Music Video Weekend: “The Dark End of the Street”

I usually begin these things with approximately the same sentence: I’ve been listening to this song all week, and I see no reason to change that pattern now.

“The Dark End of the Street,” written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn, has been covered by many talented musicians, including Ry Cooder, Richard and Linda Thompson, Bruce Springsteen, Eva Cassidy, Linda Rondstadt, Gregg Allman, Elvis Costello, The Eels, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Gary Stewart, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Percy Sledge, Cat Power and more. I love how a song is in no way an immutable object, but a thing that lives and transforms in the breath of each performer; “song” exists somewhere in that shared distance between the musician and the written tune.

Which version is the best? It’s hard to go against Percy Sledge; unfortunately, no quality Youtube renditions exist. At the same time, there’s nothing like the 1967 soul original (#10 on the R&B charts!), as sung by James Carr:

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At the dark end of the street
that is where we always meet
hiding in shadows where we don’t belong
living in darkness, to hide alone

You and me, at the dark end of the street
You and me

I know a time is gonna take it’s toll
we have to pay for the love we stole
It’s a sin and we know it’s wrong
Oh, our love keeps going on strong

Steal away to the dark end of the street
You and me

They gonna find us, they gonna find us
They gonna find us love someday

You and me, at the dark end of the street
You and me

When the daylight all goes around
And by chance we’re both down the town
Please meet, just walk, walk on by
Oh, darling, please don’t you cry

You and me, at the dark end of the street
You and me

Obviously, it’s a cheating song — or more appropriately, “a cheatin’ song” — one of the rich sub-categories in the songwriting tradition. You’ve got everything you need in one troubled broth: darkness, betrayal, lust, and guilt.

I find there’s nothing quite like hearing the song’s author give it a go, even if that person is not technically a great, or even a good, singer. Because technique will forever pale compared to from-the-gut emotion. Check out Dan Penn (co-writer of the tune), accompanied by legendary “road warrior” Spooner Oldham:

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Here a young Ry Cooder lets his slide guitar carry the emotion:

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These examples could go on forever, but let’s conclude with the resurgent Peter Green, blues hero and founding member of Fleetwood Mac, performing the song in late 2009, Hamburg, Germany:

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