A R T I C L E
Ten Songs About Trains
by Ian Duggan
It's almost Christmas, and it's time to make lists. And who doesn’t love lists? Not so much a Top 10, we look at some of our favourite songs about trains. And why not? Hamilton was the home to New Zealand’s first underground train station, and are we not Hamilton Underground Press?
1. Greasy Meal (A Song About Trains) by The Scones
In all honesty, this song was a primary motivation for choosing trains as our first list topic. This is one of our favourite songs from The Scones, off their excellent 2017 release ‘The Greasy EP’. They name-check The Naenae Express and The Smiths, and they mention the Taieri Gorge Railway (and its food) on this one; it is just an all-round fun song. The band make the statement, “I’d like to hear a song about trains that doesn’t sound like a train”. How many on our list will?
2. Overlander – The Naenae Express
Another of the HUP’s favourite bands. We have had them play Hamilton a couple of times, most recently in support for Pavement founder Spiral Stairs – and, as mentioned, they were name-checked by The Scones in the song above. ‘Overlander’ certainly fits the bill for ‘songs about trains that sound like trains’. It follows a trip on the Overlander from “Wellington to Auckland and back”, providing highlights, and including a special mention of "Hamiltron”. Find this gem on their excellent 2015 EP ‘The Naenae Express Extended Player’.
3. Box Elder - Pavement
Speaking of Spiral Stairs, Pavement released the song ‘Box Elder’ on their debut EP ‘Slay Tracks’ in 1989, and it was made more widely available on 1993’s ‘Westing (By Musket and Sextant)’. It isn’t so much a song about trains, but it does mention them: “Wasn't the question you asked me, wasn't the answer I gave, that made me feel like I was on a train”. The song is more about running away from a relationship. By bus. This song was covered by recent Hamilton visitors ‘The Wedding Present’, appearing on the US version of their album ‘Bizarro’.
4. Trains - Huge Industrial Artsnob
A local band from the mid-1980s, this song by Huge Industrial Art Snob appeared on the classic Hamilton compilations Surf Music in 1989 and Discordia Concors in 1993 (though the song itself was recorded in 1987). Despite the title, it doesn’t appear to be about trains at all.
5. Waiting for a Train – Flash and the Pan
Firmly back in the territory of songs about trains that sound like trains. Flash and the Pan were an Australian new wave group formed by Harry Vanda and the recently deceased George Young (older brother of AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm). Both Vanda and Young were former members of the ‘Easybeats’ (of ‘Friday on my Mind’ fame). This song was released in 1982.
6. Trans-Europe Express – Kraftwerk
Off the 1977 album of the same name, this song is about the former international railway service in western and central Europe – the Trans Europ Express. The service was founded in 1957, at its peak in the 1970s when the Kraftwerk album was released, but was ceased to exist in 1995.
7. You Drove Your Car Into A Moving Train - Grandaddy
Initially on their 1994 limited release ‘Recorded Live Amongst Friends and Fidget’, it was later released as a hidden track on their 1999 ‘The Broken Down Comforter Collection’ compilation, a collection of the bands early EPs. A song about as sad as you might expect from the title.
8. Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash
One of Johnny Cash's most loved tunes, Folsom Prison Blues (according to Wikipedia) “combines elements from two popular folk styles, the train song and the prison song, both of which Cash continued to use for the rest of his career”. The song first appeared on his 1957 debut album “Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar”. Nevertheless, it is best known from his live 1967 recording, which was released as a single and appeared on his ‘At Folsom Prison’ album.
9. Train in Vain - The Clash
The third single off the Clash’s 1979 ‘London Calling’, and their first US Top 40 hit, peaking at number 23 on the Billboard chart. Despite appearing in Wikipedia’s “List of Train Songs”, this song also isn’t actually about trains.
10. Jumping Someone Else's Train - The Cure
Originally released as a single in 1979, the song was released again in 1986. Despite the music video featuring the view from the driver's cab of a train journey from London Victoria to Brighton Station, the train jumping in this song is actually a metaphor, about conformity.
Honorable Mention: Chicago Northwestern - David Liebe Hart
A recent visitor to Nivara Lounge, American outsider musician David Liebe Hart has a well-known love of trains (both real and model). This song is about the Chicago and North Western Railway, a railroad in the midwestern United States, and was originally released on his 2009 album ‘Trains of the Past and Present: Songs of the American Rail’. That's a whole album about trains, folks!