Story of the song

Mystery Train by Little Junior Parker

From The Independent archive: Robert Webb on ‘Mystery Train’ by Little Junior Parker

Friday 23 July 2021 21:30
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<p>Elvis’s inspiration: Little Junior Parker</p>

Elvis’s inspiration: Little Junior Parker

This was the song that brought Elvis Presley to Sun records, his first label. In 1953, Elvis was a driver for the Memphis Crown Electric Company, delivering appliances and listening to a local man, Herman “Little Junior” Parker, on the truck’s radio. “Mystery Train” was Parker’s current R&B hit. The spectral, hypnotic song, built around a steady, loping rhythm, actually sounds like a steam train: 16 funereal-black coaches carrying his baby off, as Parker says.

Written by Parker, with Sun's president Sam Phillips, it was the first major hit for the label.

“It was a feeling song,” Phillips said. “I mean, it was a big thing, to put a loved one on a train: are they leaving you for ever? Maybe they'll never be back.”

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