Sunday, June 28, 2015

Track of the Week: Elvis Presley "Promised Land"

I am on the road right now, my family and I taking an extended road trip out to my home state of Nebraska, with several stops in between to visit friends and family and to see new things.  There is little I love more than a road trip, and I have a few songs that always find their way onto the playlists I make for my trips.

Elvis Presley's cover of Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" is one of them.  It's a song written while Berry was in prison on a Mann Act charge, describing a journey from Norfolk, Virginia, to Los Angeles, with stops in Birmingham, New Orleans, and Houston.  Berry is one of the great American exponents of the open road, and this song is especially poignant considering his yearning for the freedom of travel while behind bars.  Berry's version very much fits with his usual tried and true formula and is one of the better executed examples.

Elvis, of course, never wrote his own songs, but was masterful at interpreting other people's songs, with "Promised Land" no exception.  The song came out in 1974, and the album of the same title in 1975, perhaps the last really good one that Presley made before his death in 1977.  Elvis' version is updated for the 1970s with a funky feel and wah-wah guitar effects.  The studio musicians, recording at the great Stax studios really give it their all as they drive it on home.  Elvis also bends the words in interesting ways, I can never get over his clipped drawl when pronouncing "Los Angeles."  In Presley's version, the "poor boy" of the song is calling home to Virginia with some swagger.

I used to think of Elvis in his white jumpsuit years as a complete joke, turns out I was wrong.  The man sounds like he's having a blast with good material and crack musicians, it's a shame that he spent so many prime years of his career churning out godawful film soundtracks full of tunes written by low rent hacks.  Even in the mid-70s, when his powers had dimmed, he was still capable of something like this.  I'll be sure to put it on tomorrow as we drive over the Appalachians.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love this song, too. It was Elvis' last top-14 hit. Too bad it is rarely played on oldies radio today. Being an Elvis fan means often having to sort through a lot of crap to find the good stuff, especially after he returned from the Army, but he made quality music on occasion right up until his death.

It's just too bad he was not very engaged at picking material by the 1970s and punishing agreements that made often songwriters give up half of their royalties to get Elvis record their song severely limited his exposure to high-quality material.

I am surprised Berry even allowed Elvis to record this. He must have been able to avoid the royalty split.