Elvis Presley’s “Mystery Train” Lyrics Meaning
At the center of this Elvis Presley song is in fact a “train train”. However, it is never mentioned by name. Nor is the listener enlightened to where it came from or what its destination is. Perhaps that is why in the title it is referred to as the “mystery train”, with the word mystery itself never being mentioned in the lyrics. But more to the point than any of the above isn’t the name or route of this locomotive but rather what it represents.
You see, the mystery train is a representation of a specific juncture in time in the singer’s relationship with his significant other. Or perhaps we can classify it as a poetic timeline of what the two of them have been through.
In the first verse, we see that this locomotive came, took the vocalist’s girlfriend and bounced. That would obviously be symbolic of a period of time in which – for whatever unspecified reason – the two of them were separated. And we’re also able to ascertain that said separation greatly perturbed the singer.
So the second verse centers on the narrator anxiously waiting for the mystery train to bring his lady back to him. And upon her returning, he has vowed never to let it separate the two of them again. So as alluded to earlier, the main point of this song is for the singer to let the world know that he has no intention of being apart from his “baby” ever again.
And that’s pretty much all there is to it. To some listeners, the reference to “sixteen coaches” may sound as if it is symbolic of has some type of deep meaning. However, this track is largely based on a traditional song called “Worried Man Blues”. And with said tune indeed being a folk song, if the author(s) did mean the “16 coaches long” to be a metaphorical (which apparently they didn’t), then what exactly it does symbolize has likely been lost in time.
Did Elvis Presley write “Mystery Train”?
No. The primary writer of this song is recognized as one Junior Parker (1932-1971), an artist who specialized in a genre called Memphis blues. In fact it was in such a manner that he originally recorded “Mystery Train” in 1953. And it is considered to be the signature song of this Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame career.
And the other writer of the song is Sam Phillips (1923-2003). Sam was someone who worked extensively with Elvis (as well as other greats, being the founder of Sun Records, a revolutionary music label). But in terms of this particular tune, he served primarily as the producer of Presley’s cover as well as Parker’s original.
Elvis’ Version of “Mystery Train”
Elvis’s version was recorded in another long-defunct musical genre known rockabilly. And Sam Phillips was able to imbue his rendition with what is referred to as a “slapback echo delay”. This is basically an early form of echoing – by using two different devices to record it.
“Mystery Train” is based on a folk song entitled “Worried Man Blues”. More specifically, it was the Carter Family’s 1930 rendition of said tune that served as the basis. And if you’ve never heard of them, the Carter Family were actually an early-20th century music act who, according to Wikipedia, “had a profound impact” on a number of different musical genres. Moreover, as far as “Worried Man Blues” goes, since it is in fact a folk song its original authorship has been attributed to traditional (i.e. unidentifiable) sources.
When did Elvis Presley release “Mystery Train”?
Elvis’ version of “Mystery Train” came out on 20 August 1955 via the first label he was signed to, Sun Records (as was Junior Parker’s original). It was actually the B-side to another Elvis track released that year entitled “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”.And whereas the latter experienced more-notable chart success, “Mystery Train” was still considered to be the 77th ‘Greatest Song of All-Time’ by Rolling Stone in 2003.
Indeed those intimately familiar with Elvis’s career consider this track to be the King of Rock and Roll’s “best-known song that was never a hit”, as well as the tune which “helped to establish Presley as a country star”.
“Mystery Train”, along with “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”, did reach number 10 on Billboard’s Country & Western chart.
Later in 1955 Elvis Presley (1932-1977) signed with RCA Victor (aka RCA Records), a label that had national reach. And this song was re-released under RCA, that time around peaking at number 11 on the Billboard Country Chart.
This song has also been covered by the likes of The Doors, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen. And even during the same year that Elvis’s version came out, RCA Records enlisted a group called the Turtles to also lay down another cover.
Who plays guitar on Elvis’ “Mystery Train”?
The lead guitarist on Elvis’s version was Scotty Moore (1931-2016) and the bassist Bill Black (1926-1956). And Moore is said to have derived the riff he used from another Junior Parker song entitled “Love My Baby” (1953).