We were already in doubt to skip this subject, because either nobody seemed to be interested or everybody was too shy to jump in. Fortunately Shaun Mather from Wales decided to give some input, resulting in two great reviews of covers. Shaun is co-webmaster himself of a great Rockabilly-page, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Hopefully others will follow this good example!
Little Junior's Blue Flames - Sun 192
Elvis Presley - Sun 223
Little Junior & Elvis, Dec. 1957
With a body of work like Elvis' it not an easy task to decide which tracks to choose. I've therefore decided to keep my choices pretty much within the Memphis city limits sign, with one notable exception. Not being a songwriter, Elvis had to rely on the work of others. By the time he'd joined RCA, writers were clambering to get him to cut their best material, but prior to this, during his tenure at Sun Records, the majority of his records were reworkings of songs he'd heard on the radio in Lauderdale Courts or whilst driving his Crown Electric truck.
One song he definitely would have heard on James Tiplers' time was Little Junior Parker's Mystery Train. Cut the year before Elvis's first release, it was penned by Parker and label owner Sam Phillips. The sound of the train is recreated with a loping, shuffle beat and enhanced further by Raymond Hill's sax, playing train whistles. The vocals are laid back and relaxed, before Pat Hare chips in with his customary biting, fluent guitar. The hole thing is rounded off with the sixteen coacher slowing down and Parker imitating the brakes. A real r'n'b classic that would have stood the test of time regardless of whether Elvis covered it.
Elvis cut Mystery Train a year after his first single had come out and his confidence in the studio had grown considerably. The vocals are more upfront and in-yer-face than Parkers, as is the rhythm. Elvis' guitar and Bill Black's bass are lively throughout and together with Scotty they produce a sound that's rockabilly at it's purist. Scotty's embellishments throughout are a treat and his solo is his greatest ever moment. The lyrics are inconsequential here, he could be singing about anything, it's the sheer exuberance that shines through, epitomized by his impulsive holler and laugh. This song is arguably Elvis' and rockabillys' finest couple of minutes.