Peggy Day (1969) part 5: What more can I say

Peggy Day (1969) part 5 (final)

by Jochen Markhorst

V          What more can I say

A talent for self-mockery he had as well, Elvis. On the bootleg I Sing All Kinds – The Nashville Sessions 1971, there is an incomplete take of “Johnny B. Goode”. When the final chord is fading away, Elvis suddenly starts again, now at half speed: “I said… Johnny…”. Obediently, the obliging band picks it up right away, The King bursts into laughter and waves it away cheerfully, with a just kidding-undertone: “No, no, no, no”. It is clear that the band has been conditioned to an “Elvis ending”. Like the rest of the rock-loving world since 1956, for that matter.

It is the third track on Side 1 of the 1956 comet impact, the Elvis Presley album, the first rock and roll record to reach the top spot on Billboard, and the first rock and roll record to sell more than a million copies. The historical monument opens with “Blue Suede Shoes”, followed by “I’m Counting On You”, and then: “I Got A Woman”.

Thanks to the moving “Bucklen tape”, the earliest-known tape of Bob Dylan, recorded when he was around sixteen, we know that as a schoolboy Dylan was already starting to build his inner music encyclopaedia. In between rumbling through songs like “Jenny Take A Ride” and “Blue Moon”, we hear young Robert Zimmerman chatting with his buddy John Bucklen;

Zimmerman: You know they get all their songs, they get all their songs from little groups. They copy all the little groups. Same thing with Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley, who did he copy? He copied Clyde McPhatter, he copied Little Richard, …
Bucklen: Wait a minute, wait a minute!
Zimmerman: …he copied the Drifters
Bucklen: Wait a minute, name, name, name four songs that Elvis Presley’s copied from those, from those little groups.
Zimmerman: He copied all the Richard songs.
Bucklen: Like what?
Zimmerman: “Rip It Up”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Ready Teddy”, err … what’s the other one…
Bucklen: “Money Honey”?
Zimmerman: No, “Money Honey” he copied from Clyde McPhatter. He copied “I Was The One” – he copied that from the Coasters. He copied, ahhh, “I Got A Woman” from Ray Charles.
Bucklen: Er, listen that song was written for him.

Young Zimmerman is largely right. “I Was The One” is not a Coasters song, but everything else is right. The choice of words is debatable, though. “Copied”, in particular, is a bit harsh. “I Got A Woman” is indeed a Ray Charles song, but Elvis does more than just copy; he makes the song his own, like in fact only Sinatra can make a song his own, and he does add something: at 2’08” we hear a closing bang, the song seems finished, but at 2’09” Elvis kicks in again, at half speed, for another twelve-second coda: the first “Elvis ending” is a fact.

 

The fans call it an “I Got A Woman-ending” as well, and that may be more accurate. Elvis recorded 767 songs, and only about ten to fourteen of them (depending on your definition) have such a dramatic coda at half speed. They are, however, spread throughout his career; “Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do” in ’57 is the next one, in the ’60s in about seven songs (including in the 68 Comeback Special version of “Jailhouse Rock”), then in the ultimate kitsch “Winter Wonderland” (1971), and the last studio recording in which he applies this finale is “I Can Help” from ’75.

All in all, less than 2% of Elvis’ recordings have an “Elvis ending”, so to call it an “I Got A Woman-ending” is defensible. Moreover, “I Got A Woman” is indisputably one of the main pillars of his oeuvre. The man from Tupelo played it already in his Sun years (the recording is lost), it’s the first song he recorded for RCA, and it was on the set list right up to his very last concert (Indianapolis 26 June 1977).

It is a bit of a mystery why Dylan chooses an Elvis ending in “Peggy Day” of all places. An open application? According to Dylan, Elvis is the greatest compliment his songs can receive:

JW: Are there any particular artists that you like to see do your songs?
BD: Yeah, Elvis Presley. I liked Elvis Presley… Elvis Presley recorded a song of mine. That’s the one recording I treasure the most… It was called “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”. I wrote it but never recorded it.

 

… that’s what Dylan says in the Rolling Stone interview with Jann Wenner on 26 June 1969, four months after recording “Peggy Day”. But Dylan must have acknowledged that “Peggy Day” is not Elvis-worthy. Without being able to define exactly what an “Elvis-worthy” song is, of course – but “Peggy Day” really isn’t.

Maybe Dylan does it just to stretch the song a bit more, though. When he’s finished, when the verses, twice the bridge and a repeat of the first verse have been completed, the clock only stands at 1’40” … which would make it the shortest song in Dylan’s oeuvre. Shorter still than “Oxford Town” on The Freewheelin’, which is a mere 1’50”. With the Elvis ending from 1’41”, Dylan stretches the tune another eighteen seconds, to 1’59”, and then another 6 seconds of lead-out groove… final score 2’05”. Longer now than “Oxford Town” and ex aequo with Dylan’s second-shortest song, “The Wicked Messenger”.

Elvis, despite the enticing finale, unsurprisingly ignores the song. But Dylan’s Elvis dream still comes true again soon after: The King records “Don’t Think Twice” in March ’71, which will be released on the 1973 Elvis album. Making the song his own again, of course.

Dylan’s bow to The King is elegant. When he himself adopts a country-rock approach to his live performances of “Don’t Think Twice” in the 1990s, he is obviously reminded of his hero: he concludes the often long, drawn-out versions with an Elvis ending. Bloomington November ’96, Atlantic City November ’99, Cardiff September 2000… the Worcester ’99 version is one of the longest, by the way – Dylan stretches the song to over seven minutes with a harmonica solo, and then throws in an Elvis ending of over half a minute.

“Don’t Think Twice” has been performed more than 1100 times by Dylan. With and without an “I Got A Woman ending”. “Peggy Day” has never been performed. That girl is out of sight.

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Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:

 

 

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