Oriole, Kentucky

All The Way From Memphis by Mott the Hoople

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Forgot my six-string razor hit the sky
Half way to Memphis 'fore I realized Read full Lyrics
No one could blame you for assuming the Songplace associated with "All The Way From Memphis" is Memphis, Tennessee, but that doesn't change the fact that such an assumption would make you... WRONG!

Well, not completely wrong, but partially wrong. Which, of course, means you're also partially right. Sorry, I guess I just really wanted to go for dramatic effect there.

<b>All The Young Dudes</b> cover artAll The Young Dudes cover art
Our "All The Way From Memphis" piece will touch upon Memphis some, but the primary Songplace we're going with is Oriole, Kentucky. We make this decision for two reasons. First, this will almost certainly be our only chance to get Oriole on the Songplaces map. Second, the song's lyric is talking about a journey to Oriole from Memphis, not the other way around.

Oriole technically isn't a city. It's not even a town. According to the US Geological Survey, it's defined as "populated place," which means an area with "clustered or scattered buildings and a permanent human population," but no legal incorporation. Oriole's map name, also according to the Survey, is Madisonville West.

So how did an American town that isn't a town appear in an English band's song? Well, as they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

It was 1972 and the band was enjoying the big success they'd found with All the Young Dudes. They were touring the US and were set to play the final show of the tour at Ellis Auditorium three days before Christmas.

Guitarist Mick Ralphs and organist Verden Allen elected to drive while the rest of the crew flew. In the confusion of the split travel, Ralphs' guitar got lost. Whether it was the band's fault or the airline's, the instrument somehow turned up in Oriole, Kentucky.

Mick Ralphs, 1976<br>Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mick_Ralphs_-_Bad_Company_-_1976.jpg">Jim Summaria</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, via Wikimedia CommonsMick Ralphs, 1976
Photo: Jim Summaria, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The loss of the guitar became symbolic of Mott's crumbling. Ticket sales for their final show were abysmal, Ralphs' hotel room got robbed, and the roadies got lost from the band.

The growing strain had the whole band feeling tired of the rock and roll lifestyle. Ian Hunter wrote "All The Way From Memphis" on the day of that final concert.

In the song, the guitar isn't retrieved for a month, and when it is, it comes with a public scolding from a stranger that is emblematic of the band's relationship with the general public. This is where the line between the lyrics and actual events begin to blur. The song may take some poetic license with the actual event.

Regardless, "All The Way From Memphis" became a Mott The Hoople fan favorite. The first track on 1973's Mott, it reached #10 in the UK. The single didn't crack the US chart, but the Mott album reached #35.

The city of Memphis itself certainly doesn't hurt for songs associated with it. The city was instrumental in the development of rock and roll, blues, soul, "sharecropper" country music, and about a dozen other genres and subgenres. It was also an early stage for the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, a fellow by the name of Elvis Presley, and too many other great musicians to name. Whole libraries have been written on the contribution Memphis made to American music.

 Postcard of Ellis Auditorium from 1931<br>From <a href="http://www.historic-memphis.com/memphis-historic/ellis/ellis.html" target="_blank">Historic Memphis</a> Postcard of Ellis Auditorium from 1931
From Historic Memphis
The Ellis Auditorium no longer stands, having been demolished in 1997. It was a highlight of Memphis for a long time, though, built in 1924. It was cutting edge for decades after its creation, with more than 30,000 square feet of space and seats for 12,000 people. The motorized stage was also cutting-edge stuff at the time.

But enough about Memphis. The city's legacy stands just fine without Mott The Hoople. In the case of Oriole, Kentucky, however? Well, Mott the Hoople quite literally put them on the (Songplaces) map.

Jeff Suwak
June 16, 2020
All The Way From Memphis Songfacts
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Comments: 2

  • Mark from Seoul, South Korea"Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," one of the best musical openings of a movie since, "Mean Streets." And both directed by... Martin Scorsese.
  • Kingsley from San Diego I love this song. Haven’t heard it in ages.
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