The train was of course a revolutionary form of transport when it was introduced in the nineteenth century
and since its early days, it inspired literally thousands of songs covering all genres of music including
country, blues and jazz.
Not that every record which mentions trains are fully-fledged train songs. There are a number of famous compositions that make only passing reference, for instance in Johnny Mercer & Jimmy Van Heusen’s ballad I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU (a hit for Benny Goodman in 1940), the line “I took a trip on a train” is the only reference.
Other examples of brief train-mentioned lyric lines include “I’m sittin’ in the railway station” in Paul Simon’s HOMEWARD BOUND (the Simon & Garfunkel success of 1966), “Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight” written and sung by Al Stewart in his 1978 hit TIME PASSAGES, “Don’t take a train comin’ down the track” which was in Billy Swan’s song LOVER PLEASE by Clyde McPhatter in ’62, “The distant moanin’ of a train” (plus the mention of a boxcar) that appeared in Tony Joe White’s RAINY NIGHT IN GEORGIA which charted for Brook Benton in 1970,
“That fateful night the car was stalled upon the railroad track” was a line in TEEN ANGEL (Surrey/Surrey) by
Mark Dinning in 1960 and in Linda Ronstadt’s 1977 hit version of Warren Zevon’s song POOR POOR PITIFUL ME, only the first verse (which begins “Well I lay my head on the railroad track”) contains train references.
Similarly, the wistful Ray Davies ballad WATERLOO SUNSET by The Kinks on Reprise in ’67 was not a true train song but its lyric did include the words “Waterloo Station” and “Waterloo underground”.
There are also songs in which the word Train appears in their titles though
with no other railroad references, for example:
DESPERADOS WAITING FOR A TRAIN (Clark) by Highwaymen (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash & Kris Kristofferson(Columbia: 1985) Written by Guy Clark
LAST TRAIN TO LONDON (Lynne) by Electric Light Orchestra (Jet: 1979)
TRAINS AND BOATS AND PLANES (Bacharach/David) by both Billy J. Kramer (Imperial: 1965)
and Dionne Warwick (Scepter: 1966).
MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO GEORGIA (Weatherly) by Gladys Knight & The Pips (Buddah: 1973)
TRAIN LEAVES HERE THIS MORNIN’ (Clark/Leadon) by Dillard & Clark (A&M: 1968)
and a more recent example:
AS TRAINS GO BY (Hill/Nelson) by Judith Hill (NPG: 2015) Co-written and produced by Prince.
Trains and train references also turn up in nursery rhymes and children’s songs such as COMING ‘ROUND THE MOUNTAIN, DOWN BY THE STATION (Belland/Larson) as recorded by The Four Preps on Capitol in ’59
and also THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD (Marks/Pascal).
As mentioned in the list below, THE RUNAWAY TRAIN (Massey/Robison) by Vernon Dalhart
was a regular staple on British children’s record request programs on the BBC in the 50’s and 60’s.
Another children’s favorite during that same period was TRAINS, a comic monologue written and performed by English-born Hollywood actor Reginald Gardiner; it was originally released as a two-sided single on Decca in 1952.
Now here’s my very selective list of recommended TRAIN SONGS…
ALL CHANGE ON THE BAKERLOO LINE (Grant) by The Pyramids (UK President: 1968) Written by Eddy Grant, it includes fleeting namechecks of other London underground (subway) stations. Recorded by London-based Jamaican group The Pyramids who charted over there with another Eddy Grant composition “Train Tour To Rainbow City”.
ANOTHER TRAIN COMING (Stevenson/White)
by Kim Weston (Tamla: 1963)
BLUE TRAIN (Of The Heartbreak Line) (Loudermilk) by John D. Loudermilk (RCA: 1961).
CANADIAN RAILROAD TRILOGY (Lightfoot) by Gordon Lightfoot (United Artists: 1967)
CASEY JONES (Garcia/Hunter) by The Grateful Dead (Warner Bros: 1970).ANOTHER TRAIN COMING (Stevenson/White) by Kim Weston (Tamla: 1963)
CHATTANOOGA CHOO-CHOO (Gordon/Warren) by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra/Vocal: Tex Beneke & The Four Modernaires (Bluebird: 1941). Performed by Glenn Miller in the musical film “Sun Valley Serenade” (20th Century Fox: 1941).
CHOO CHOO CH’BOOGIE (Horton/Darling/Gabler) by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five (Decca: 1946)
CHOO CHOO TRAIN (Fritts/Hinton) by The Box Tops (Mala: 1968).
CITY OF NEW ORLEANS (Goodman) by Arlo Guthrie (Reprise: 1972) Written and first recorded by Steve Goodman.
THE DOWNBOUND TRAIN (Berry) by Chuck Berry & His Combo (Chess: 1956).
DOWN HOME SPECIAL (McDaniel) by Bo Diddley & His Band (Checker: 1956) Bo’s own song interspersed with pseudo train effects.
ENGINE ENGINE #9 (Miller) by Roger Miller (Smash: 1965)
ENGINEERS DON'T WAVE FROM THE TRAINS ANYMORE
(Hall) Earl Scruggs & Tom T. Hall (Columbia 1962)
I MISS A LOT OF TRAINS (Hall)
by Tom T. Hall (Mercury: 1969)
FIRST TRAIN HEADIN’ SOUTH (Horton) by Johnny Horton (Mercury: 1952).
500 MILES (Phillips/West) by The Journeymen (Capitol: 1961) Composition attributed to folk singer Hedy West.
FOLSOM PRISON BLUES (Cash) by Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two (Sun: 1955) Johnny Cash famously performed this at Folsom State Prison in ’68 but this is his original version.
FREEDOM TRAIN (Rogers/Bogard/Wells) by James Carr (Goldwax: 1968)
THE FREEDOM TRAIN (Berlin) Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters (Decca: 1947) Written by Irving Berlin.
FREIGHT TRAIN BOOGIE (Scott/Delmore)
by Red Foley & The Cumberland Valley Boys (Decca: 1947)
First recorded a year earlier by The Delmore Brothers.
GHOST TRAIN (Babcock) by Marty Robbins (Columbia: 1961).
THE GOLDEN ROCKET (Snow)
by Hank Snow (The Singing Ranger) & His Rainbow Ranch Boys
(RCA Victor: 1950)
HERE COMES THE FREEDOM TRAIN (Lemberg) by Merle Haggard & The Strangers (Capitol: 1976).
HEY, PORTER! (Cash) by Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two (Sun: 1955).
I GOT THE TRAIN SITTIN’ WAITIN’ (Reynolds)
by Waylon Jennings (RCA: 1979)
(I HEARD THAT) LONESOME WHISTLE (Williams/Davis) by Hank Williams with His Drifting Cowboys (MGM: 1951). From the year in which Hank also charted with “Hey Good Lookin’”.
I LIKE TRAINS (Sutton) by Bob Luman (Epic: 1968).
I'LL BE DOGGONE (Robinson/Moore/Tarplin) by Marvin Gaye (Tamla: 1965) 'I'm gonna catch me a train' FREIGHT TRAIN (James/Williams) by The Chas. McDevitt Skiffle Group feat. Nancy Whiskey (UK Oriole: 1957) An American song that became a huge British hit; it was a Top Ten here by Rusty Draper that same year.
I’M MOVIN’ ON (Snow) by Hank Snow & His Rainbow Ranch Boys (RCA: 1950).
I'M WAITING AT THE STATION (Neville)
by Aaron Neville (Minit: 1961)
IN THE PINES (Monroe/Davis)
by Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HOUSE (Hilliard) by Vaughn Monroe (RCA: 1956) Written by Bob Hilliard, it charted here by both Vaughn Monroeand Rusty Draper and in the UK, it was a major hit by local star Alma Cogan. All three versions featured steam train sound effects.
IT TAKES A LOT TO LAUGH, IT TAKES A TRAIN TO CRY (Dylan) by Bob Dylan (Columbia: 1965)
JENNY DREAMED OF TRAINS (Clark/Gill) by Vince Gill (MCA: 1996) Written by Vince with Guy Clark.
JOHN HENRY (Traditional) by Odetta (Fantasy: 1954) The legendary folk song about the Big Bend Tunnel on the C & O Railroad at Talcott, West Virginia.
KING OF THE ROAD (Miller) by Roger Miller (Smash: 1965). Country singer/songwriter/guitarist Roger Miller’s biggest hit, the lyric of which refers to “Third boxcar, midnight train, destination Bangor, Maine”.
LAST TRAIN (Toussaint) by Allen Toussaint (Reprise: 1975).
LAST TRAIN TO CLARKSVILLE (Boyce/Hart) by The Monkees (Colgems: 1966). Written by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart.
LAST TRAIN TO SAN FERNANDO (Padmore/DeVere/Mighty Dictator) by Johnny Duncan & The Blue Grass Boys (UK Columbia: 1957) A major British hit by American singer Johnny Duncan.
LITTLE TRAIN (Andre/Storz) by Max Bygraves
(UK Decca: 1958)
THE LOCO-MOTION (Goffin/King) by Little Eva (Dimension: 1962) Written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King and produced by Gerry.
LONG TRAIN RUNNIN’ (Johnston) by The Doobie Brothers (Warner Bros: 1973) Written by the Doobies’ Tom Johnston.
LOVE TRAIN (Gamble/Huff) by The O’Jays (Philadelphia Int’l: 1972) Written & produced by Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff.
MARRAKESH EXPRESS (Nash) by Crosby, Stills & Nash (Atlantic: 1969) The song that Graham Nash had originally intended for his first group The Hollies.
THE MEMPHIS TRAIN (Thomas/Rice/Sparks) by Rufus Thomas (Stax: 1968).
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (Arr & Adapt: Rivers) by Johnny Rivers (Imperial: 1965) Vintage folk song memorably recorded earlier by Leadbelly.
MIDNIGHT TRAIN (Daniels/Digregorio/Crain/Hayward/Gavin) by
The Charlie Daniels Band (Epic: 1988).
MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO MEMPHIS (Henderson/Stapleton) by Chris Stapleton (Mercury Nashville: 2017).
MILK TRAIN (Romeo) by The Everly Brothers
(Warner Bros: 1968)
MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH TRAINS (Parton) by Merle Haggard & The Strangers (Capitol: 1976) Written by Dolly Parton.
MYSTERY TRAIN (Parker/Phillips) by Elvis Presley, Scotty & Bill (Sun: 1955) Written by Junior Parker & Sam Phillips, it was first recorded by Parker’s group Little Junior’s Blue Flames.
THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN (Robertson) by The Band (Capitol: 1969). Robbie Robertson’s song which became a 1971 smash by Joan Baez.
NIGHT TRAIN TO MEMPHIS (Hughes/Smith/Bradley) by Little Jimmy Dickens (Columbia: 1962) First recorded in 1942 by Roy Acuff & His Smoky Mountain Boys.
NUMBER 9 TRAIN (Robinson) by Tarheel Slim (Fury: 1958) Written and produced by Bobby Robinson.
ON THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND THE SANTA FE (Mercer/Warren) by Johnny Mercer (Capitol: 1944) Written for the 1946 MGM musical “The Harvey Girls”.
ONE TOKE OVER THE LINE (Brewer/Shipley) by Brewer & Shipley (Kama Sutra: 1971)
ONE WAY TICKET (Hunter/Keller) by Eruption (UK Atlantic/Hansa: 1979) Jamaican group’s UK hit version of the song originally released by Neil Sedaka on the B-side of his million-selling “Oh! Carol” in 1959.
PEACE TRAIN (Stevens) by Cat Stevens
PETTICOAT JUNCTION (Henning/Massey) by Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs (Columbia: 1964) Title theme song from the 1963–1970 TV sitcom.
PLATFORM TICKET (Gietz/Missen/Puma)
by The Jay Five (RCA: 1968)
RAILROAD SONG (King/Van Zant)
Lynyrd Skynyrd (MCA: 1975)
From their first Top Ten album “Nuthin’ Fancy”.
ROCK ISLAND LINE (Trad. Adapt: Donegan) by The Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group
A traditional American folk song arranged and sung
by British skiffle star Lonnie Donegan;
it became a major transatlantic hit.
RUDE BOY TRAIN (Dekker) by Desmond Dekker & The Aces (UK Pyramid: 1967) PEOPLE GET READY (Mayfield) by The Impressions (ABC-Paramount: 1965) Curtis Mayfield’s outstanding gospel-based civil rights anthem.
RUNAWAY TRAIN (Stewart) by Rosanne Cash (Columbia: 1988) Written by John Stewart formerly of The Kingston Trio.
THE RUNAWAY TRAIN (Massey/Robison) by Vernon Dalhart (UK Regal: 1931) A longtime children’s favorite.
SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY (Green/Homer/Brown) by Les Brown & His Orchestra/Vocal: Doris Day
SIX-FIVE SPECIAL (Reine/More) by Don Lang & His ‘Frantic Five’ (UK HMV: 1957) Title theme song of the early British TV pop series.
SHUFFLE OFF TO BUFFALO (Warren/Dubin) by Hal Kemp & His Orchestra (Brunswick: 1933) Written for the classic 1933 musical film “42nd Street”.
SMOKESTACK LIGHTNING (Burnett) by Howlin’ Wolf (Chess: 1956) A much-revered blues classic by Chester Arthur Burnett aka Howlin’ Wolf.
SO MANY ROADS, SO MANY TRAINS (Paul) by Otis Rush (Chess: 1960) An atmospheric slow blues emphasizing Otis’s singing and guitar playing prowess.
SOUTHERN PACIFIC (Young) by Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Reprise: 1981).
STOP THAT TRAIN (Tosh) by The Wailers (Island: 1973) Produced by Bob Marley & Chris Blackwell.
STOP THAT TRAIN (Harriott/Rowe/Dixon) by Clint Eastwood & General Saint (UK Greensleeves: 1983) Remake of a reggae favorite first recorded in ’67 by Keith & Tex (aka Keith Rowe and Phillip ‘Tex’ Dixon) and produced by Derrick Harriott. This Clint Eastwood is a Jamaican DJ who teamed up with
another DJ, General Saint.
SUBWAY TRAIN (Thunders/Johansen) by New York Dolls (Mercury: 1973).
THIS TRAIN (Trad. Arr: Tharpe) by Sister Rosetta Tharpe & Sam Price Trio (Decca: 1947).
THE TRAIN FROM KANSAS CITY (Barry/Greenwich) by The Shangri-Las (Red Bird: 1965)
Written by Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich.
THE TRAIN I'M ON (White)
by Tony Joe White
(Warner Bros: 1972)
THE TRAIN KEPT A-ROLLIN’ (Bradshaw/Mann) by The Johnny Burnette Trio (Johnny, Dorsey & Paul) (Coral: 1956) Co-written by Tiny Bradshaw who recorded the original version in 1951.
TRAIN OF LOVE (Cash) by Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two (Sun: 1956).
THE TRAIN SONG (Hillman/Parsons) by The Flying Burrito Bros. (A&M: 1969). Written by Chris Hillman & Gram Parsons.
TRAIN WHISTLE BLUES (Rodgers) by Jimmie Rodgers (Victor: 1930) Known as ‘The Singing Brakeman’, pioneer country singer/songwriter/ guitarist Jimmie Rodgers had actually worked on the railroad.
TRAIN TO SKAVILLE (Sparrow) by The Ethiopians (UK Rio: 1967).
TRANS-EUROPE EXPRESS (Hutter/Schult) by Kraftwerk (Capitol: 1977)
WABASH CANNONBALL (A.P. Carter) by Roy Acuff & His Smoky Mountain Boys (Columbia: 1947).
WAITIN’ FOR THE TRAIN TO COME IN (Skylar/Block) by Johnny Long & His Orchestra/Vocal: Dick Robertson (Decca: 1945).
WAITING FOR A TRAIN (All Around The Watertank) (Rodgers) by Jerry Lee Lewis (Sun: 1970) Another memorable Jimmie Rodgers train song.
WESTBOUND #9 (Dumas/Dunbar/Wayne) by Flaming Ember (Hot Wax: 1969).
WHISTLE STOP (Breedlove) by Louis Prima w/Sam Butera & The Witnesses (Capitol: 1957)
Written by Jimmy Breedlove of The Cues
WHITE ROOM (Bruce/Brown) by Cream (Atco: 1969).
WRECK OF THE OLD 97 (Whitter/Noell/Lewey)
by Hank Snow & His Rainbow Ranch Boys
(RCA Victor: 1955).
YONDER COMES A FREIGHT TRAIN (Pennington) by Jim & Jesse (Epic: 1968) Written by Ray Pennington who also authored the Waylon Jennings 1974 chart-topping “I’m A Ramblin’ Man”.
Beginning in 1980 on Column One, Texan singer Boxcar Willie had success with a TRAIN MEDLEY single which included extracts fromFIREBALL MAIL, TRAIN OF LOVE, WALKING CANE, WRECK OF THE OLD 97, ORANGE BLOSSOM SPECIAL, WABASH CANNONBALL and NIGHT TRAIN TRAIN TO MEMPHIS.
Finally, my favorite Train-related Instrumentals…
NIGHT TRAIN (Forrest) by Jimmy Forrest & All Star Combo (United: 1952).
Tenor saxman Jimmy Forrest’s finest hour.
PUFFIN’ BILLY (White) by The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra (UK Oriole: 1954) Signature tune of BBC Radio’s “Children’s Favourites” and the CBS TV series “Captain Kangaroo”.
TAKE THE ‘A’ TRAIN (Strayhorn) by Duke Ellington & His Famous Orchestra (Victor: 1943) Duke’s signature theme written by pianist/arranger Billy Strayhorn.
TRAIN AND THE RIVER (Giuffre) by The Jimmy Giuffre Trio (Atlantic: 1957). Jimmy plays baritone & tenor sax and clarinet on this track.
TUXEDO JUNCTION (Johnson/Dash/Hawkins)
by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra (Bluebird: 1940). plus
THE CORONATION SCOT (Ellis) by The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra
cond: Sidney Torch (UK Columbia: 1948).
This was the signature tune of the BBC radio drama series “Paul Temple”.
Rock on to the end of the line!
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