Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Poor Boy On The Line














"I left my home in Norfolk Virginia, California on my mind,
straddled that Greyhound, rode him past Raleigh, on across Caroline...."

The Promised Land, or: let´s hear it for a classic song about the American dream. It was written in ´65 by the mighty Chuck Berry, and his recording of course features that trademark guitar you can do the duckwalk to. In the tradition of Bobby Troup´s Route 66 or James Brown´s Night Train, the clever lyrics mention a load of cities as stopovers on the way to the promised land: sunny California. A cynic might call this Chuck-by-numbers, and it sure is no Maybelline, but it definitely beats My Ding-A-Ling.

"Straight off I bought me a through train ticket, ridin' cross Mississippi clean,
and I was on that midnight flyer out of Birmingham, smokin´ into New Orleans...."

Johnnie Allan released his cajun-flavored version in ´71, dropping Chuck´s the in the process. The rather obscure Allan, who nevertheless managed to aquire the title ´ambassador of swamp pop´ somewhere down the line, recognized the potential of Chuck´s ditty and boy did he do a great job with it. By trading in the guitar solos for a juicy accordeon, he made the song his own. Commercially, it didn´t do a lot at first, but re-released in ´74 it was a surprisingly big hit in the UK.












"Somebody help me get out of Louisiana, just to help me get to Houston Town,
there are people there who care a little about me, and they won't let the poor boy down..."

The much better known Elvis version stems from ´74, and managed to climb to number 14 in the American hit parade. It´s easy to see why, as the Memphis Flash sings it with conviction, which didn´t happen very often in this stage of his career. Compared to Allan´s interpretation though, Elvis simply doesn´t stand a chance. Should have kept that accordeon, big guy...













"Swing low sweet chariot, come down easy, taxi to the terminal gate...
cut your engines and cool your wings, and let me make it to the telephone."

Over the years, Promised Land has been covered by The Band, James Taylor, The Grateful Dead, Meatloaf and Dave Edmunds, to name but a few. Springsteen didn´t, he wrote his own Promised Land. But no matter how many heavyweights have interpreted it, and no matter how many more will in the future, for me Johnnie Allan´s version will always remain the one and only.

"Tell the folks back home this is the promised land calling...
poor boy´s on the line."

Johnnie Allan - Promised Land MP3
Chuck Berry - The Promised Land MP3
Elvis Presley - Promised Land MP3

10 comments:

Nazz Nomad said...

thought the Johnny Allan version was going to be a joke (based on the accordion)... but it's pretty good.
But I'll stick with the Chuck Berry version!

Ramone666 said...

Prejudiced against accordeons Nazz?

Steve said...

Johnnie Allan is still around. Here's a review of an album from late 2008.

Ramone666 said...

Thanks Steve, I didn´t know. Good to hear he´s still active, and wouldn´t it be great if he somehow found out about this post...

Matty D said...

Brilliant post. Just found your site through Setting the Woods on Fire & I love it. Thanks for the great work.

Matty - THEDEMELLOTHEORY.WORDPRESS.COM

ib said...

Great song. As much as I love Chuck's original and Elvis's cover, my favoured nugget is Johnnie Allan's; a dollop of Cajun refried crayfish I featured a while back myself. Hard to beat.

LD said...

Man, what a great song. One of my faves, I never get tired of it. I should find a version by The Gourds and send it to you. Theirs is a sweet combo of Johnnie Allan and Elvis.

As for the travelogue element of the song, I think that was Chuck's calling card. He does it on Sweet Little Sixteen and Back In The USA, but so many of his songs were about traveling, driving, cruising, and being on the go.

Ramone666 said...

Love to hear the Gourds´ version Lance.

TheLandYachtAustin1 said...

Recently came across an (apparently home-made) dvd I got from Germany that has Johnny Allen doin this version live on what appears to be a country version of the old "Variety Hour" format shows from the 70's. Also on the dvd, from the same show looks like, a VERY young Crystal Gayle, Oak Ridge Boys with muttonchop sideburns, and a bunch of other cools stuff.

xavier said...

The Promised Land is a classic album but that's really good I get excellent sensations when I hear it, actually I'm gonna get this album through cialis online.m10m