What did Elvis do in the Big Easy?

Elvis’s Forgotten Classic

elvis (1)

Somewhere it is written that I must go to my grave attempting to turn all my vinyl into MP3 tracks and this week’s instalment of the job was a four-album RCA collection called Elvis: A Legendary Performer.

It s release in 1978 was, I believe , the first public airing of one of Elvis’s greatest tracks – his original recording, in 1957, of One Night Of Sin.

A sanitised version, recorded a month later was released, in 1958 as One Night With You (Is What I’m Praying For). The original is a much darker agonised blues, ending with a murmur of approval from the band. The words are bleak …

One night of sin/Is what I’m now paying for/ The things I did and I saw/Would make the earth stand still/Don’t call my name/It makes me feel so ashamed/I lost my sweet helping hand/I got myself to blame/


Since the internet got going, there has been much discussion of what the lyrics were supposed to imply. But the point of the song is that you fill in your own blanks to understand its lament for lost hillbilly innocence – country boy goes to the city and gets involved, through naivety, in something which cost him his sweetheart, or possibly even his God …

Always lived, very quiet life/Ain’t never did no wrong/But now I know that very quiet life/Has cost me nothing but harm/

You can hear it on YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/9t8n9rs/ although that recording cuts off the band reaction. It was released as a single in 2005 and Amazon offers MP3 versions.

Also on YouTube – http://tinyurl.com/9a7k2mv – is a version with the original lyrics which was released, but not much noticed, in 1955, by Smiley Lewis, a black singer based in New Orleans. Lead name on the writing team was Dave Bartholomew, a regular collaborator with Fats Domino and an entrepreneur of the New Orleans scene in general, and The Big Easy would be a good guess for the location of the sins in question. Smiley Lewis sang it a bit too laconically. Elvis empathised better with the idea of innocence corrupted and that put the real blues into his version.

One of Dave Bartholomew ‘s co-writers is listed as Pearl King, who was actually Earl King, another New Orleans musician, who wrote for Professor Longhair and Lee Dorsey, according to Wikipedia. A third hand in the composition was Anita Steiman, about whom I can find nothing.

The notes issued with my RCA vinyl suggest Elvis rewrote the song because he did not want to release One Night Of Sin but the decision to bowdlerise smacks of Colonel Tom Parker. Elvis liked the original enough to work snatches of it, at least, into live performances, and his penchant for messing about with lyrics produced one mix-up of versions which had him praying for a night of sin.

Leeds’s own Corinne Bailey Rae is among those who have also recorded versions of One Night Of Sin and there is a nice clip on YouTube of her taking it back to New Orleans – http://tinyurl.com/8jr85t5/
But I’ve yet to hear anything quite as good as my vinyl recording of the full studio out-take of Elvis hitting it for the first time.


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