- 1. Wabash Cannonball – Johnny Cash
- 2. Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight & the Pips
- 3. Love Train – The O’Jays
- 4. Peace Train – Yusuf / Cat Stevens
- 5. Downbound Train – Tom Waits
- 6. Train in Vain – The Clash
- 7. Mystery Train – Elvis Presley
- 8. Last Train to Clarksville – The Monkees
- 9. Stop This Train – John Mayer
- 10. Hear My Train A Comin’ – Jimi Hendrix
- 11. The Wreck of the Old ’97 – Johnny Cash
- 12. Locomotive Breath – Jethro Tull
- 13. Take the A Train – Duke Ellington
- 14. Long Train Runnin’ – The Doobie Brothers
- 15. Casey Jones – Grateful Dead
- 16. Last Train to London – Electric Light Orchestra
- 17. Driver 8 – R.E.M.
- 18. Rock N Roll Train – AC/DC
- 19. Freight Train – Elizabeth Cotten
- 20. Runaway Train – Soul Asylum
- 21. The Train – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Carla Morrison
- 22. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
Trains and locomotives have played a significant role in the development of modern society, connecting cities and countries, and facilitating the transportation of goods and people. Their iconic image has also captured the imagination of artists and musicians for centuries, inspiring countless works of literature, poetry, and music. Songs about trains and locomotives have become a beloved sub-genre of American folk and country music, reflecting the romance, excitement, and loneliness associated with train travel. From the haunting lonesome whistle of a distant train to the rhythmic clatter of steel wheels on tracks, these songs evoke a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era and the promise of adventure.
Songs about trains have been a staple of American music since the early 20th century, when the railroads were at the height of their power. They were a source of inspiration for many of the great songwriters of the time, such as Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, and Woody Guthrie. Later, the popularity of trains and locomotives in music extended to rock and roll, with artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash incorporating train imagery into their lyrics. Today, the tradition of train songs continues, with contemporary country and folk artists adding their own unique perspectives to this rich musical legacy.
In this article, we will explore the enduring appeal of songs about trains and locomotives, tracing the history of this musical genre and examining some of its most iconic songs. We will also consider the broader cultural significance of train travel and its representation in popular music, from its roots in American folklore to its enduring legacy in modern songwriting.
1. Wabash Cannonball – Johnny Cash
“Wabash Cannonball” is a classic American folk song that has been covered by many artists over the years, including Johnny Cash. The song tells the story of a fictional train called the Wabash Cannonball, which is said to have traveled from the eastern United States to the western frontier in the mid-19th century. The train was a symbol of hope and opportunity for people who were looking to start new lives in the West, and the song celebrates its legendary status as a powerful cultural icon. Cash’s version of the song features his trademark deep voice and a lively, foot-stomping rhythm that captures the spirit of the original folk tune. The lyrics are filled with vivid imagery and colorful characters, from the train’s engineer to the people waiting at the station. “Wabash Cannonball” is a beloved classic that has stood the test of time, and it continues to be a favorite of folk music fans and train enthusiasts alike.
2. Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight & the Pips
“Midnight Train to Georgia” is a soulful and emotional ballad that tells the story of a woman who leaves her small town in Georgia to pursue her dreams of becoming a star in Hollywood, only to find that the road to fame is not as easy as she thought it would be. Eventually, she decides to give up on her dreams and return home to Georgia, where she is greeted by her lover who has been waiting for her. The song is performed by Gladys Knight & the Pips, and it features Knight’s powerful and soulful vocals, backed by the harmonies of the Pips. The lyrics are filled with poignant imagery and heartfelt emotion, as the song explores themes of love, loss, and perseverance. With its catchy chorus and unforgettable melody, “Midnight Train to Georgia” has become a timeless classic that continues to resonate with audiences today.
3. Love Train – The O’Jays
“Love Train” is an upbeat and joyous anthem of unity and positivity that was released by The O’Jays in 1972. The song is driven by a lively disco-inspired beat, with the lyrics encouraging people from all walks of life to come together and ride the “love train” towards a brighter future. The song’s lyrics are simple yet effective, with the repetition of the phrase “people all over the world” creating a sense of global connectedness and community. The O’Jays’ smooth and soulful harmonies are a perfect fit for the song’s message of love and acceptance, making “Love Train” a beloved classic that has been covered and sampled by many artists over the years. The song remains a powerful reminder of the potential for love and unity to bring people together, no matter their differences.
4. Peace Train – Yusuf / Cat Stevens
“Peace Train” is a folk-rock song by Yusuf/Cat Stevens, released in 1971. The song’s lyrics convey a message of hope and peace, advocating for people to come together and embrace a nonviolent approach to solving the world’s problems. The song features Stevens’ signature acoustic guitar playing and smooth, melodic vocals, with a catchy chorus that invites listeners to join the “peace train.” The lyrics are filled with imagery of a better world, where love and understanding replace violence and hate. “Peace Train” quickly became a popular anthem for peace activists and was even covered by other notable artists such as Dolly Parton and 10,000 Maniacs. Today, the song remains a timeless reminder of the importance of peace and unity in a troubled world.
5. Downbound Train – Tom Waits
“Downbound Train” is a haunting and melancholic ballad by Tom Waits, released in 1985. The song features Waits’ signature gravelly voice and piano playing, creating a dark and moody atmosphere that matches the song’s lyrics. The song’s protagonist is a man who has hit rock bottom, having lost everything he once held dear, and is now riding a downbound train to nowhere. The lyrics are filled with vivid imagery of despair and loneliness, with Waits’ mournful delivery adding to the emotional weight of the song. “Downbound Train” is a powerful example of Waits’ unique style and ability to capture the human experience in his music, and it remains a beloved classic in his extensive catalog of work.
6. Train in Vain – The Clash
“Train in Vain” is a punk rock song by The Clash, released in 1979 as a hidden track on their album “London Calling.” The song’s upbeat tempo and catchy guitar riffs are contrasted with lyrics that express heartbreak and betrayal, as the protagonist realizes that his lover has left him for someone else. The song’s title refers to the metaphorical train that the protagonist missed by not being able to hold onto his relationship. “Train in Vain” has become one of The Clash’s most popular songs, and its infectious energy and relatable lyrics have made it a staple of classic rock radio. The song is a testament to the band’s ability to blend punk rock with other genres, creating a unique sound that helped define the musical landscape of the late 1970s.
7. Mystery Train – Elvis Presley
“Mystery Train” is a classic rock and roll song recorded by Elvis Presley in 1955. The song’s upbeat tempo and Presley’s dynamic vocals capture the excitement and energy of the emerging rock and roll genre. The lyrics tell the story of a train journey that is filled with mystery and intrigue, as the protagonist tries to uncover the secrets of his fellow passengers. The song features a simple yet effective guitar riff that has become synonymous with early rock and roll. “Mystery Train” has been covered by numerous artists over the years, and it remains a beloved classic of the genre. The song’s influence can be felt in countless other rock and roll songs that followed in its wake, making it a true icon of American music.
8. Last Train to Clarksville – The Monkees
“Last Train to Clarksville” is a 1966 hit single by The Monkees, written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. The song’s upbeat tempo and catchy chorus helped it become a chart-topping hit, and it remains one of the band’s most recognizable songs. The lyrics tell the story of a young man who is leaving for the military and saying goodbye to his girlfriend as they wait for the last train to Clarksville. The song’s jangly guitar riff and harmonies exemplify the upbeat pop sound of the 1960s. “Last Train to Clarksville” is a testament to The Monkees’ ability to blend catchy melodies with relatable lyrics, creating a sound that helped define the pop landscape of the era.
9. Stop This Train – John Mayer
“Stop This Train” is a soulful ballad by John Mayer, released in 2006 as part of his album “Continuum”. The song features Mayer’s emotive vocals, acoustic guitar, and a stripped-down musical arrangement that adds to the song’s intimacy. The lyrics express Mayer’s fear of aging and his desire to slow down time, to stop the train of life from moving too quickly. The song’s poignant message resonates with listeners who also share these feelings of wanting to hold on to moments of happiness and nostalgia. “Stop This Train” showcases Mayer’s songwriting and musical skills and is often cited as one of his most personal and introspective works.
10. Hear My Train A Comin’ – Jimi Hendrix
“Hear My Train A Comin'” is a blues song by Jimi Hendrix, released in 1971, after his death. The song features Hendrix’s distinctive guitar style, blending traditional blues riffs with his own unique sound. The lyrics describe a train as a metaphor for life’s journey, with Hendrix urging the listener to get on board and enjoy the ride. The song’s melody and guitar solos are intricate and captivating, showcasing Hendrix’s exceptional skill as a guitarist. “Hear My Train A Comin'” is an example of Hendrix’s mastery of the blues genre and remains a popular and influential song in the blues and rock music canon.
11. The Wreck of the Old ’97 – Johnny Cash
“The Wreck of the Old ’97” is a folk song by Johnny Cash, released in 1960 as part of his album “Ride This Train”. The song tells the story of a train wreck that occurred in 1903 when the train known as the “Old ’97” derailed, killing several people. The lyrics describe the event in vivid detail, capturing the tragedy of the accident and the bravery of the train’s engineer. Cash’s vocals are powerful and emotional, conveying the gravity of the situation. “The Wreck of the Old ’97” is a classic folk song that has been covered by numerous artists over the years and remains a poignant tribute to those who lost their lives in the accident.
12. Locomotive Breath – Jethro Tull
“Locomotive Breath” is a rock song by Jethro Tull, released in 1971 as part of their album “Aqualung”. The song features driving guitar riffs and a powerful rhythm section, creating a sense of urgency that matches the song’s lyrical content. The lyrics describe a world that is consumed by greed and corruption, with a train metaphorically representing the unstoppable force of progress. Lead singer Ian Anderson’s vocals are intense and passionate, conveying the urgency of the song’s message. “Locomotive Breath” is a classic rock song that has stood the test of time, with its message still relevant today.
13. Take the A Train – Duke Ellington
“Take the A Train” is a jazz standard composed by Billy Strayhorn and made famous by Duke Ellington and his orchestra in 1941. The song’s title refers to the A subway line in New York City, which Strayhorn used to take to visit Ellington. The melody is upbeat and swinging, with the brass and saxophone sections taking turns with solos. The song’s sophisticated harmonies and inventive arrangement made it a favorite among jazz musicians, and it has been covered by countless artists over the years. “Take the A Train” is a timeless classic that captures the spirit of the swing era.
14. Long Train Runnin’ – The Doobie Brothers
“Long Train Runnin'” is a classic rock song by The Doobie Brothers, released in 1973. The song’s driving rhythm and catchy guitar riffs create an infectious groove that’s impossible not to dance to. The lyrics tell the story of a long train journey that’s filled with excitement and adventure. The song’s upbeat tempo and memorable chorus have made it a staple of classic rock radio, and it has been covered by several other artists over the years. “Long Train Runnin'” is a timeless classic that captures the energy and spirit of 70s rock and roll.
15. Casey Jones – Grateful Dead
“Casey Jones” is a traditional American folk song that has been popularized by the Grateful Dead. The song tells the story of a legendary train engineer who drove the Cannonball Express locomotive, and his fateful journey that ended in a tragic train wreck. The song’s driving rhythm and twangy guitar riffs create an upbeat, country-infused melody that perfectly complements the lyrics’ storytelling style. The Grateful Dead’s live performances of “Casey Jones” became legendary, with fans often singing along and dancing to the song’s catchy chorus. “Casey Jones” is a beloved classic that embodies the spirit of American folk and rock music.
16. Last Train to London – Electric Light Orchestra
“Last Train to London” is a disco-infused pop hit by Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). The song’s upbeat tempo, funky bassline, and catchy synth melodies make it a quintessential 70s dance track. The lyrics tell the story of a woman waiting for her lover to catch the last train to London, and the urgency and excitement of their impending reunion. The song was a commercial success, reaching the top 10 in several countries, and its memorable chorus and infectious groove have made it a staple of classic rock radio. “Last Train to London” is a timeless and fun track that perfectly captures the feel-good spirit of disco-era pop.
17. Driver 8 – R.E.M.
“Driver 8” by R.E.M. is a song that describes the journey of a train conductor and the passengers on a train. The lyrics talk about the scenery that passes by, the sound of the train, and the stories that the passengers have to tell. The chorus of the song is catchy and memorable, featuring a repetitive guitar riff and Michael Stipe’s distinctive vocals. The song has been praised for its evocative storytelling and the way it captures the feeling of being on a train journey. It is considered one of R.E.M.’s most popular songs, and is often included in their live performances.
18. Rock N Roll Train – AC/DC
“Rock N Roll Train” by AC/DC is an upbeat, high-energy rock song that features driving guitar riffs and powerful vocals. The lyrics describe a train that symbolizes the power and excitement of rock and roll music, with lines like “I’m a rock n roll train, and I’m comin’ on down the line.” The song’s catchy chorus and infectious rhythm make it a crowd-pleaser at live shows, and it showcases AC/DC’s signature sound that has made them one of the most successful rock bands of all time.
19. Freight Train – Elizabeth Cotten
“Freight Train” is a folk-blues song written and performed by Elizabeth Cotten, an African-American singer and guitarist. The song tells the story of a freight train that is moving through the countryside, and the singer’s desire to hop aboard and ride it to her desired destination. Cotten’s unique fingerpicking style, which she taught herself to play left-handed on a right-handed guitar, adds to the song’s appeal. The lyrics are simple yet powerful, and the melody is catchy and upbeat. “Freight Train” has become a classic in folk music and has been covered by numerous artists over the years.
20. Runaway Train – Soul Asylum
“Runaway Train” is a haunting and powerful song by American rock band Soul Asylum. It was released in 1993 as a single and quickly became a hit, thanks in part to its powerful music video, which featured images of missing children. The song’s lyrics speak of loneliness, desperation, and the search for meaning in life. Lead singer Dave Pirner’s raw and emotional vocals perfectly capture the song’s themes, while the band’s driving guitar and drum rhythms give the song a sense of urgency and momentum. “Runaway Train” remains a timeless anthem that continues to resonate with audiences today.
21. The Train – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Carla Morrison
“The Train” is a poignant song by American hip hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring the soulful vocals of Mexican-American singer Carla Morrison. The track deals with the struggles of addiction and the desire to overcome it. Macklemore shares his personal experiences with substance abuse and the impact it had on his life, while Morrison delivers an emotional chorus about the importance of finding hope and a reason to keep fighting. The song’s stirring production, including a mournful trumpet solo, perfectly complements the weight of the lyrics. “The Train” is a powerful anthem for those battling addiction and a reminder that recovery is possible.
22. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
The song “In My Blood” by Shawn Mendes is an emotional and powerful ballad that explores the theme of resilience in the face of hardship. The song begins with a subdued instrumental backing, building gradually to an anthemic chorus featuring soaring vocals and pounding drums. Mendes’s lyrics convey a sense of determination in the face of adversity, as he sings about not giving up and fighting through the pain. The song’s message of hope and perseverance resonates strongly with listeners, making it an inspiring and uplifting anthem for anyone facing difficult times.