Sunday, December 5, 2010

Simple Twist of Fate

What I would like long distance information to give me is the name of the song: According to the Chess box set I have, it's called "Memphis, Tennessee," but some Chuck Berry sets give the title as "Memphis." Johnny Rivers' 1964 version was called "Memphis," although Billboard notes that it was "first recorded by Chuck Berry in 1959 as 'Memphis, Tennessee.'" When Elvis Presley recorded it, he called it "Memphis, Tennessee." I have three different versions of this song on my iTunes, and iTunes styles it differently for each one: Chuck Berry's is given as "Memphis Tennessee [no comma]," Johnny Rivers' as "Memphis," and the Beatles' (from The Beatles at the BBC) as "Memphis, Tennessee."

Of course, no one would care if it weren't such a great song. What really cinches it is the twist ending: The lyrics are strong and detailed all the way through, but the last two lines completely recast their meaning. They make you want to go back and listen to the song over again, and isn't that really the aim of every pop song?

It got me thinking about other songs that have a twist ending, of which there aren't that many. There are plenty of songs where the twist comes in at the chorus, like the Temptations' "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)." But how many drop the hammer at the end? Jim Stafford's "My Girl Bill" does that, as well as, arguably, "We Gotta Got You a Woman" by Todd Rundgren's Runt. More than that I cannot add.

But I'm sure I'm missing some. Any others?


  1. The oft-covered bluegrass and country song "Bringing Mary Home" has a twist ending, but the story is such a cliche it's hard to imagine the twist actually surprising anyone.

    "Lola," perhaps. Again, you'd have to be somewhat clueless not to see it coming.

  2. Is "Bringing Mary Home" the same song as "Green Green Grass of Home," which I should have thought of in the first place?

  3. No, Bringing Mary Home is one of those ghost story things. Feller picks up a pale hitchhiker, brings her to her home but when he gets there... SHE'S GONE! And her parents say she DIED 13 years ago on this very same day. Oooh!

  4. Does "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" work? That's not exactly at the very end.

  5. SPOILER ALERT: "little sister don't miss when she aims her gun."

    "I've found a driver and that's a start."

    "Then I felt just like a fiend. It wasn't even close to Halloween!"

    "'Peace on Earth' is all it said."

    "I was that soldier."

  6. Ach! I thought about "Drive My Car" when I was formulating this post, then forgot to include it. And you'd think if anyone was going to mention "One Tin Soldier," it was going to be me.

  7. man, it seems like the bigger the twist, the more depressing the song is. I'm not even going to quote "Blind Man in the Bleachers" or "I Can Never Go Home Anymore"! Yeesh!

    70s AM radio had to be the peak for these things, right? (I'm trying to remember the plot of "Indiana Wants Me"...anything good happen at the end?) I blame Rupert Holmes.

  8. this twist ending even announces: "And here's the twist!"

  9. I remain convinced that "Drive My Car" is based on Chuck Berry's "I Wanna Be Your Driver," which also uses a car metaphor to talk about getting laid, but is much more filthy: "I wanna be your driver / I would love to ride you, I would love to ride you around / We'll be ready when you want me / To drive you on downtown."

  10. Rob for the win.

    How about "Thin Line Between Love and Hate"?

  11. more spoilers keep coming to mind...blame the Sirus "70s on 7" station.

    "It just so happens I'm free tonight. Would you like to have dinner with me?"

    "Won't you save your kisses for me...although you're only three?"

    "I heard she threw that letter away."

    "Then the door burst open wide, and my daddy walked inside, and he kissed my mama's face, and he brushed her tears away."

    "Dark Lady would never turn a card up anymore."