|"Walking in Memphis"|
|Single by Marc Cohn|
|from the album Marc Cohn|
reissue June 24, 1991
|Marc Cohn singles chronology|
"Walking in Memphis" is a song composed and originally recorded by the American singer-songwriter Marc Cohn, for whom it remains his signature song. He has said the song is "100 percent autobiographical". He described it as a song about "a Jewish gospel-music-lover", and as
a pretty literal transcription of a visit I made ... in 1986. I went to Graceland, I heard Al Green preach the gospel, I saw W. C. Handy's statue. But the song is about more than just a place, it's about a kind of spiritual awakening, one of those trips where you're different when you leave.
It reflects on Cohn's experience as a Jew who feels the Gospel spirit of Memphis.
The last verse refers to Cohn's inspirational encounter with singer Muriel Wilkins, with whom he performed "Amazing Grace". This all culminates in the iconic lyric, " 'Tell me are you a Christian, child?' and I said, 'Ma'am, I am tonight!' " Cohn finds it funny that many listeners infer from the lyric that he is a Christian or born again. "But to me," Cohn said, "that line could have only been written by a Jew. It's such a Jewish line, and I love that."
With "Walking in Memphis," Cohn reached number 13 in 1991 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It is the only Top 40 hit for Cohn. "Walking in Memphis" has since been remade several times, notably in 1995 by Cher (number 11 UK), and in 2003 by Lonestar (number 8 C&W/ number 61 Hot 100).
Marc Cohn was inspired to write "Walking in Memphis" by a 1985 visit to the Memphis, Tennessee area: he was then based in New York City working as a session singer while pursuing a recording contract - "One night while listening to all of my demos, I came to the realization that I shouldn't be signed, because I didn't have any great songs yet. My voice was good and the demos were interesting, but the songs were only just okay. I was 28 years old and not in love with my songs. James Taylor had written 'Fire and Rain' when he was 18, and Jackson Browne wrote 'These Days' when he was only 17. I thought: 'I'm already ten years older than these geniuses. It's never going to happen for me.' So it was a pretty desperate time, and I went to Memphis with that struggle at the forefront of my mind." Cohn made his first excursion to Memphis after reading an interview with James Taylor in which Taylor stated he overcame writer's block by "go[ing] somewhere I've never been, hoping to find some idea I wouldn't get just by sitting at home": Cohn emulated Taylor, choosing Memphis as his destination - "I always knew it was a place I had to visit because so much of my favorite music came from there. From Al Green, Ann Peebles, and everything on Hi Records, to Elvis Presley, Isaac Hayes, David Porter, and the Stax catalog, an almost endless stream of brilliance and soul came out of Memphis. I was aware early on that ... there was something going on in Memphis that was utterly inexplicable. It was part of what made me want to be a musician in the first place."
Cohn recalls that on arrival in Memphis: "I did all the [expected] touristy things ... I went to Graceland, and I saw Elvis Presley's tomb and his airplanes" - (Cohn would express misgivings after, eventually referencing Presley in the lyrics of "Walking in Memphis": "To me, the song is so minimally about him, but I worry that it gets cast off as another Elvis tribute. It's a testament to the power of his name, even if you just mention it in one verse, the song becomes about him because people focus on it.") - "But a friend told me there were two things in particular that I had to do, things that would forever change me. They would later become the centerpieces of 'Walking in Memphis'. The first thing was go to the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church on a Sunday morning to hear the Reverend Al Green preach ... I [soon] had chills running up and down my spine. The service was so deeply moving that I found myself with sweat running down my face and tears in my eyes, totally enveloped by everything I was seeing and hearing. There was something incredibly powerful about Al Green's voice in that context. Even after three hours of continuous singing, his voice only got stronger and his band only got better. I sat there crying in the church, aware of the irony of how I used to cry in Synagogue in Cleveland as a kid -- but because I wanted to get the heck out of there! Al Green's service was one of the great experiences of my life."
The second advisement of his friend was that Cohn visit the Hollywood Café in Robinsonville, Mississippi, 35 miles south of Memphis, to see Muriel Davis Wilkins, a retired school teacher who performed at the cafe on Friday nights: "When I arrived, Muriel, who ... was in her 60s, was onstage playing a beat-up old upright piano and singing gospel standards ... I felt an immediate connection to her voice, her spirit, her face, and her smile. I was totally transfixed by her music. While many of the patrons were busy eating and not paying close attention to Muriel, I couldn't take my eyes off her. During her breaks, the two of us would talk. Muriel asked me why I was there, and I told her I was a songwriter trying to find inspiration. I also told her a little bit about my childhood -- how when I was two and a half years old, my mom had passed away very unexpectedly, and about ten years later, my dad had passed away and I'd been raised by a stepmother. My mother's death was a central event in my life, and I'd been writing a lot about it over the years, both in songs and in journals. I think a part of me felt stuck in time, like I'd never quite been able to work through that loss. ... By midnight, the Hollywood was still packed, and Muriel asked me to join her onstage. We soon realized that there wasn't a song in the universe that both of us knew in common. A quick thinker, Muriel started feeding me lyrics to gospel songs so that I could catch up in time to sing somewhat in rhythm with her and make up my own version of the melody. Some songs I was vaguely familiar with, and some I didn't know at all. The very last song we sang together that night was 'Amazing Grace'. After we finished and people were applauding, Muriel leaned over and whispered in my ear: 'Child, you can let go now.' It was an incredibly maternal thing for her to say to me. Just like sitting in Reverend Al Green's church, I was again transformed. It was almost as if my mother was whispering in my ear. From the time I left Memphis and went back home to New York City, I knew I had a song in me about my experience there."
Soon after returning to New York City, Cohn began constructing the melody for his Memphis song on his guitar: "I started playing an arpeggiated figure that I liked, but it didn't take long for me to realize that I couldn't play it very well on guitar. So I went to the piano, where that kind of rolling rhythm was easier for me to play. Then I added that first line to the piano riff and I was off to the races. The music for 'Walking in Memphis', except for the bridge, is really just the same thing over and over again. It's an attempt to keep things simple so that the narrative is what the listener focuses on. The story keeps changing; it goes from one scenario to another, all following the thread of my elation, described in the lyric 'Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale'. What's being expressed is my love of music and the spiritual transformation I've always felt through it. The line: 'Tell me are you a Christian child, and I said 'Ma'am I am tonight' - even in the moment I wrote it down, I knew I was getting closer to finding my songwriting voice. To this day, people still ask me if I am a Christian. While I have to admit that I enjoy the confusion the lyric brings, the thing that makes that line work is the fact that I'm a Jew. So many great artists over the years needed to hide the fact that they were Jewish to protect themselves and their families from anti-Semitism, so I'm proud of the fact that I could come right out and practically announce my religion on the first song I ever released." Cohn wrote numerous drafts before he had a set of lyrics which satisfied him: "When I finished the song, I felt like I had completed a jigsaw puzzle. I wasn't sure if it was a hit, because I was still years away from being signed to Atlantic Records. Six months later [in 1986], after I wrote many of the songs that would later comprise my album 'Marc Cohn', I went back to the Hollywood Café to play them all for Muriel. After I finished, Muriel said to me: 'You know the one where you mention me at the end? That's the best one you got!'" (Muriel Davis Wilkins, born December 6, 1923, would die October 1, 1990, five months before the release of "Walking in Memphis".)
Cohn recorded the demo for "Walking in Memphis" accompanying himself on the piano at a 1986 New York City studio session: it was on the strength of this demo that Cohn was signed to Atlantic Records in 1988. The tracks for Cohn's debut album were recorded at Quad Recording Studios (NYC) with Cohn and Ben Wisch co-producing. The recording of a finished version of "Walking in Memphis" proved problematic: Cohn recalls: "After many different versions ... with just as many different musicians I [suggested] to Peter Koepke" - the A&R exec who'd signed Cohn to Atlantic - "'Maybe this just needs to be a piano/vocal track. Or maybe it shouldn't be on the record at all.' [Koepke] replied: 'If it's not on the record, I'm not sure we're going to make a record! So you better go figure this out, because we think this just may get on the radio.'" Ben Wisch would recall: "We probably recorded ['Walking in Memphis'] five different times in different configurations..Eventually, we settled on a band that featured John Leventhal on bass, Denny McDermott on drums, and Chris Palmaro on Hammond organ. Everything was based around Marc's singing and piano playing" - Cohn played a Steinway grand piano which happened to be at the studio - "The piano sound is very in-your-face, not unlike Bruce Hornsby's sound of a few years prior."
Released as the first single from Cohn's self-titled debut album in March 1991, "Walking in Memphis" debuted at #87 on the Hot 100 in Billboard magazine dated March 30, 1991 with a subsequent two-month gradual chart ascent to the Top 40, the single's #38 ranking on the Hot 100 dated May 25, 1991 inaugurating a ten-week Top 40 tenure with a peak of #13 for two weeks, the first week of which was dated July 6, 1991 - one day after Cohn's birthday: overall "Walking in Memphis" spent 23 weeks in the Hot 100. "Walking in Memphis" was also a hit on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart (#12) and crossed-over to the magazine's C&W chart (#74).
In its original April 29, 1991, release in the British Isles, "Walking in Memphis" reached #7 in Ireland - its evident best-ever showing on a national Pop chart - while stalling at #66 UK: its September 1991 re-release returned "Walking in Memphis" to the Irish Top Twenty at #16 and introduced the single to the UK Top 30 with a peak of #22 (despite a disproportionately brief four-week tenure in the UK Top 100 singles chart). (The re-release of "Walking in Memphis" replaced the original B-side: "Dig Down Deep," with a live version of "Silver Thunderbird" recorded July 17, 1991.) "Walking in Memphis" was also a Top 20 hit in both Australia and New Zealand, with respective chart peaks of #11 and #18: in Europe, the single charted in Germany for 19 weeks with a #25 chart peak, with minor hit status achieved in France (#45), the Netherlands (#54), and Sweden (#36).
In the liner notes he wrote for the 2015 release The Very Best of Marc Cohn veteran music journalist Dave Marsh opines of "Walking in Memphis": "Its perfectly written narrative takes into account the whole history of American music, from where it begins in storefront church gospel and W.C. Handy's blues to where it shoots out into Elvis and Al Green and, at the climactic moment, Marc Cohn himself." Mary Chang of "Music in Notes" said of the song, "'Walking in Memphis' by Cleveland-born singer/songwriter Marc Cohn shows how piano can be used in a pop song as an emphatic declaration of feeling ... I'm not a religious person by any means, but there is something so stirring so powerful in the words 'She said "Tell me are you a Christian, child? and I said "Ma'am, I am tonight!"', you want to get up out of your chair and shout." Michael Waterman said of Cohn and his "one-hit wonder song" on TopOneHitWonders.com, "We still like 'Walking in Memphis' for its well-placed references to Elvis and Al Green. For that alone we give it bonus points on the one-hit-ometer."
At the 34th Grammy Awards, presented in February 1992, "Walking in Memphis" was nominated for Song of the Year, and Cohn was nominated for Best Pop Male Vocalist. Neither award was won, although Cohn did win Best New Artist.
|"Walking in Memphis"|
|Single by Cher|
|from the album It's a Man's World|
|Released||October 13, 1995|
|Cher singles chronology|
"Walking in Memphis" was remade by Cher for her twenty-second studio album It's a Man's World from which it was released as the lead single in Europe on October 16, 1995. The black-and-white music video prepared to promote the track intercut footage of Cher singing - seated in the doorway of a motor coach - with footage of an Elvis Presley-like figure - played by Cher - mostly seen walking down the streets of Memphis. The lyrics as sung by Cher reverse the gender of Muriel the pianist, the pianist being renamed Gabriel. Cher - wearing a blonde wig and dark outfit as on the single's picture sleeve - premiered "Walking in Memphis" on the Top of the Pops broadcast of October 19, 1995: her version then debuted at #11 on the UK Singles chart for the week ending October 28, 1995, and after being reprised on the TOTP broadcast of October 26, 1995 - on which Cher sang "Walking in Memphis" groomed as Elvis Presley - her single essentially maintained its UK chart popularity with a #12 ranking dated November 4, 1995.
Cher's "Walking in Memphis" subsequently made a rapid UK chart descent dropping out of the Top 100 after a #68 ranking dated December 9, 1995 to return to the UK Top 100 charts dated December 20, 1995 (#97) and January 6, 1996 (#100), the single evidently boosted by Cher's performance of the song on ITV's The Caballe Family Christmas special broadcast Christmas Eve 1995. It would be Cher's follow-up single to "Walking in Memphis": "One by One", which would provide the singer with her most significant UK hit off It's a Man's World, as "One by One" spent two weeks at #7 in January 1996 with a four-week Top Ten tenure. Although never issued as a single in North America, "Walking in Memphis" did afford Cher a minor Canadian hit in the autumn of 1996, the album cut receiving enough radio airplay to reach #60 on the 100 Hit Tracks chart in RPM magazine.
Despite being a comparative failure for Cher, "Walking in Memphis" would be included in the set list for the singer's 1999-2000 Do You Believe? Tour, the first Cher tour subsequent to her recording of the song: in introducing the number Cher would wryly overstate how low was the impact of her take on "Walking in Memphis", first citing Marc Cohn's original as "a huge hit", then her own version as "a huge bomb ... not exactly in the infomercial category, but very close to it" (referencing her early-1990s stint as spokeswoman for several infomercials which Cher would tell EW in 1995 she had realized was "just devastating to my career".) "Walking in Memphis" has since remained a staple of Cher's live shows.
The episode of the paranormal Fox-TV series The X-Files entitled "The Post-Modern Prometheus", which aired on November 30, 1997, concluded with a portrayal of Cher performing "Walking in Memphis": the scene was written in expectation of Cher herself making a cameo, Cher having expressed an interest in guesting on the series, but on learning the nature of the proffered role she declined it - "(quote) I wanted them to ask me to come on and act - then they just wanted me to come on and sing" - instead authorizing her recording of "Walking in Memphis" to be heard while celebrity impersonator Tracey Bell - groomed as Cher and filmed in longshot or from the back or overheard - ostensibly performed the song onstage. Cher would express regret for not appearing in the episode herself: "Had I [foreseen] the quality of [it] I would have done it in a heartbeat".
Cher performed the song on the following concert tours:
These are the formats and track listings of all single releases of "Walking in Memphis".
Same track list as the UK CD Maxi-Single Pt 2.
|"Walking in Memphis"|
|Single by Lonestar|
|from the album From There to Here: Greatest Hits|
|Released||August 11, 2003|
|Lonestar singles chronology|
American country music band Lonestar reached #8 on the Hot Country Songs chart and #61 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2003 with a remake of "Walking in Memphis" released as a single off the Lonestar album From There to Here: Greatest Hits. This version was featured on Smallville Season 3, Episode 5 "Perry" when Perry White returns to Metropolis.
Lonestar's lead vocalist, Richie McDonald, would recall that during the two years of the band's inaugural phase as a bar band, "Walking in Memphis" was a staple of their set list from the beginning: "After we got our record deal, we stopped doing [any] cover songs but ... a few years later, [we were] in Memphis, Tennessee getting ready to do a benefit for St. Jude's down on Beale Street" - i.e. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital - "[and] we thought this would be a good time to do 'Walking in Memphis,' because we were right there on Beale ... One of the label guys was there [and] said, "Y'all should record that." We started doing it in our live shows and it just became something we wanted to put out."
The music video was directed by Milton Lage and premiered in late 2003.
"Walking in Memphis" debuted at number fifty-nine on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks for the week of August 16, 2003.
In the summer of 2005 Wouter (nl), the runner-up in Idool 2004, spent eleven weeks in the Top 20 of the Flemish chart with his version of "Walking in Memphis", the track spending three weeks at #3: the track was included on Rock On, Wouter's only album release to-date.
"Walking in Memphis" became a #5 hit in Sweden in December 2009 via a remake by Calle Kristiansson the runner-up finalist in Idol 2009: Kristiansson had performed the song in the "Jury's Choice" episode broadcast December 4, 2009, being the penultimate episode of Idol 2009. Kristiansson's version of "Walking in Memphis" was included on his self-titled album issued in January 2010.
A concert performance of "Walking in Memphis" by Eric Church - recorded February 18, 2017 at the Memphis-area stop of Church's Holdin' My Own tour hosted by the Landers Center in Southaven MS - was on September 22, 2017 included in the second batch of Holdin' My Own tour performances made available online and subsequently featured in the first installment of the 15-LP (vinyl) box set of Church recordings entitled 61 Days in Church, Church's concert performance of "Walking in Memphis" coupling the song with the 1969 Bobby Bare hit "How I Got to Memphis" as "Memphis Medley".
The song has also been recorded by Paul Anka (album Classics - My Way/ 2007), Michael Ball (album This Time ... It's Personal/ 2000), Joyce Cobb (album Beale Street Saturday Night/ 2003), Skott Freedman (album Some Company/ 2003), Stefan Gwildis (de) (as "Gestern war gestern" German - album Wünscht du wärst hier/ 2009), Tony Hadley (album Obsession/ 2000), Bert Heerink (nl) (as "Zeven dagen in Memphis" Dutch - album Net op tijd/ 2000), Michael Jones (as "Marcher dans Memphis" French - album Prises et reprises/ 2004), Barb Jungr (album Walking in the Sun/ 2006), and the John Tesh Project (instrumental - album Discovery/ 1996).
English electronic band Shut Up and Dance released "Raving I'm Raving" on May 18, 1992, based significantly on "Walking in Memphis". Several lyrics were altered including the line "I'm walking in Memphis" becoming "I'm raving I'm raving".
The single reached #2 on the UK Singles Chart in May 1992, but ran into difficulties as they had not obtained clearance. As a result, the track was banned, causing it to fall to #15 the next week then leave the charts completely. Proceeds were ordered to be given to charity. Nonetheless, near the end of 1992, the song did make another appearance on influential compilation Rave 92.
In 1996, German hard dance band Scooter released a similar cover entitled "I'm Raving" as a single from their album Wicked!. The single was certified gold in Germany and peaked at number 4 on the German charts.
Music & Media wrote about the song: "Rembember Marc Cohn's beautiful piano ballad Walking In Memphis? Change the lyrics in I'm Raving, I'm Raving, add some bagpipe-synths and the semi-live-gimmick patented by Scooter. This makes chart-storming seem effortless."
On Beauty & Crime , Suzanne Vega's Blue Note Records debut, the Manhattan native uses New York City as the backdrop for a collection of eleven new songs that juxtapose acoustic guitar-driven melodies with coolly synthesized beats