Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stuck in my Head: Danzig, "Trouble"

(Editor's Note: Stuck in my Head is an occasional feature about whatever song happens to be running around incessantly in my head at the moment.)

Nicknamed "the Evil Elvis" due to both his dark, Presley-like vocal drawl and trademark lambchop sideburns, it seemed just a matter of time before Glenn Danzig covered an Elvis tune. And what more perfect song for him to cover than "Trouble" with it's "Because I'm evil/My middle name is misery" chorus refrain?

Originally recorded for the "King Creole" soundtrack in 1958, Presley sang the song with the backing of a lively Dixieland band. Danzig's version, unsurprisingly, is a far cry from the original, yet, at the same time, not so different.

It's a song that Danzig had wanted to record for years. There are a variety of earlier demo and live recordings of the tune to be found, ranging from a demo with the band Samhain that substituted some spooky electronics for the Dixieland bits to a version from the recording sessions for the first Danzig record that's more of a stripped-down, rough version of the one that was finally released. The timing was right in 1993, when he released it as part of a live EP, "Thrall -- DemonSweatLive." After progressing through the punk of The Misfits and the experimental sounds of Samhain, Danzig was settling into a blues-based, earthier sound for his first few albums with his eponymous band, and "Trouble" was a perfect fit into that sound.

Danzig's cover is built around the same melody line as the Elvis version, only with the volume and attitude cranked up. The fairly simple and familiar brass riff becomes a crushing metal guitar riff, but manages to do it without losing the soul or groove of the original. Naturally, the song is darker and more ominous, with the accentuation on the chorus. The result is something more sinister than Elvis' tune about a bad boy, yet when that big guitar riff and the pounding drum line kick in at the beginning, it oozes cool just like the horns of the Elvis original.

If there's a weakness in the Danzig version, it's probably the fact that he fiddled around with the lyrics a little, bringing a campy B-horror feel to that aspect of the song. If I'm being honest, I'd rather hear the original Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller lyric, "I was born standing up/And talking back" than Danzig's substition. The other major lyrical change, from "green-eyed mountain jack" to "demon werewolf jack" didn't bother me as much, but was really unneccessary. There was plenty of darkness in Danzig's delivery of the chorus without bringing in the horror movie imagery. (It also doesn't hurt that Danzig cuts an imposing figure that backs up the "don't you mess around with me" line.)

Finally, there's the upbeat, swinging ending that brings the song home that becomes a thrashed-out piece in Danzig's hands, but still sticks to the original melody.

I understand if you're a disciple of Elvis, you'll probably consider this song an abomination, so skip it. If, on the other hand, you're a fan of blues-based metal who can also appreciate Presley's work, you should check it out if you're not already familiar.

Get "Thrall -- DemonSweatLive."

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