Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published October 10th 2020
Travel on rails of song
Strangely enough, I still get requests for music list columns at times. I thought the amount of topics was becoming exhausted, but apparently, I was wrong. I have also received requests to review albums. Classic albums, fine – I probably own them, and if I like most of it, I'll review it. But new ones cost money, and I don't have a lot of spare cash. I need to hear a few tracks, decide whether I like it, then spend money. And, unfortunately, some of those purchases are not worth it. Anyway, please let me know your requests or ideas.
And thus we have this column. A reader on Twitter asked me to do train songs because her son is a train fanatic. I was concerned about how I could do this, when she gave me two tracks that told me everything was on the table. For what it's worth, both tracks are here, and would have been here even without her suggesting them. So, yes, train songs!
Here are 12 train songs. All sorts of trains. Trains everywhere. I have 2 rules here – one song per artist, and the word 'train' has to be in the title. Not just songs that mention trains (or else I'd throw Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin'' in here in a heart-beat). Trains could be representative of many things, but it does not matter. They are trains.
Let's hit that list!
'Crazy Train' by Ozzy Osbourne (1980)
Ozzy Osbourne was at a low point in his life. He'd been booted from Black Sabbath and was in a spiral of substance abuse. And then he recorded the album Blizzard Of Ozz and things started to slowly pick up in his life, and he is still recording today. This song is a bit of Cold War paranoia and is a great song in its own right. Such a great piece of hard rock goodness.
'Downtown Train' by Rod Stewart (1989)
Yes, this is a cover version of the Tom Waits 1985 original, but I prefer the Rod Stewart version. His singing is a little better and the lack of typical 1980s production really lifts the track up. Waits wrote some awesome lyrics here and Stewart's interpretation really does them justice. It does seem easy to do a Rod Stewart voice at karaoke – it's not. I have tried this song myself and Stewart is too good a singer to be able to "do".
'Last Train To Clarksville' by The Monkees (1966)
The debut single by The Monkees, that made-for-TV band that ended up becoming a real band in their own right, is a piece of 1960s pop goodness. Surprisingly, it is probably about a soldier heading off to the Vietnam War, asking his girl to meet him at the railway station. Depressing lyrical content for such a happy song.
'Last Train To London' by Electric Light Orchestra (1979)
Such a beautiful sounding song, with glorious harmonies, lush musical arrangements and great production. Yes, this song did appear in my place names list, but it is worth having another go at. Jeff Lynne's vocals have rarely sounded this good. Great track from a really strong album (Discovery).
'Long Train Runnin'' by The Doobie Brothers (1973)
A staple of the early 1970s, the Doobie Brothers had a string of hit singles and great albums that have seen them become cemented in the hearts of classic rock aficionados. This track, one of their better-known ones, is a fine example of them at the top of their art. The great guitar playing and glorious singing make this such a good track. It was remixed and re-released in the 90s, and was just as popular as ever, but those tinny drum sounds ruin it for me. Give me the original any day.
'Love Train' by The O'Jays (1972)
Proto-disco from producers Gamble & Huff, this is one of the tracks suggested to me to start this column. But, really, how could a train list miss this track out? It has become something of a classic from a branch of music often dismissed as light-weight and not worth a great deal. But the harmonies are fantastic, and the music does not overwhelm as it would come to in disco's later years. Released when disco was still soulful, this song is a decent one.
'Morning Train (9 To 5)' by Sheena Easton (1980)
Sometimes known as simply '9 To 5' or with the parentheses swapped, this track was the first charting single of Easton's career. It is a simplistic song about a woman who sees her significant other off to work on the train, and then waits for him to come home again. Yeah, not really striking a blow for women, this one. But it is still a catchy, infectious tune and in the early 80s, was a staple on the Blue Light Disco scene.
'Peace Train' by Cat Stevens (1971)
An overly-optimistic song about how we are riding towards peace on a train (a look at the world in the 50 years since shows that we, well, really haven't given this peace thing a go), it is still a decent enough song and essentially harmless. Interesting factoid: as mentioned in the video, this song was influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, who used trains in many of his movies.
'Runaway Train' by Soul Asylum (1992)
A song that was written to describe how being depressed feels to the sufferer, this track has become a sort of soundtrack for people searching for their missing loved ones following the release of the music video in 1993. Apparently, it did do some good at the time in helping get some families reunited, so that is always a positive. Still, this is a wonderful track in its own right, and is the second one recommended by this list's instigator.
'Strangers On A Train' by The Sports (1980)
(Not the Alfred Hitchcock film! Sorry, Yusuf…) The Sports were an Australian rock band who made a bit of a blimp on local charts and then quietly faded away, fronted by Australian music icon Stephen Cummings. This song, comparing the relationship between two people having deteriorated that much it is like they are now just strangers on a train is such an excellent metaphor. I got this song on one of those compilation albums so popular in that time, and I fell for it instantly, even if I didn't understand what it meant until probably six years later…
'Train In Vain' by The Clash (1979)
Even though the title phrase does not appear in the song, it is meant as a metaphor for going along without knowing where you're going or why. As it is, the lyrics of the song are muddled anyway. However, as a track from their seminal London's Calling album, this stands out. It is not the punk thrash style The Clash had been demonstrating up till that point, and showed that there was more to this band than most people realised. An under-rated Clash song, for sure.
'Trains And Boats And Planes' by The Box Tops (1967)
A Bacharach/David song recorded by so many artists over the years, this is my favourite version. Essentially, in the song, the singer is blaming the modes of transport for taking away their loved one/s. An interesting lyrical line to have and it works well in the context of the song
So, there we are – 12 songs about trains. As many places of the world are still in lockdown or are only slowly opening up. the idea of travelling by train to some faraway locale is a dream-like one. But if we can do that travel in song, then at least our imaginations can be helped along to those exotic places. Or even the next state.