steam-trains-3Trains criss-cross the musical landscape like nothing else. Blues, country and jazz are especially prone to a song about trains as the genres were dominant in our culture before the decline of the railroads. And these trains always bear a lot of symbolic freight –  from separations to reunions, deaths to dance moves (remember Little Eva’s LOCOMOTION anyone?). We opened the show with Gove Scrivenor singing I’VE GOT A THING ABOUT TRAINS. Join the club Gove! My Dad was a railway worker and so trains hold a certain sentimental fascination for me too. 

mystery_trainThe classic song MYSTERY TRAIN is evocative enough to have inspired one of my favourite films by Jim Jarmusch. How could you go wrong with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Joe Strummer and Tom Waits in the cast? Elvis’ version of the song MYSTERY TRAIN gave the tune a strong injection of optimism but, before the King got hold of it, Little Junior’s Blue Flames made the tune a spooky piece of work.  

Trains have particular resonance in black music: trains to heaven, trains to hell, and trains to freedom. The O’Jays’ LOVE TRAIN is a, very funky, utopian call for global unity. Check out this great video clip: its from the television show ‘Soul Train’ and its the weekly line dance, using the O’Jays music. The year was 1973. Loving the hair, the outfits….

The Staple Singers gospel song, THIS TRAIN, is “bound for glory”, but not, please note, if you’re a gambler or a midnight rambler. Less restricting is Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions with PEOPLE GET READY. And I can’t get enough of  The Ethiopians as they ride an unstoppable bassline all the way to Skaville.  

And, just to prove that songs about Trains are in favour across all genres and generations, Michelle Shocked delivered a goodie that uses the train symbolically: IF LOVE WAS A TRAIN. (According to Michelle, she’d be a slow one –excellent!). Soul Asylum followed with RUNAWAY TRAIN and then it was Sarah McLachlan with the fantastic song TRAIN WRECK from her Afterglow album. Check out this live performance:

We played Arlo Guthrie’s version of THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS. Steve Goodman wrote the song in 1970. He was actually on the train and wrote about what he saw looking out of the window and while playing cards in the club car. Everything in the song happened on the ride. When he returned home he heard that the train was going to be taken out of service, due to a lack of passengers. He reworked the lyrics a bit and used the song to save the train. Arlo Guthrie’s cover in 1972 brought attention to rail lines that were vanishing across middle America when people, who lived in rural areas, relied on trains to travel. 

Railroad songs are populated by a colorful assortment of characters: heroes, outlaws and lovers to name a few. But one of the most enduring, especially in country music, is the humble hobo. The itinerant “wanderer” has been a recurring character boxcar_willie_-_freight_train_heartthroughout history but the railroads presented him with the opportunity to cover vast expanses of territory in relatively little time. For many, the urge to hop a train and ride it as far as it would take them was a form of wanderlust too powerful to resist. For others, the rails offered a way out of desperate situations. Whatever the reason, railroads – and hobos – provided plenty of material for good song lyrics.

Jimmy Rodgers got his material first hand. The son of a railway worker, he went to work as a “water boy” on the trains at age fourteen. His song WAITING FOR THE TRAIN, was recorded in the early 1930s. It captures the hobo’s feelings of loneliness beautifully.  Another hobo classic followed: I GOT THE BOXCAR BLUES from Boxcar Willie.

The Guns & Roses song  NIGHT TRAIN is only slightly connected to Trains. A a tribute to an infamous brand of cheap Californian wine called NIGHT TRAIN EXPRESS, it was extremely popular with the band during their early days – mainly because of its low price and high alcohol content. However, on this clip from a live performance in 1988, they profess in their intro that its not about drugs and drink, but about a ‘walk in the park’. Uh huh. Check it out:

Big Joe Turner is hoping that the MIDNIGHT SPECIAL will bring his baby back to him. And Otis Rush is also a bit despondent: There are SO MANY ROADS and SO MANY TRAINS to ride before he can find his baby again. No matter what the lyrics seem to say, all our train songs today had one thing in common: they use the train journey as a metaphor for life.  

Our last song of the day took me back to my back-packing days: Crosby Stills & Nash with MARRAKESH EXPRESS. Here’s a BBC clip of Graham Nash and David Crosby (not sure why Stills wasn’t there). Sweet stuff.

Next week, its PLANES. 

Here’s this week’s complete playlist:


Steam Train+I’ve Got A Thing About Trains 5:05 Gove Scrivenor Shine On Country 5
Car Train 1:32 The Jazz Jury Swingers Soundtrack Jazz 2
Mystery Train 2:24 Little Junior Parker & His Blue Flames The Great Rock n Roll Roots Roots 6
The Train (Feat Scar & Sleepy Brown) 4:11 Outkast Idlewild Hip-Hop 6
Love Train 3:02 Ojays 1973 R&B 8
This Train 2:38 The Staple Singers Freedom Highway Blues 6
People Get Ready 2:39 Curtis Mayfield & The Impressi The Anthology 1961-1977 (Disk R&B 6
Train To Skaville 2:41 The Ethiopians This Is Ska!: 16 Original Ska Classics Ska 5
If Love Was a Train 4:07 Michelle Shocked Short Sharp Shocked Rock 3
Runaway Train 4:26 Soul Aslyum Black Gold: The Best of Soul Asylum Pop 4
Train Wreck 4:35 Sarah McLachlan Folk 5
The City of New Orleans 4:29 Arlo Guthrie Folk 8
Folsom Prison Blues 2:50 Johnny Cash Outlaw Blues, Murder Ballads & Prison Songs (Uncut) Country 6
That Train Don’t Stop Here 6:52 Ruth Brown R+B=Ruth Brown Blues 3
Big Thunder Trains 0:10 3
Last Train to Clarksville 2:47 The Monkees Greatest Hits [Rhino] Pop 6
Waiting For A Train 2:47 Jimmy Rodgers Country 2
I Got The Boxcar Blues 3:24 Boxcar Willie Boxcar Blues Country Blues 1
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry 4:09 Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited Rock 6
Engine Number Nine 2:49 Wilson Pickett Chronicles (The Roots Of G-Funk) R&B/Funk 7
Party Train 5:45 The Dazz Band Greatest Hits Soul 8
Midnight Train To Georgia 4:36 Gladys Knight and the Pips Soul 5
Jumping Someone Else’s Train 2:59 The Cure Boys Don’t Cry Alternative 6
Night Train 5:23 Guns N’ Roses Hard Rock 4
Midnight Special Train 2:39 Big Joe Turner Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 [Disc 3] R&B 10
So Many Roads, So Many Trains 3:13 Otis Rush Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues – A Musical Journey (Disc 3) Blues 4
Hear My Train A-Comin’ 6:58 Jimi Hendrix Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: Jimi Hendrix Blues 2
Long Train Runnin’ 3:26 Doobie Brothers The Captain & Me (1973) Classic Rock 6
Marrakesh Express 2:39 Crosby, Stills & Nash Crosby, Stills & Nash Rock 6

I’ve Got A Thing About Trains – Gove Scrivenor

Mystery Train – Little Junior Parker & His Blue Flames

The Train (Feat Scar & Sleepy Brown) – Outkast

Love Train – Ojays

This Train – The Staple Singers

People Get Ready – Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions

Train To Skaville – The Ethiopians

If Love Was a Train – Michelle Shocked

Runaway Train – Soul Aslyum

Train Wreck – Sarah McLachlan

The City of New Orleans – Arlo Guthrie

Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash

That Train Don’t Stop Here – Ruth Brown

Last Train to Clarksville – The Monkees

Waiting For A Train – Jimmy Rodgers

I Got The Boxcar Blues – Boxcar Willie

Engine Number Nine – Wilson Pickett

Party Train  – The Dazz Band

Midnight Train To Georgia – Gladys Knight and the Pips

Jumping Someone Else’s Train – The Cure

Night Train – Guns N’ Roses

Midnight Special Train – Big Joe Turner

So Many Roads, So Many Trains – Otis Rush

Hear My Train A-Comin’ – Jimi Hendrix

Long Train Runnin’ – The Doobie Brothers

Marrakesh Express – Crosby, Stills & Nash

Listen to Lyn McCarthy at the Theme Park on BayFM Tuesdays 2-4pm (Sydney time). Also streaming at

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About Lyn McCarthy

Lyn presents a weekly radio show at BayFM 99.9 in beautiful Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia

Posted on August 11, 2009, in Broadcasting and media, community radio, music - nostalgia, music, blues, music, country, music, r&b, music, soul, Radio Program, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great to see your XXX that invokes Arlo Guthrie’s version of Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans.” Goodman often doesn’t get his due. You might be interested in my 800-page biography, “Steve Goodman: Facing the Music.” The book delves deeply into the genesis and effects of “City of New Orleans,” and Arlo Guthrie is a key source among my 1,050 interviewees and even contributed the foreword.

    You can find out more at my Internet site (below). Amazingly, the book’s first printing sold out in just eight months, all 5,000 copies, and a second printing of 5,000 is available now. The second printing includes hundreds of little updates and additions, including 30 more photos for a total of 575. It won a 2008 IPPY (Independent Publishers Association) silver medal for biography.

    To order a second-printing copy, see the “online store” page of my site. Just trying to spread word about the book. Feel free to do the same!

    Clay Eals
    1728 California Ave. S.W. #301
    Seattle, WA 98116-1958

    (206) 935-7515 home
    (206) 484-8008 cell

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