“Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true.” – Paul Simon, “Train In The Distance”
There’s just something about a train.
I spent my early years right out of college, after a brief summer in Boston, living in Northwest Arkansas. First in Fort Smith, then later in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I met a fetching young woman, full blooded-Thai with a southern accent, who lived in Shreveport, Louisiana. She was a lovely woman, but as many of us do in our youth, I was chasing something I would never attain, which turned out to be a pattern but those sad records are sealed.
Almost every Friday while I lived in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, (aka Ft. Hell), I would leave, usually before work was over and head down the two-lane blacktop of Highway 71. It ran the length of Arkansas and eventually into Louisiana and to my goal of Shreveport. I would typically spend as much time as I could in Louisiana before I returned to the dreaded Arkansas so I usually left Shreveport after the sun had gone down…even the sun split before I did. Highway 71 cut through Texarkana, first on the Arkansas side and then the Texas side. My memories of those days are faulty but I can remember on some of those dark nights, the highway turning into surface streets in Texarkana and being stopped by a train crossing the train tracks. I distinctly remember getting out of my car to use a discarded napkin to wipe dirt off my headlights, so dim was my view. I’ve always treated my car like a golf cart so its perpetually filthy. I can remember sitting in my car, watching those trains roll by. I would wonder where they headed. I was wondering why I was out there on the lonesome road headed somewhere I didn’t want to go.
Years later, after a brief stint living with my parents in Kansas City (after returning from my Arkansas exile), I rented an apartment at the junction of I-35 and I-635. I was high on a hill in a top floor apartment. In the spring and summer, I’d open the windows (who could afford A/C back then) and listen to the trains roll by on the tracks that ran parallel to I-35. There was something about that sound. The train chug-chugging by and then they’d blow that whistle. Is there a more lonesome sound than a train whistle in the darkness? I was alone at that time of my life and it was if the train was accentuating the point. There was so much it evoked: travel, movement, goodbyes, leaving, distance…
I was driving out to my parents new house, which is way south of Kansas City and lo and behold, I was stopped by a train. I sat there at the tracks, frustrated because I was already running late, when all those memories of driving dark roads around the south came back to me. I found myself just sitting there, enjoying the sight and sound of a freight train passing my field of vision, a car at a time. My thoughts wandered to Johnny Cash. That guy wrote more great train songs than anybody.
It was then that it hit me – there are shit-ton of great train songs. It doesn’t matter what genre you look to – rock and roll, classic rock, blues, country, country-rock (the Eagles, naturally), heavy metal (even German heavy metal), reggae… Hell, I’m certain even Sinatra probably has a great train song or two. If the sound of train evokes so much emotion in me, with all these great songs out there, maybe I’m not alone. Over the next few weeks I started to compile a list of songs with train references or about trains. Again, I could have just listened to Johnny Cash’s entire catalog and been satisfied, but we like to mix it up here at B&V. Pretty soon I had over 100 songs, and this was just off the top of my head. I whittled it down to just 50 tracks. As usual, you will find this list out on Spotify, under the title, “BourbonAndVinyl.net B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains.” While I quote the amazing Paul Simon track, “Trains In the Distance” above, it didn’t make the cut. It was too mellow. If you have suggestions for additional tracks, I missed, please recommend them in the comments. My thoughts on each track below.
- The Blues Brothers, “She Caught the Katy” – About a hardheaded woman who “left me a mule to ride.” Its the background for the iconic beginning of their movie and I’ve always loved it and hardheaded women.
- Bob Seger, “Long Twin Silver Line” – A rocking deep track that takes us across America.
- The Rolling Stones, “Silver Train” – The Stones riding a Chuck Berry-esque riff like it’s an actual train. Johnny Winter did a great cover of this song.
- The Band with Paul Butterfield, “Mystery Train” – I love this live version of Leon Helm duetting with Paul Butterfield from The Last Waltz. Butterfield did the studio version on his band’s first album.
- Bob Dylan, “Slow Train” – Dylan bringing an apocalyptic train round the bend.
- Velvet Revolver, “Sucker Train Blues” – Ex-GnR members and Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots on their most rocking tune.
- The Velvet Underground, “Train Round The Bend” – Lou Reed could even make a train song sound dirty.
- Crosby, Stills, Nash, “Marrakesh Express” – OK, it’s more of a drug song, but it works.
- Neil Young, “Boxcar” – Beautiful track from Chrome Dreams II.
- The Eagles, “Midnight Flyer” – Country rock from the band that made it famous.
- Steve Winwood, “Night Train” – I love this song. It’s long and so evocative. The production is “of its time,” but who cares.
- AC/DC, “Rock ‘N Roll Train” – One of AC/DC’s great late career jams.
- The Allman Brothers Band, “All Night Train” – A bluesy, stellar track from the Allman Brothers.
- Jimi Hendrix, “Hear My Train a Comin'” – Any version of this blues epic will do.
- Rush, “A Passage To Bangkok” – Ok, like “Marrakesh Express” more of a drug song, but I wanted to show that even prog-rockers do train songs.
- Van Morrison, “Evening Train” – A jaunty train song from Van who even sounds like he’s having fun on this ride.
- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Runaway Trains” – “I’m down here changing lanes…” a song that still haunts me.
- Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Two Trains Running” – Such a great song by such a great blues band.
- Bruce Springsteen, “Tucson Train” – One of the happier songs on Bruce’s latest album, Western Stars, which find our hero waiting on his woman whose coming in on the train from Tucson.
- Social Distortion, “Drug Train” – The Rock Chick’s favorite Social D song… and one they never play live, alas.
- Scorpions, “Catch Your Train” – I had to go all the way back to Virgin Killers for this one.
- Grateful Dead, “Casey Jones” – “Drivin’ that train, high on cocaine…”
- The Who, “5:15” – From the fabulous Quadrophenia. One of my all time Who favorites.
- John Fogerty, “Big Train From Memphis” – Great track about the loss of the King, Elvis Presley.
- The Rolling Stones, “Love In Vain” – I debated about whether to put the Faces cover of this Robert Johnson track, but ultimately, the Stones version is definitive for me.
- Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart, “People Get Ready” – I wish these two would work together again in some capacity.
- The Rolling Stones, “All Down the Line” – A track that should be on their greatest hits. Yes, there’s a lot of Stones here, but I love the Stones and they love trains.
- Little Feat, “Two Trains” – Lowell George was a genius.
- Robert Plant, “Win My Train Fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky)” – Plant covering a track made famous by Muddy Waters. What’s not to love?
- Bob Dylan, “Duquesne Whistle” – This track from Tempest starts off old-timey but takes off a minute in. Benmont Tench does a nice cover version too.
- Rod Stewart, “Downtown Train” – I was tempted to go with Tom Waits’ original, but this is better known and I have a story about this song… The Downtown Train to Wichita: The Road to Drew’s Wedding and the real Mayor of El Dorado, KS.
- Elton John, “Tell Me When The Whistle Blows” – Great Elton deep track, Playlist: B&V’s Favorite 20 Elton John Deep/Album Tracks.
- R.E.M., “Auctioneer (Another Engine)” – From their mumble the lyrics phase…there’s a train song under here somewhere.
- Lenny Kravitz, “Freedom Train” – More of a riff than song, but irresistible for this playlist none the same.
- The Doobie Brothers, “Long Train Runnin'” – The Doobies don’t get the love they once did, but they used to be as big as the Eagles, in my opinion.
- Joe Walsh, “At The Station” – Joe Walsh is just so solid. This is such a great riff and great song.
- Aerosmith, “Train Kept A Rollin'” – First done by Jimmy Page and his Yardbirds. I like this one.
- Gary Clark, Jr, “When My Train Pulls In” – A great, “I’m leavin’ here” track. Gary gives me hope for the guitar.
- Johnny Cash, “Hey Porter” – I almost went with “Orange Blossom Special.” There are so many great Johnny train songs. I had to limit it or his music would take over the playlist.
- The Cult, “Medicine Train” – From their biggest record, Sonic Temple. They’re out touring playing this record in its entirety right now but I haven’t caught up with them yet. I will…mark my words.
- Jethro Tull, “Locomotive Breath” – My favorite Tull song.
- Chuck Berry, “Let It Rock” – A railroad song from the perspective of someone working on the line… with a runaway train on its way…”gotta get the workers out of the way of the train.” The Stones, Bob Seger have both covered this track.
- Bob Marley, “Zion Train” – From his last studio album when alive. He was a giant.
- U2, “Zoo Station” – The opening track from Achtung Baby.
- Guns N Roses, “Night Train” – More about the cheap wine of the same name, but I love these guys and this is one of my favorite songs by them.
- Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train” – His signature song and an NFL stadium favorite.
- The Beatles, “One After 909” – A song they wrote in their early days but only went back to record during the jams around Let It Be.
- Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Stop That Train” – It says Bob Marley, but this is Peter Tosh on lead vocals.
- Sting, “Twenty-Five to Midnight” – A song I first heard after wandering into a bar in Amsterdam. It was a bonus track from Mercury Falling that wasn’t put out in the U.S. until it came out as a b-side.
- Bruce Springsteen, “Downbound Train” – Beautiful, haunting ballad from Bruce to end our proceedings.
You can easily shuffle this playlist, which is something I always advise. Again, I probably missed about a million songs that could have been on here… Please make your suggestions in the comments section. This might be a good playlist for the car, when you’re out on that open highway, chasing something you just can’t catch…but again, those files are sealed.
Thanks and as always, Cheers!