The song "Proud Mary" is many things. It's soulful. It's catchy. And mostly, it's iconic. Over 100 singers, including Beyoncé, Leonard Nimoy, and Elvis Presley, have attempted to capture the spirit of the chorus: "Big wheel keep on turning / Proud Mary keep on burning."
The song was originally written by John Fogerty and preformed by his band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, in 1969. That same year, both Solomon Burke and the Checkmates Ltd. covered the song. One year later, in 1970, the extremely famous Ike and Tina Turner version came out. Now that's what we call a viral hit.
With the movie Proud Mary, the song is getting its first cinematic treatment. In the trailer for Proud Mary, out Friday, January 12, the Ike and Tina Turner cover of "Proud Mary" plays as Taraji P. Henson suits up in her all-black assassin attire. Proud Mary is clearly trying to play up the connection between its titular character, Mary (Henson), and the famous 1969 song "Proud Mary."
But what does the movie about a kickass woman assassin have to do with a song about a riverboat named Proud Mary? For an answer, we'll have to look into John Fogerty's conception of the song. Originally, he just liked the phrase, "Proud Mary," and jotted it down in his chorus. Below the words, he also wrote something his bandmate, Stu Cook, had said while they were watching riverboats in the movie Maverick: "Hey riverboat, blow your bell." Fogerty thought he could incorporate that line, somehow.
Fogerty sat on the lyrics for a while. In the end, the song came together in a matter of hours, the same day Fogerty got his discharge papers from the U.S. Army in 1967. "I was so happy, I ran out into my little patch of lawn and turned cartwheels. Then I went into my house, picked up my guitar and started strumming. 'Left a good job in the city' and then several good lines came out of me immediately. By the time I hit 'Rolling, rolling, rolling on the river,' I knew I had written my best song. It vibrated inside me," Fogerty said.
But writing a song about a boat wasn't initially Fogerty's intention."Proud Mary" was supposed to be about a woman. In the notebook, Fogerty jotted down that he wanted to write a song about a maid working in a wealthy household. "She gets off the bus every morning and goes to work and holds their lives together. Then she has to go home," Fogerty said, as recorded in Bad Moon Rising: The Unofficial History of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The movie likely correlates more with Fogerty's initial envisioning for the song. Mary in Proud Mary isn't a maid — but she is employed by powerful mob family, and does their dirty work for them. In the movie, Mary reckons with her work after one of her targets leaves behind a son, whom she meets. The question is, will this Proud Mary keep rolling down the river of her job? Or is she going to change?
More broadly speaking, the movie — and Henson's straight-up badass character — seems to correlate well with the general spirit of the song. "Proud Mary" is undeniably empowering, especially as it builds up to a triumphant chorus. A person could easily hum, "Proud Mary, keep on burning," to herself when in need of a reminder to keep "rolling" through life with courage. Or, of course, when gearing up for some very dangerous hit job, like Mary in Proud Mary.