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B List: 10 Best Songs About Trains


9. Pat Metheny – Last Train Home

This is one of my personal favorites, and one that Umphrey’s McGee has been known to cover from time to time. The rhythm in this song is intended to replicate the sound of a train rolling down the tracks. Metheny uses his electric sitar to craft a melodic tone that is truly magical.

8. Bob Marley & The Wailers (featuring Peter Tosh) – Stop That Train

While many believe this to be a Bob Marley song, it was actually written by Wailers guitarist Peter Tosh prior to his departure from the band. It appears on Bob’s major-label debut Catch a Fire and also on Peter Tosh’s solo album Mama Africa. Both versions feature Tosh on vocals.

7. The Band with Paul Butterfield – Mystery Train

From The Last Waltz. This version features Levon Helm and blues harp maestro Paul Butterfield trading off on vocals. It’s one of the best songs of the entire performance, and my favorite version of the tune Elvis made famous. However, the original featuring James Burton on guitar ain’t too shabby neither.

6. Jimi Hendrix – Hear My Train a Comin’

Also known as “Getting My Heart Back Together Again,” this song shows Jimi’s true blues roots and the influence artists such as Albert King and Elmore James had on his playing. There are various recorded versions of this song, some featuring Jimi plugged in, others featuring him on a 12-string acoustic (both featured on the Blues album). A newly released version appeared on Jimi’s latest posthumous release, Valleys of Neptune, and is perhaps the best version of the song ever recorded.

5. Gladys Knight and the Pips – Midnight Train to Georgia

One of the all-time famous “train” songs. It was originally written and recorded by Jim Weatherly, and then later by The Pips’ on their 1973 release Imagination. There was once an interview with Trey on the Phish Archive where he said that the band once listened to this tape for an entire tour, and every time they would get off the bus they would ask people when they had last heard it because it was so amazing.

4. Grateful Dead – Casey Jones

This song needs no introduction. However, not everyone knows that Casey Jones was a railroad engineer who appears in many of these “train” songs, especially some of the older bluegrass and folk songs. Jones lost his life attempting to save the passengers of his train, making him into somewhat of a folk-hero. The Dead also played and wrote several other notable “train” songs such as Big Railroad Blues, I Know You Rider and Monkey and the Engineer.

3. The Rolling Stones – Love in Vain

This is a Robert Johnson song that the Stones famously covered on their 1969 album Let It Bleed. I was once told that all rock music was based upon Robert Johnson’s 29 songs and through the years, I’ve realized this to be increasingly true. I have also read other musicians preach the same theory. This song is one of the earliest recorded blues songs that features the theme of the train. What amazes me about this version is how they took Johnson’s, already amazing, song and turned it into something completely different. It’s a song that has been in my head since I was a child, and one that I find myself singing to myself almost every day, especially when I’m on the train.

2. Bob Dylan – It takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

This is probably one of Dylan’s strongest deliveries both in terms of vocals and harp. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry was just one of those Dylan songs that was simply destined to be covered over and over again. There is an endless list of musicians who have put their spin on the song including the Dead, Little Feat, The Allman Brothers and Taj Mahal. (Thanks to Lucas from Back in 15 Minutes for helping me put this greatness into words).

1. Duke Ellington – Take the A-Train

While many believe this song to have been written by Duke Ellington, it was actually written by Billy Strayhorn, but was famously performed by The Duke Ellington Band. It’s said that the song was born from the directions Ellington gave to Strayhorn when he first moved to New York City. The directions began “Take the a-train…” It is one of the most famous jazz standards, and also one of the most important pieces of American music.

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37 thoughts on “B List: 10 Best Songs About Trains

  1. Bob Reply

    Love this list and I can’t dispute any of the choices, especially Midnight Train to Georgia, which was on a regular iTunes playlist most of last summer. Here are some I’d add

    K.C. Jones (On the Road Again) – North Mississippi Allstars
    Waiting on a Train – Jimmie Rogers (Dickey Betts’s version isn’t half-bad either)
    Crazy Train – Ozzy Osborne (played live version repeatedly the summer of 1985)
    Midnight Rider – Allman Brothers Band

    Gotta also add You Never Even Call Me By My Name by David Alan Coe just b/c of the last verse!

  2. Kevin in Albany Reply

    Another great one is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Train Song” from the Nuthin Fancy album, which is, IMO, one of their strongest (and not as well known?) releases.

    @Bob- Jorma also did a sweet version of “Waiting on a Train” on his Blue Country Heart album as well.

  3. Teabag Reply

    Cinderella ‘Heartbreak Station’

  4. Lucas Samuels Reply

    Awesome list. I’d probably toss Cat Stevens – Peace Train on as a special mention and Wilco’s “Venus Stop The Train” from the outtakes of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

    Well done Sam.

  5. Tim Reply

    Ry Cooder – Boomer’s Story

  6. Dogoneblog Reply

    Thanks for the good words!

    Some honorable mentions that did not make the list:

    Little Feat – Two Trains
    Joni Mitchell – Just Like This Train
    The Beatles – One After 909
    Doc Watson – Freight Train Boogie
    Johnny Cash – I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow

  7. Ben Keller Reply

    Drive-by Truckers – Tornadoes

    Not actually about a train, but a reaction to a period of writing a lot of train-based songs and then reading a Tornado-related newspaper article where an eye-witness described a tornado with the phrase “It sounded like a train”

  8. Bob Reply

    Need to amend my list, Midnight Rider wasn’t the song I was thinking about, it was Melissa, by the ABB, “Freight train, each car looks the same…”

    Not a song about a train, but it references one.

  9. save Reply

    All great choices
    How about one of the great lowell
    george instrumentals of all time
    ‘Lafayette Railroad’!

  10. Mitch Reply

    The gd didn’t write monkey & the engineer, an “old one man band dude, from Oakland, named Jesse feuller” did according to bw

  11. John Glynn Reply

    Driver 8 by REM.

  12. Jingles Reply

    I am going to download the “Glady’s Night”. Its mine favorite. I don’t want to miss it.

  13. fz Reply

    Train from Just A Boy-Leo Sayer. Before he went pop.

  14. Bryce Reply

    How could you not include Freight Train by Elizabeth Cotton?

  15. Handmade Spark Reply

    what a fun post! haven’t heard some of these in years.

  16. RAGE Reply

    ummm….no peace train? no train in vain? c’mon…

  17. OPT Reply

    runaway train, please

  18. dogoneblog Reply

    I’ll give you train in vain. But what would it replace?

    No Cat Stevens song will ever make any “best of” list of mine.

  19. jimmy greenfield Reply

    Oh the ignorance! A critc who thinks James Burton, who didn’t play with Elvis until ’69 was on ’55′s “Mystery Train”! It was Scotty Moore. Heard of him?

  20. zaptor Reply

    Great post. You really opened up a can of worms.

    Most glaring “how could you” omissions are Freight Train by Elizabeth Cotton and Last of the Steam Engine Trains by the Kinks.

  21. Austin Dermatologist Reply

    The post is very nicely written and it contains many useful facts. I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post. Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement. Thanks for sharing with us.

  22. Oliver Reply

    These are all amazing tunes, but “Midnight Train to Georgia” is one of the greatest songs ever written about anything.

  23. fratmaster Reply

    No mention of Phish’s Train song?

  24. David Brazier Reply

    Crazy Horse ‘Gone Dead ‘Train’.
    Steve Goodman ‘City of New Orleans’
    Pete Seeger ‘Last Train to Nuremburg’

  25. ed Reply

    Texas Eagle- Steve Earle and Del McCoury Band

    Crazy Train- Ozzy

  26. John Reply

    ‘Train’ by Blackfoot

  27. Ferrariowner Reply

    Sort of hard to believe City of New Orleans is not among the songs, given who wrote it and who has covered it, and that its one of the few songs actually explicitly named for a train.

  28. wtb2612 Reply

    This list is desperately missing Driver 8 by R.E.M.

  29. jippers Reply

    Yep – I agree Driver 8 by REM should be there. As could any number of delta blues records and Jimmie Rodgers records, like Orange Blossom Special.

    What about:

    “Long Train Runnin’” – Doobie Brothers
    “Waterloo Sunset” – The Kinks
    “Train Of Thought” – The Sharp
    “Dust” – Midnight Oil
    “Tuesday’s Gone” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
    “Last Train To Clarkesville” – The Monkees

    or, if you wanna get cryptic “I Should Have Known Better” by The Beatles

  30. Marcellus Dereus Reply

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  31. Joe Bass Reply

    How about Hellbound Train by Savoy Brown?

  32. Eagle knevil Reply

    What about’ one way ticket ‘ by ‘eruption’ bony minus m ‘a train they call the city of new orleans’ willy nelson ‘hey porter’johnny cash and many more back to future three

  33. is Reply

    Just leave off freight train and john henrys blues?

  34. jimhudson Reply

    Totally agree with the Dylan Song but it’s Better than “Take the A Train!” And what, No Johnny Cash Train Songs or “City of New Orleans?”

  35. Geoff Chambers Reply

    The songs most recorded by notable artists, based on Wikipedia’s List of Train Songs, would be roughly in this order:

    1. John Henry (Traditional)
    2. How Long How Long Blues (LeRoy Carr)
    3. John Hardy (Traditional)
    4. Life’s Railway to Heaven (Traditional)
    5. 500 Miles (Hedy West)
    6. Night Train (Forrest-Simpkins-Washington)

    From there, it’s very close between Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash), Chattanooga Choo-Choo (Warren-Gordon), This Train (Traditional), Freight Train (Elizabeth Cotten), It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (Bob Dylan), Rock Island Line (Traditional), I’m Movin’ On (Hank Snow), Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms (Lester Flatt), Railroad Bill (Traditional), Orange Blossom Special (Ervin Rouse), Roll on Buddy (Traditional) and 900 Miles (Traditional).

    Great songs like City of New Orleans and Loco-Motion were recorded by very few artists.

  36. JQ Reply

    Traintime (live) – Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker, as Cream
    The Train That Carried My Gal From Town,Doc & Merle Watson
    Railroad Man – Ryuichi Sakamoto
    Waiting For a Train – Jimmy Rodgers*/Boz Skaggs/Beck
    Train of Love – Johnny Cash*/Jimmie Dale Gilmore/Rick Danko

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