The Prosody of Mystery in “Mystery Train”

Sun Studio, 2016 Sun Studios, where Elvis Presley recorded "Mystery Train" in 1955. Photo by Kate Cauthen. Okay, so who still cares about the young Elvis and his Memphis-based Sun Records recordings. And why does Elvis’ “Mystery Train” still feel like a mystery to be unraveled, fresh on every listening. Have you heard it recently. C’mon, download it and check it out. Then come back. [Editor's note: The song was written by Junior Parker, who released his own recorded version of the song via Sun Records in 1953.] So. Did you try to count it out. Go back and simply tap out the downbeats. See how you do. I’ll wait. It can be a little confusing. Simplify it a bit. Forget the intro and start counting downbeats one beat before Elvis comes in with “train arrive.” It’s a pretty brisk tempo. How many bars do you count before he starts line 2. Right. Ten bars: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 | / / / / | / / / / | / / / /| / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | Train ar-ri--------------ive sixteen coaches long Then another ten bars: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 | / / / / | / / / / | / / / /| / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | Train ar-ri--------------ive sixteen coaches long Pretty neat. It throws you off balance, both the ambiguous entry (did you expect it there.) and the unusual ten bar phrase. Maybe, um, mysterious, eh. But made even more mysterious because of the introduction. Now count it. I’ll wait. Yup, six bars, but with a wrinkle. The first downbeat is pretty foggy, with the guitar starting in the half bar and playing its figure on & 3 &, making it even harder to find the... Sign In to Keep Reading

To view this content,

Join Today

or Sign In

The Benefits of Membership:

  • Limited-time FREE Feature Magazine Content
  • Exclusive access to members-only contests and giveaways
Click to Join

We've started a free American Songwriter membership. Click here to learn more.