Loading…

“Dolby’s Top 10 Songs about Trains”

I got an aura just LOOKING at this list.

But lemme backtrack a moment. I’m from Indiana, the “Crossroads of America,” a euphemism for the fact that my proud state has more railroads, functional and also unfortunately, derelict, than any other. We’re actually barred from going into debt to the federal government, because of a failed railroad project in the 19th century.
Bob Dylan never sang about trains. That should tell you something about how psyched up New Yorkers get about them. There are two New York references, in total, I could think of (the Velvets narrative takes place in the rural): Lou Reed’s “You got a black .38 and a gravity knife / You still have to ride the train,” and Fife Dawg from Tribe Called Quest’s “Ridin’ on the train with no dough… SUCKS!”
This being said, all of these songs don’t just cursorily mention railway travel, but rather, the events in the lyrics seem to in some way revolve around it. Enclosed boxes filled with humanity are an event of heightened energy, which obviously, if it’s in the middle of seedy New York, leads to disaster, but if it’s in the middle of nowhere (or Detroit, same thing), makes in some cases for some much needed poignance.
Surprisingly, there are about as many songs about buses as there are about trains, take the couple from New York I thought of off the top of my head: Beastie Boys’ “Mark on the Bus” and Simon and Garfunkle’s “America.” Also, buses as we know were immortalized in the drive-by views in 8 Mile, while Eminem is listening to music, and writing, on his way to working at the auto plant. What I take from the whole thing is that buses are more practical, trains almost metaphoric: Prine offers no information about that “mornin’ train,” and for all we know it exists only in his mind, a symbol of the plagued social energy from his former sweetie pie, sending him wayward. Slint sound anachronistic in their masterpiece about the freight rollers. What is reality, does anything we see actually exist, and what do we do when we just wanna trade it all back in? Hope there are some artists out there who have done the same thing already, of course.

..
10 Iggy Pop – “The Passenger”

.

Only Iggy Pop could stay awake through the entire singing of this song, because its incredibly repetitive chord progression and seductive “la-la-la’”s are almost like a nursery rhyme or a lullaby, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s a comforting companion for four minutes when life gets overwhelming.

..

9 The Velvet Underground – “Train Round the Bend”

.

Lou Reed had orchestrated some really dumb and obnoxious statement, whether it was “I feel just like Jesus’ son,” or imploring someone not to kill the person in the room because it will “stain the carpet,” or talking about stuffing a life “in a cup” which for some reason conjures up petri dish images for me, on every album, and this was probably his first one on Loaded, a blatant, somewhat Bukowski-an rebuff of Mother Nature and big sky country. Eh, at least he tried. I think.

..

8 John Prine – “Morning Train”

.

All these songs on Fair & Square sort of run together for me, some of them even have the same chord progression, and this one neither really stands out, nor garners maneuvers to the “skip” button for me.

..

7 Grateful Dead – “Casey Jones”

.

So is Workingman’s Dead a “concept album”? Maybe side two at least, perhaps more so than Sgt. Pepper’s anyway. On Phish’s album Lawn Boy, “The Squirming Coil” is the initial track, and the final one is “Bouncing around the Room.” And then on A Live One, it’s the opposite. I’d like to see this experiment tried with “Uncle John’s Band” and “Casey Jones”… maybe the driver crashes into the concert site, where they’re “Playing to the tide,” with some Narnian reality-shifting in the middle?

..

6 Journey – “Don’t Stop Believin’”

.

I have no idea if I like this song or not, I am though admittedly struck by the poignant image of young runaways meeting on a train (that and getting the hell out of the Midwest, whenever I can).

..

5 Darius Rucker – “Wagon Wheel”

.

I could see Dave Chapelle making fun of this song in his “racial draft” thing, like yup, the white people got Darius Rucker. This was on though recently in the dance club where I worked, and nothing else this year has seemed quite as refreshing.

..

4 Brewer and Shipley – “One Toke over the Line”

.

Haven’t heard this one in a while, I believe the last time was in an Old Chicago in Boulder, Colorado. Colorado is very much a “crossroads of America,” like Indiana… back when the ESPN Zone was open in Denver (which happened to be my favorite bar) I was sitting there with three other people, and all four of us were from a different part of the country.

..

3 Duke Ellington – “Take the ‘A’ Train”

.

This part of disc two of The Essential Duke Ellington is jam-packed with household name favorites: “Cotton Tail” used to be a favorite of our high school unit, as did “Don’t Get around Much Anymore,” but even more so “Take the ‘A’ Train” has the sort of simple, immediate but timeless melody that would solidify Ellington’s position among greatness.

..

2 Cream – “Coffee Song”

.

I’ll admit, part of why I like this song is that it’s about coffee. Jack Bruce just sounds so possessed when he sings “You said how the coffee tasted SO FINE!” Other than that, an interesting thing is that it doesn’t possess the usual skill set of your median Cream song: there’s no overwhelming guitar solo, and Bruce’s notes for the most part stay under a modest ledger, and decibel level. It’s just a “workingman’s,” so I say, little ditty that isn’t exactly like any other song out there, whereas on the rest of Fresh Cream they can remind me heavily of The Grateful Dead, though you can’t beat that “Cat’s Squirrel” arrangement.

..

1 Slint – “Nosferatu Man”

.

I first didn’t get “turned on” to Slint, but rather “turned off” by them, by way of their later album Tweez, which from what I remember is far different from this one… maybe it’s for completists? Either way, I usually don’t even get through all of Spiderland, but this one is structured toward the front, clearly designed as the album’s centerpiece, a bit like “Willie the Pimp” on Hot Rats or something.

Leave a Reply