The news here has given me a good prompt for my theme this week. The two main unions which represent workers on our railway network are currently balloting their members on possible strike action, and the results are expected later today. The current prediction is that the vote will have a big majority for industrial action, so it seems likely that we will shortly be seeing a work to rule and possibly an all out strike. Sometimes, I’m glad that I don’t get out much! But this got me thinking that I knew a few songs that would fit the bill, so I chose as this week’s theme: train.
As regular readers will know I like to get things off to a rousing start. Will this do?
I do love this band! Rock ‘N’ Roll Train was the opening track on AC/DC’s fourteenth album, Black Ice, which was released in October 2008. This was their first studio album in more than eight years, and its sales figures suggested that their fans had been missing them: it reached #1 in the US, the UK, and a whole string of other countries: 27 of them, to be exact. It has to date sold well over 6m copies worldwide. This track was released as a single ahead of the album, in August 2008, but they have never really been a singles band: it got to #45 in Canada and #44 in Japan, and the only other chart placing that Wikipedia records is #1 on the US Mainstream Rock chart, which is based on radio airplay as opposed to sales. If you’re interested, the black and white clips in the video of railway tracks are from a little film the BBC put together in 1953, showing the journey from London to Brighton speeded up to take just four minutes. I remember seeing it on tv while I was growing up – it was one of the Beeb’s standard time fillers if a live broadcast finished early. You can see the whole film here.
Another piece of classic rock for you now:
The Doobie Brothers released Long Train Running in March 1973 on their album The Captain And Me, which reached #7 in the US and #10 in Canada, but didn’t make the UK charts. The track was released as a single later the same month, getting to #8 in both the US and Canada. Again, it didn’t make the UK charts, but it was remixed and re-released in 1993 and this time around made it to #7 in the UK. The Doobies have had much success in the US but not so much here, which I have always found surprising. This was another of those albums that got played a lot in my university days: as it includes this track and China Grove you can probably see why!
While I’m on a roll with great rock acts, I thought I’d drop this one in too:
Though that live performance is much more recent, dating from 2013, Downbound Train was originally a track on Bruce Springsteen’s mega hit album Born In The USA, which was released in June 1984. It topped the charts in the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden, and has sold more than 30m copies. Seven of the album’s twelve tracks were released as singles, but this wasn’t one of them, not even as a B-side. I guess that just goes to prove how strong the album was! I have happy memories of this album: I bought it on vinyl but then copied it to tape to play in the car. In those days my then wife and I had a holiday each year in the Lake District and took it in turns to choose the music. By the end of the holiday she had heard it so often that she was beginning to like it!
I know of at least three versions of my next selection. It was hard for me to leave out the one by Mary Chapin Carpenter, much less so to omit Rod Stewart, but I went for the original, by the guy who wrote the song. It’s a nice little video, too:
Watching that again I think I made the right choice: that is such an evocative video, and it goes so well with the song. Downtown Train was a track on Rain Dogs, the ninth studio album by Tom Waits, released in September 1985. It was a loose concept album about “the urban dispossessed” of New York City, and you can see that from the video, I think. The album only got to #188 in the US, but reached #29 in the UK. It performed best in Scandinavia, though, peaking at #5 in Sweden and at #12 in Norway. Despite that low chart position it has sold more than 500k copies in the US. Tom has a style and a voice all of his own, and I kinda like it.
I’ve featured John Hiatt a couple of times recently, and as he has been well-received I thought I’d give you another of his. It is an album track, so it is an audio-only clip, but I think he’s worth it:
As that shows, Train To Birmingham is a track on John’s album Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns, which was released in August 2011, and got to #59 in the US and #99 in the UK. He may not be a big seller but, like all of his records, this contains some great songs and is well worth a listen. In keeping with the pattern he has followed since 2001 no singles were taken from this album: in my view, you’re better off playing the whole thing, anyway.
Marc Cohn is another long time favourite of mine who I have played for you before. I was never going to leave this one out:
Ghost Train was the second track on Marc’s eponymous debut album, released in February 1991, and reaching #38 in the US and #27 in the UK. You may know the album’s opening track: it was Walking In Memphis, which gave him a #13 hit in the US and #22 in the UK. If you only know the dreadful cover by Cher, please expunge all memory of it and take a listen to the original! On the strength of that song and the album, he won the Grammy in 1992 for Best New Artist. Like John Hiatt he never makes a bad record, and I have everything he has ever done in my collection: they have pride of place there. A version of this song was included on Work To Do, a live collaboration by Marc with the Blind Boys Of Alabama, released in August 2019. It is equally lovely, as befits a song about those we have lost.
Unusally for me I haven’t yet included a female vocalist this week. The penultimate song may not be too late to set that straight, and it is a little gem:
That Train Don’t Run was a track on Matraca Berg’s third album, Sunday Morning To Saturday Night, which was released in September 1997, making #48 on the US Country chart and #22 in Canada. This song was released as a single, making #59 in the US Country chart and #70 in the Canadian Country listings. I bought the album on a whim one lunchtime, back in the days when I worked near Paddington Station and it had a branch of Our Price Records (remember them, UK readers?). It was in the remainders bin, and something about it just attracted me. I’ve never regretted it: it is a lovely album. Matraca has had more success with songs that have been recorded by others, including a #1 for Reba McEntire. I follow her on Instagram and she is a delight, always ready to support other artists, and is clearly popular among them. You may recall a couple of songs I have recently played by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: she has been married for nearly thirty years to Jeff Hanna, a founder member of that band, and often shares photos of them together. As I say, she is delightful, and has made some very nice albums.
For today’s final song I’m unashamedly playing again one that I featured less than three months ago, for reasons which I will remind you of after the video:
I’m kind of repeating myself here, but I think the message from this song and video can’t be overstated. Not only is this a superb song, but the video made a point about runaway children who have been lost to their families. Many have been found as a result of this video and the publicity it generated but, sadly, many others are still missing, as you will see from the comments if you watch it on YouTube. This is a heartbreaking watch: it makes me so grateful for my family. It was the third track on Soul Asylum’s sixth album, Grave Dancers Union, which was released in October 1992 and became their first album to make the charts anywhere, ultimately peaking at #11 in the US and #27 in the UK. Runaway Train was released in June 1993 as the third single from the album, and was the main driver for the album’s success, getting to #5 in the US, #1 in Canada, and #7 in the UK, as well as making the top ten in many other countries. I used to play the album a lot during my long commute around the North Circular Road in London, and still bring it out occasionally now: this song is too good to ignore!
That’s all the music for this week. As always, I had several more I could have played, so I’m sorry if I missed out anything obvious or a favourite of yours. Do tell me in the comments, as if there are enough there could always be another train arriving soon. I’m off to await what I think will be an obvious piece of news when the vote is announced, and then I can count my lucky stars that I don’t need to travel. I did it for long enough going to work, and I’m SO glad I don’t have to do it any more. And there is also our other main news story to keep me occupied: the pathetic attempts by the guy who calls himself our Prime Minister to keep his job, in the face of ever-mounting evidence that he has told lies to the House of Commons. If only our media could concentrate on stories that have a wider importance, but ’twas ever thus.
Have a great week, and I’ll see you again soon 😊🚂