Feb 172016

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.  


We were always wanting to come up with the best cheatin’ song, ever. — Dan Penn

Dan Penn, from the musically abundant and fertile lands of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, served as a performer, producer, and songwriter for soul music’s Mecca, FAME Studios. Chips Moman, an accomplished musician and songwriter, owned American Sound studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Moman is known for recording Elvis Presley, along with other legendary greats. Together, they co-wrote a few songs, including “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” for Aretha Franklin.

The initiative for their goal of writing “the best cheatin’ song, ever,” occurred while attending a DJ Convention in Memphis, Tennessee in 1966. During a break in a card game, inspiration struck Penn and Moman, and they needed a place to get it all down. Quentin Claunch of Hi Records agreed to lend his hotel room to the galvanized duo to write the song in, contingent on the agreement that the song would be given to James Carr to sing. Half an hour later, Penn and Moman emerged with a perfectly crafted musical masterpiece called “The Dark End of the Street.” Mission accomplished.

What Penn and Moman modestly classified as a song about cheating is actually a song about the most mentally and physically draining emotion a human can endure… forbidden love. The only emotion that makes eating and sleeping mere inconveniences and simultaneously gives those involved an overwhelming sense of euphoria while fearing for their life.

Besides having a beautiful melody, “The Dark End of the Street” is lyrically brilliant. Penn and Moman’s simple and straightforward words create a vivid landscape of the song’s events, while evoking strong personal emotions and nostalgia.

As one listens to “The Dark End of the Street,” it becomes increasingly evident that the couple is incapable of putting an end to their sacred tryst. This is revealed during the song’s legendary bridge (often utilized by the artist to belt out their most anguish-filled cries), when the singer repeatedly concedes, “They’re gonna find us / They’re gonna find us / They’re gonna find us, one day.”

The last verse paints the most sobering picture of the two conflicted souls having to bury their emotions when they inevitably cross paths in the public eye, with one pleading to the other, “If we should meet / Just walk on by / Oh, darling, please don’t cry.” There is no happy ending at “The Dark End of the Street.”

The universal subject of forbidden love, along with the majesty of James Carr’s original version, affected a whole bunch of people in a whole bunch of different ways. In other words, it messed them all up. Luckily, some of those people were some of the most gifted musicians of our era, who felt compelled to bare their souls and create their own cover versions. Here are five that will surely break your heart.

Aretha Franklin – The Dark End of the Street (James Carr cover)

A slow simmer of angelic gentle vocals, soulful guitar and piano escalates with each verse into a full-on rolling boil of Aretha and her backup singers turning “The Dark End of the Street” into a screaming soul inferno. The inferno eventually gives way to Aretha’s voice fading out as she repeatedly begs to be held. There’s no doubt she’s in pain, but the way she expresses that pain can bring a listener absolute joy.

The Flying Burrito Bros – The Dark End of the Street (James Carr cover)

Gram Parsons and company deliver the most upbeat and instrumentally rich cover of this group. This down-home country-fried soul ballad features a nifty pedal steel guitar, consistent jangly piano, and steady drums throughout, with Parsons’ vocals being the perfect accompaniment.

Elvis Costello – The Dark End of the Street (James Carr cover)

Not the Elvis that Chips Moman recorded, but a brilliant artist nonetheless, Costello brings his one-of-a-kind sound and persona and attacks this song like he wrote it himself.

Percy Sledge – The Dark End of the Street (James Carr cover)

Percy rushed to the studio to record this cover shortly after James Carr’s original version popped. Sledge cooks up a plate of soul food with this hearty and nourishing cover of “Dark End of the Street.”

Lee Hazlewood & Ann-Margret – The Dark End of the Street (James Carr cover)

You know that feeling of waking up after a crazy dream? Lee Hazlewood’s macho baritone contrasting with Ann-Margret’s damsel-in-distress wails, in this groovy rollicking country cover, will have that effect. This cover features Hazlewood defiantly challenging anyone within shouting distance to discover his adultery (“Let ’em find us!”), and the image of Ann-Margret calling Lee Hazlewood “Pretty darlin'” and telling him  “Please, please, please don’t ever cry” makes this cover the most fun of the group.

Muscle Shoals is an amazing documentary about a soul music renaissance that took place in Muscle Shoals, Alabama during the late ’60s and ’70s, featuring many of the names mentioned in this article. You can find it at Amazon.

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  12 Responses to “Five Good Covers: The Dark End of the Street (James Carr)”

Comments (11) Pingbacks (1)
  1. A beautifully written history.
    Watching Muscle Shoals tonight.

  2. Colin, I dont have Facebook, but I’ll answer you here. Your question is valid. Personally, I think Clarence’s intro is hilarious and his cover is awesome. That, along with the Muscle Shoals connection. It was tough, but he just missed it. Thanks for reading.

  3. Can’t believe you’ve left out two of THE best – Richard & Linda Thompson ver. and Ry Cooder ver.

  4. Zack, Ry Cooder was #6 and you’re absolutely right about the Richard & Linda Thompson version. Totally gorgeous. Thanks for reading.

  5. The version performed in The Commitments owes a lot to Percy Sledge, but it is fantastic in its own right: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4h4y8_the-commitments-dark-end-of-the-str_music

    Tidbit: The singer, Andrew Strong, was 16 years old when the movie was filmed, which is just ridiculous. Tidbit 2: That is a very young Glen Hansard of guitar and Maria Doyle Kennedy on vocals. Tidbit 3: If you have never seen this movie, you really should.

  6. Hey Matt, I love that movie and I especially love that cover. A couple of days ago, I first learned that the lead singer was only 16 at the time of the filming and it blew my mind! Thanks for the great tidbits and thanks for reading!

  7. Aretha franklin what a version

    Great work



  8. You’re not kidding. Thanks Rhod!

  9. Kevin, I read this entry on my phone when it came out and I just had to track it down to cast my vote for Linda and Richard Thompson (and of course Ry Cooder) only to notice that Mr Zack Barham had already taken care of this grave omission. :)

    Thanks Zack, and thanks Kevin for the good work.

  10. The card game mentioned actually took place in Nashville and not in Memphis as it has widely been reported. It was at the Anchor Motel on West End Avenue.

  11. Well, it’s 12/28/2019 and I just watched Tom Petty and the fabulous Heartbreakers play the last ever concert at Winterland on 12/30/78. As usual Tom told a story before they broke into Dark Side. The boys gave the song an interesting twist… they did good ! Thanks for reading

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