May 1, 2006


Steyn's Song Of The Week: (3) MORNING TRAIN (NINE TO FIVE) by Florrie Palmer (Mark Steyn, 5/01/06)

I love the Great American Train Song. It’s a genre that has the sweep and size of the nation:

And you pull the throttle, whistle blows
A-huffin’ an’ a-puffin’ and away she goes
All the way to Californiay
On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe!

And, if you're a foreigner, you can learn a lot about the lie of the land from these numbers:

You leave the Pennsylvania Station ’bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner
Nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham’n’eggs in Carolina… [...]

And, as a general rule, the worst train song is better than the best soccer song.

That last bit obviously damns with too faint praise. For instance, there's no better tune of the past several years than Josh Turner's Long Black Train, the video of which is available here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 1, 2006 2:39 PM

I myself like "Mystery Train" (Elvis on Sun version), and Hellbound Train (Chuck Berry):

A stranger lying on a bar room floor
had drank so much he could drink no more,
and so he fell asleep with a troubled brain
to dream that he rode on that down bound train.

The engine with blood was sweaty and damp
and brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp,
and imps for fuel was shoveling bones
while the furnace rang with a thousand groans.

The boiler was filled with lots of beer
the devil himself was the engineer,
the passengers were most a motley crew,
some were foreigners and others he knew.
rich men and lost beggars in rags
handsome young ladies and wicked old hags.

As the train rushed on at a terrible pace
sulphuric fumes scorched their hands and face,
wider and wider the country grew
faster and faster the engine flew,
louder and louder the thunder crashed
brighter and brighter the lighting flashed,
hotter and hotter the air became
til their clothes were burned with each quivering refrain.

Then out of the din there came a yell
ha ha said the devil were nearing home,
oh how the passengers shrieked with pain
they go to Satan with this down bound train.

The stranger awoke with an anguished cry
his clothes wet with sweat and his hair standing high,
he fell on his knees on the bar room floor
and prayed a prayer like never before.
And the prayers and vows were not in vain
for he never rode that down bound train.

Posted by: ted welter at May 1, 2006 4:12 PM

"City of New Orleans" is, of course, the greatest of the great. I've recently discovered Joe Ely's "Boxcars," which is nearly as good:

Well I gave all my money to the banker this month
Now I got no more money to spend
She smiled when she saw me comin' through that door
When I left she said, "Come back again."
I watched them lonesome boxcar wheels
Turnin' down the tracks out of town
And it's on that lonesome railroad track
I'm gonna lay my burden down.

I was raised on a farm the first years of my life
Life was pretty good they say
I'll probably live to be some ripe ol' age
If death'll stay out of my way
This world can take my money and time
But it sure can't take my soul
I'm goin' down to the railroad tracks
Watch them lonesome boxcars roll

There's some big ol' Buicks at the Baptist church
Caddilacs at the Church of Christ
I parked my camel by an ol' haystack
I'll be lookin for that needle all night
There ain't gonna be no radial tires
Turnin' down the streets of gold
I'm goin down to the railroad tracks
And watch them lonesome boxcars roll

Now if you ever heard the whistle on a fast freight train
Beatin' out a beautiful tune
If you ever seen the cold blue railroad tracks
Shinin' by the light of the moon
If you ever felt the locomotive shake the ground
I know you don't have to be told
Why I'm goin down to the railroad tracks
And watch them lonesome boxcars roll.

Honorable mention to the Grateful Dead's "Monkey and the Engineer" (for the correct use of railroad terminology) and Neil Young's "Southern Pacific."

Posted by: Mike Morley at May 1, 2006 4:17 PM

Johnny Cash for me:

Hey, Porter:

Hey porter! Hey porter!
It's getting light outside.
This old train is puffin' smoke,
and I have to strain my eyes.
But ask that engineer if he will
blow his whistle please.
Cause I smell frost on cotton leaves
and I feel that Southern breeze.

Folsom Prison Blues:

I hear the train a comin'
it's rolling round the bend
and I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin' on
but that train keeps a rollin' on down to San Anton..
When I was just a baby my mama told me. Son,
always be a good boy, don't ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
now every time I hear that whistle I hang my head and cry..

Wreck of Old 97:

Well they gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia,
Said: "Steve, you're way behind time,
"This is not 38, this is Ol' 97,
"Put her into Spencer on time."

Then he turned around and said to his black, greasy fireman,
"Shovel on a little more coal.
"And when we cross that White Oak mountain,
"Watch Ol' '97 roll."

And then a telegram come from Washington station,
This is how it read:
"Oh that brave engineer that run ol 97,
"Is lyin in old Danville dead."

'Cos he was going down a grade making 90 miles an hour,
The whistle broke into a scream.
He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle,
Scalded to death by the steam.

Posted by: Rick T. at May 1, 2006 4:22 PM

Almost forgot: Jethro Tull, "Journeyman."

. . . On the late commuter special
Carriage lights that flicker, fade and die
Howling into hollow blackness
Dusky diesel shudders in full cry. . . .

Posted by: Mike Morley at May 1, 2006 4:22 PM

"Locomotive Breath", although it's not necessarily about railroad locomotion.

And I'm equally fond of jet plane songs. "Early Morning Rain" can still bring tears to my eyes if I'm in the proper mood, and "Big Old Jet Airliner" has me punding on the steering wheel.

All very, um, moving.

Posted by: ghostcat at May 1, 2006 4:45 PM

pounding, probably

Posted by: ghostcat at May 1, 2006 4:46 PM

Thank heavens it's "pounding." I'm not sure what "punding" is, or if it's even legal (especially while driving).

Oh, and another good rocking train song is the Yardbirds version of Train Kept a Rollin. The Aerosmith version is ok, but then again they just covered the cover.

I almost put together a great train song mix cd for Orrin but decided it would only encourage him.

Posted by: ted welter at May 1, 2006 4:51 PM

Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" is nothing short of brilliant.

Joe Walsh's "At the Station" is another wheel-pounder.

Posted by: ghostcat at May 1, 2006 4:57 PM

Ted -

"Punding" is like "pharding".

Posted by: ghostcat at May 1, 2006 4:58 PM

Mike Morley, I love Rosie Flores' version of that song. Thanks for reminding me. Just pulled out the CD.

Posted by: jdkelly at May 1, 2006 5:02 PM

GOing back a little farther than the rest of you to the great standard "I Thought About You":

I took a trip on a train
and I thought about you.
We passed a shadowy lane
and I thought about you.

Two or three cars parked under the stars,
a winding stream,
the moon shining down on some little town
and with each beam, the same old dream.

At every stop that we made, oh, I thought about you.
And when I pulled down the shade I really felt blue.
I peeked through that crack and looked at the track
the one goin' back to you.
And what did I do?
I thought about you.

Posted by: Foos at May 1, 2006 6:04 PM