P.S. There is no way "Mystery Train" is not in the top ten greatest Elvis Presley recordings.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 9:46 pm

Wouldn't the song have been a little harder to perform live than the other 50s tracks.

When Elvis performed the song in the 1970s he did it in a medley with ''Tiger man'' and it always sounded different than the original studio version.

It might not have come out the way Elvis wanted when he performed it on stage in the 1950s and thus he seldom performed it live.

That and for all the praise it has gotten it was never really a hit record.

I imagine once Elvis became popular there was a lot more requests to sing ''Hound dog'', ''Don't be cruel'', and ''Love me tender'' than ''Mystery train''.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 9:59 pm

I think like everyone else around him Elvis probably liked the song during the 1950s.

Just like during interviews during that time he would say he liked ''Don't be cruel'' and other 50s tracks but as he grew older he wanted to make more contemporary sounding records and so he held his early material with less regard.

His comments at the 1970 Houston Astrodome indicate this.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 10:38 pm

drjohncarpenter wrote:
stevelecher wrote:Doc, you state this is one of Elvis' 10 greatest recordings. I would probably agree, but I would have to think a long time to come up with a list of his 10 greatest recordings. Wow! That could be a multi page thread here.


Well, when I set a parameter for a savvy, definitive, representative 2 CD collection of Elvis' entire career, it took me days of head-scratching, list-revising and more than a week to come up with the final track list.

Elvis - At Your Request
http://www.elvis-collectors.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=38553

And it did indeed inspire a multi-page thread.

P.S. There is no way "Mystery Train" is not in the top ten greatest Elvis Presley recordings.

Mystery Train is indeed there but whittlng your list down from 57 to 10 might be impossible.

Re: Mystery Train

Mon Dec 17, 2012 10:58 pm

Although fans and critics overwhelmingly prefer "Mystery Train" today, in 1955/1956 "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" was the popular side, and the most popular Elvis performance to that point. Although, "Mystery Train" had its admirers. Doc Pomus recalled hearing it in a bar in NYC in the 1950s and recognizing the kindred spirit in Elvis.

Re: Mystery Train

Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:00 am

brian wrote:Wouldn't the song have been a little harder to perform live than the other 50s tracks.

When Elvis performed the song in the 1970s he did it in a medley with ''Tiger man'' and it always sounded different than the original studio version.


It sounded different because Elvis did not arrange it to sound like the original single. The song itself could be well performed as recorded, on stage in 1955 or 1975. But that choice always fell to Elvis. Someday, we may know what a live version sounded like in 1955.

brian wrote:... and for all the praise it has gotten it was never really a hit record.


"Mystery Train" was indeed a hit record, both on its own regionally (especially in Richmond) and nationally (see below). But when the focus and radio play skewed towards "I Forgot to Remember to Forget," so did the emphasis in the chart listings.


Billboard Sep 17 1955 p54.JPG
Billboard, September 17, 1955
Note: chart debut for "Mystery Train," Billboard US Country #14, under "Best Sellers In Stores"
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.

Re: Mystery Train

Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:02 am

stevelecher wrote:
drjohncarpenter wrote:
stevelecher wrote:Doc, you state this is one of Elvis' 10 greatest recordings. I would probably agree, but I would have to think a long time to come up with a list of his 10 greatest recordings. Wow! That could be a multi page thread here.


Well, when I set a parameter for a savvy, definitive, representative 2 CD collection of Elvis' entire career, it took me days of head-scratching, list-revising and more than a week to come up with the final track list.

Elvis - At Your Request
http://www.elvis-collectors.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=38553

And it did indeed inspire a multi-page thread.

P.S. There is no way "Mystery Train" is not in the top ten greatest Elvis Presley recordings.


Mystery Train is indeed there but whittlng your list down from 57 to 10 might be impossible.


Oh, it's not impossible. ;-)

Re: Mystery Train

Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:38 am

Inspired by MayDayMalone's topic, look what I found:

A Mysterious "Mystery Train" --> Like A Turtle Pokin' Out!
http://www.elvis-collectors.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=74020


Enjoy!

Re: Mystery Train

Tue Dec 18, 2012 9:32 am

Definitely in my Top 10 of Elvis' musical library................................it's haunting and pure basic rock & roll!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This one lifts my spirits everytime I hear it!!!!!!! A 10!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Re: Mystery Train

Tue Dec 18, 2012 2:58 pm

Mystery Train is most definatly in my top 10, along with Baby,Lets play House. Mystery Train was a single in its own right in the UK backed by Love Me, HMV POP 295. It was released in February 1957, but had already appeared on the first LP HMV CLP 1096 ELVIS PRESLEY(ROCK'N'ROLL) released in (the UK ) in October 1956. I was the proud owner of an original 78rpm single, which has since been broken. A true classic that sounded so fresh when first released over here, the sound of which we had never heard before.

Re: Mystery Train

Tue Dec 18, 2012 3:03 pm

Mystery Train is Elvis' most "professionally" sounding cut of all the Sun sides vocally and musically.

Re: Mystery Train

Tue Dec 18, 2012 3:19 pm

Although I like Mystery Train, I get a better Buzz from the 1969/1970 Mystery Train/Tigerman versions that ramp it up, I just love the 100 mile an hour versions...