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“Hard Headed Woman” (1958)

 

By Bob Pakes

 

Restricted for airplay by the BBC because of its religious references, Hard Headed Woman is 1 minute and 52 seconds of pure rock ‘n’ roll – time to turn the spotlight on this frantic tongue-twister!

In this topic, we’ll take a look at how the composer of Hard Headed Woman constructed the song, and we’ll also explore the origins of the biblical references he implemented in the song’s lyrics.

And while we’re on the subject of Hard Headed Woman, we’ll also answer the question why the complete Hard Headed Woman scene in the King Creole movie, ended up on the cutting room floor at Paramount Pictures.

To the right we see a full-page ad for Hard Headed Woman that simultaneously appeared in Billboard and Cashbox in June 1958.

 


 

Claude DeMetruis

 


 

Hard Headed Woman was written in either late 1957 or in the first weeks of 1958 by the gentleman we see to the left, Claude DeMetruis.

It was the fourth song by DeMetruis Elvis recorded, following I Was The One in 1956 and Santa, Bring My Baby Back (To Me) in 1957, both of which were co-written by DeMetruis, and Mean Woman Blues, also from 1957, which, similar to Hard Headed Woman, was another DeMetruis solo effort. Hard Headed Woman would become Claude DeMetruis’ biggest commercial success.

 

Elvis recorded Hard Headed Woman on January 15, 1958. The song took 10 takes to complete. On June 10th of that year, it was released as the lead single of the movie King Creole, with Don’t Ask Me Why on the flipside. By mid July, two weeks after the movie was released, Hard Headed Woman had reached the number 1 spot on Billboard, a position it would hold for two weeks, eventually becoming Elvis’ first certified Gold Record as per the standard of the RIAA.

To the right we have the sheet music that was issued in the USA for Hard Headed Woman. On this sheet music, Claude DeMetruis’ last name is spelled correctly. And also on the label of the Hard Headed Woman single, his name was correctly spelled. However, on the three earlier occasions when DeMetruis’ name appeared on an Elvis record, RCA Victor consistently managed to get his name wrong:
– On the label of I Was The One, his name was spelled as DeMetris.
– On Elvis’ Christmas Album, DeMetruis was credited as Demitrius.
– And on the Loving You records that included Mean Woman Blues, DeMetruis’ name was turned into Demetrius.

On the sheet music of the three earlier songs, DeMetruis’ full name is spelled correctly twice. Not a bad score when you think about it.

 

 


 

The lyrics and structure of Hard Headed Woman

 


 

verse 1
Well, a hard headed woman, a soft hearted man
Been the cause of trouble ever since the world began
 
chorus
Oh yeah, ever since the world began
A hard headed woman been a thorn in the side of man
 
verse 2
Adam told to Eve “Listen here to me,
don’t you let me catch you messin’ round that apple tree”
 
verse 3
Samson told Delilah, loud and clear,
“Keep your cotton pickin’ fingers out my curly hair”
 
verse 4
I heard about a King who was doing swell,
’till he started playing with that evil Jezebel
 
verse 5
I got a woman, a head like a rock
If she ever went away I’d cry around the clock

DeMetruis cleverly built the storyline of Hard Headed Woman around five short verses and a chorus. At first, the story is told from the perspective of a storyteller, but as the song progresses we learn that the storyteller is in fact also the song’s protagonist.
 
In the first verse, the statement is made that the combination of a hard headed woman and a soft hearted man, has been causing nothing but trouble, and according to the storyteller this has been the case ever since the beginning of time.

In the three verses that follow, biblical examples that support the statement are given. The soft hearted men in these examples (Adam, Samson and King Ahab) were doing just fine in life, until these women (Eve, Delilah and Jezebel) were allowed in.

In between the first four verses, the chorus is sung a total of five times. And each time the chorus can be heard, we are reminded of the fact that hard headed women are a thorn in the side of men.
 
But then we have the fifth and final verse, which can best be described as a serious plot twist. Even though up till now, the song has made it perfectly clear that hard headed women have been causing nothing but trouble, the song’s protagonist seems to have fallen under the spell of a hard headed woman himself!

 


 

Adam told to Eve, “Listen here to me,
don’t you let me catch you messin’ round that apple tree”

 
According to the bible, God created Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden, a place of exceptional happiness and delight, also known as Paradise. Subsequently, God created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs to be his companion. Adam and Eve were told they were allowed to eat freely of all the trees in the garden, except for a specific tree known as The Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil.

A serpent then deceives Eve into eating fruit from the forbidden tree, and she gives some of the fruit to Adam. Eating the forbidden fruit, not only gives them additional knowledge but also the ability to conjure negative and destructive concepts, gradually bringing sin into the world. God, furious for being disobeyed, curses Adam to a lifetime of hard labour and Eve to subordination to her husband, before eventually expelling them from the Garden. In Christianity, the transition from a state of complete innocence to a state of disobedience to God, is referred to as The Fall Of Man.

 

Samson told Delilah loud and clear,
“Keep your cotton pickin’ fingers out my curly hair”

 
Samson was an Israelite of enormous strength, capable of single-handedly slaying Philistine armies. However, if Samson’s hair were cut, he would lose his strength. After Samson was driven into the arms of the beautiful but treacherous Delilah, the Philistines bribed her for the secret of Samson’s strength. After confessing his secret to Delilah, his hair was cut while he slept, his eyes were gouged out, and he was forced to work as a draft animal. During a Philistine temple ceremony, for which Samson was brought out and tied between two pillars, Samson prayed to God for a restoration of his powers. His request was granted, and by pushing the pillars Samson brought the temple down, killing all those inside, including himself.

In the modern world, the name Delilah has become synonymous with the seductive but deadly woman, also known as the femme fatale, and use of the name commonly implies deceit or betrayal.

 

I heard about a King who was doing swell,
’till he started playing with that evil Jezebel

 

Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, the King Of Israel. She was a wicked, cruel and very selfish woman. And she was powerful too, because Ahab may have ruled Israel, but Jezebel ruled Ahab. In the end, Jezebel’s dominant influence on Ahab caused the King to have the reputation of being more evil than all the Kings before him.

Through the ages, the name Jezebel came to be associated with manipulative women. In modern times, the name is often used as a synonym for promiscuous and/or controlling females.

The song Jezebel, written by Wayne Shanklin in 1951 and originally a hit record for Frankie Laine, but hauntingly beautiful covered by Gene Vincent And His Blue Caps in 1956, perfectly captures the Jezebel character as follows: “If ever the Devil was born without a pair of horns, it was you, Jezebel. It was you”.

 

I got a woman, a head like a rock,
if she ever went away I’d cry around the clock

 
So, in verses 2, 3 and 4 of the song, man was first banished from his homeland. Then stripped of his strength, which eventually led to his death. While finally earning himself the worst reputation in the land. And these misfortunes, were all caused by woman. Yet, in verse 5 we discover that the song’s protagonist has fallen for a hard headed woman himself. May God have mercy on soft hearted men!
 
In light of the drastically changing world of today, the words “cotton pickin’ fingers” in verse 3 might raise eyebrows. To call somebody a “cotton picker” is undeniably racist, as this term was predominantly used to refer to black people, particularly slaves. But in DeMetruis’ lyrics, “cotton picking” is used in its meaning as a general term of disapproval, as a substitute for the word “damned”. Common sense will hopefully protect this great song (which was actually written by an African-American) from ever being pulled from its pedestal.

 


 

Why was Hard Headed Woman cut from King Creole?

 


 

Two telegrams from Hal Wallis, the producer of King Creole, one to his partner Joseph Hazen, and one to Elvis’ manager, Tom Parker, shed light on the question that seems to have kept Elvis scholars busy for quite some time now.
 
After King Creole had been shown to a test audience in Pasadena, California, on May 2, 1958, Wallis sent Hazen the telegram we see to the right. In this telegram, Wallis states that the movie was received very well and that all songs were applauded while especially the title song received a “tremendous burst of applause”. Wallis also states that 4 or 5 minutes of film needed to be cut.

 

Here we have the telegram Wallis sent to Parker. Wallis once again declared the preview a success, but he also offered Parker and RCA the following words of friendly advise: “King Creole received by far biggest applause of any number in picture and RCA will be making serious mistake if they do not include this on first single record. It was a standout and no comparison between reception accorded King Creole and that given Hard Headed Woman“.
 
When putting two and two together, the relative weak reception the Hard Headed Woman scene had received from the test audience, caused the scene to be cut from the film. It’s as simple as that.

The song Hard Headed Woman is only 2 minutes long. So circa 2 or 3 minutes worth of other footage must also have been removed.

 

A relevant question would now be, why Parker and RCA decided to release Hard Headed Woman on single, even though Hal Wallis had strongly suggested the movie’s title song since it had generated the biggest applause by far. And as we know, Wallis’ telegrams were sent the day after the May 2 preview, while the Hard Headed Woman single was released on June 10, so there was plenty of time for RCA to make a well-balanced choice.
 
However, it is possible that Parker and RCA were not yet aware that the scene was (going to be) cut from the movie around the time the decision was made to release Hard Headed Woman, especially when taking into account that King Creole would not be in theaters until July 2. It therefore seems likely that the cutting of the scene took place after RCA had already set its choice for Hard Headed Woman in motion.
 
Whatever the case may be, on a soundtrack album with so many strong tracks (including King Creole, Trouble and Dixieland Rock), Hard Headed Woman was the strongest of them all, and it perfectly fitted the bill as the movie’s lead track. Kudos to RCA Victor!
(It’s just so damn ironic the song wasn’t actually in the movie …)

 


 

Hard Headed Woman a hard rocking rock ‘n’ roll classic!

 


 

An article about one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs in musical history, can of course never be complete without enjoying the actual song. Do yourself a favor, and click the ► button below, if only to hear Elvis conveniently transform the words “curly” and “hair” into “curlair”.

 

 


 

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. The Jezebel section has 2 typos:
    ‘repuation’ should read ‘reputation’, and ‘huntingly’ should read ‘hauntingly’.

    July 28, 2020
  2. René Elvos #

    And “Ifsheeverwentawayicryaroundtheclock” sounds as if it’s one word. Classic.

    July 29, 2020
  3. Gandoo #

    A fascinating and informative article – thank you.

    August 3, 2020
  4. Bravo, Bob!

    More great research!

    August 7, 2020

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