In Bruce Springsteen’s recent interview for Desert Island Discs he tells interviewer Kirsty Young how the E-Street band’s snare drum sound was based on the snare sound on Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’. If you compare the snare drums on ‘Hungry Heart’ and ‘Hound Dog’ you discover he isn’t being disingenuous.
Elvis Presley – Mystery Train
Scotty Moore died this week. I’m choosing ‘Mystery Train’ to mark it because I feel those early Sun recording he made with Elvis Presley, Bill Black and Sam Phillips in the summer of 1954 are beginnings (and some endings too I guess) for Elvis, for Scotty, for music, for popular culture in general. It is Greil Marcus who summons this up and articulates it so well in his book Mystery Train, in the chapter Elvis: Presliad (which if you haven’t read already I really recommend you do).
Marcus writes specifically of the recording of ‘Mystery Train’. How Scotty ‘as he always did, lives up to Elvis’s passion […] gives us one hard solo, which seems to hang the song between what it has always been and what Elvis is making of it”. I love this description as it recognises that – if ever it was in doubt – these songs needed Scotty Moore; that the history that came after was dependent not just on Elvis, but an introduction, and then three young men, strangers really, getting into a room and struggling, and then succeeding, to create some music; music, which for them, the very creation of was success enough, never mind what we all know came next.
Cowboy Junkies – Blue Moon Revisited (A Song For Elvis)
Those already familiar with ‘Blue Moon’, written by Rodgers and Hart in the 1930s, most likely came to know it, as I did, through Elvis’s version. But if I’m being honest all I could remember of ‘Blue Moon’ was its chorus. Now a chorus can get you to forgive a lot in a song, but it can also prove to be so effective it overrides the rest in the memory. I thought this was what had happened to me. But on listening back to Elvis’s version I was struck, not by just how very odd it sounds, but to find that apart from some falsetto the chorus is all there is. And if it is all there is, is it right to call it a chorus?
The Cowboy Junkies interpretation of ‘Blue Moon’ uses the listener’s expectation of this chorus (for want of a better word). The guitar initially hides behind a descending bass line, as Margo Timmins hopes “pehaps…my baby walks back into my arms”, until it finally emerges to pick out a familiar melody. This is followed by Timmins’s voice as a crystal clear cold lake in which the chorus descends. And you realise this is what you’ve been waiting for. Then it’s gone; the song’s images slowly enveloping in on themselves, leaving you where you were in the beginning, listening to Timmins’s quiet unresolved hope.