Monday, August 11, 2008

Riding the Rails

If my four-year-old son had a theme song, it would be a tune he doesn’t even know: Robyn Hitchcock’s “I Often Dream of Trains.” Ever since he could form a syllable, he has been infatuated with the things. When he was a toddler, he’d sit on my lap and we’d scroll through the character gallery on the Thomas the Tank Engine site, and he’d soak up the names and bios of dozens upon dozens of characters. I’m not sure he was even two years old when we met with a teacher from a local pre-pre-school program. As part of her evaluation, she asked if I thought he knew fifty words. “Fifty words?” I replied. “He knows more than fifty trains.”

Yesterday, we took him to a local park with a miniature train that the family has ridden many times. Kids sit comfortably in the tiny cars, while adults tuck their knees neatly beneath their chins. For fifty cents a pop, you get two laps around the Kansas City Northern line, complete with railroad crossings and a dark, dark tunnel that provokes roller-coaster-style screams from the pre-pubescent set. As we went around, the click-clack of wheels on rails reminded me of the rhythms that formed the foundation of Johnny Cash’s career. There are songs about cars and planes and the occasional submarine, but no other form of transportation has inspired as many great songs as the railroad. It’s a wonder that Sirius doesn’t have a channel devoted exclusively to train songs. And on the off-chance that they’re thinking of starting one, let’s help create a playlist. I’ll start, you chime in.

“Folsom Prison Blues” and “Rock Island Line,” Johnny Cash
“Mystery Train,” Elvis Presley
“Train in Vain,” The Clash
“Train from Kansas City,” The Shangri-Las/Superchunk/Neko Case
“The Train Kept A-Rollin’,” Johnny Burnette Trio/Yardbirds
“Draw Your Brakes,” Scotty (from The Harder They Come)
“People Get Ready,” Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions
“Downbound Train,” Bruce Springsteen
“Downtown Train,” Tom Waits
“I Hear the Train,” Ike Reilly Assassination
“Down in the Tube Station at Midnight,” The Jam
“The Metro,” Berlin
“Subway Train,” New York Dolls
“City of New Orleans,” Arlo Guthrie
“It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” Bob Dylan

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

My son is also a rail fan and we have spent the better part of his six years on earth visiting every scenic railroad, model train layout, and train museum in the southeast. Without duplicating, here are the 10 most played rail-related songs from his playlist:

Blue Railroad Train -Doc Watson
One More Ride - Johnny Cash
Choo-Choo Ch'Boogie - Louis Jordan
Big Freight Train Carry Me Home - Boxcar Willie
Engine Engine #9 - Southern Culture On The Skids
Driver 8 - R.E.M.
Catch That Train - Dan Zanes
Freight Train Blues - Bob Dylan
M.T.A. - The Kingston Trio
Kundalini Express - Love & Rockets

lahuitrefrite said...

I'm a sucker for train songs. Here are two more:
Just Like this Train - Joni Mitchell
One of these Trains - New Grass Revival

T. J. said...

Let the Train Blow the Whistle - JC
Orange Blossom Special - JC
Hey Porter - JC
Don't Sleep in the Subway - Petula Clark
This Train - Woody Guthrie
John Henry - any and all, JC's version preferred
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe - Johnny Mercer (should earn double points)
Hit the Road to Dreamland - also Johnny Mercer
City of New Orleans - Steve Goodman
Wabash Cannonball - many
Casey Jones - Grateful Dead
Night Train - Oscar Peterson
Midnight Special - CCR
Take the A Train - Duke Ellington
My Old School - Steely Dan (wolverine reference)
Railroad Lady - Willie Nelson
Midnight Train to Georgia - Gladys Knight
Locomotive Breath - Jethro Tull
Mama Tried - Merle Haggard
Rock Island - from "The Music Man"

Ed said...

Back in college I actually wrote (or thought about writing) a paper on the fact that all these classic train songs were written about "classic" trains. That nobody talks about "Those Q176 (a train on modern day CSX) Blues".

It's actually a subject that interests me quite a bit, being a railroad enthusiast.

Trip, I gotta say, you associate with good people!

Anonymous said...

I Know You Rider: Grateful Dead.

"I wish I was a headlight, on a north bound train;
I'd shine my light through cool colorado rain."

Anonymous said...

Whiskey Train - Los Lobos

OB said...

Last Train Home - Pat Metheny Group
Red Streamliner - Little Feat
Chattanooga Choo Choo - Glenn Miller
Hobo's Lullaby - Arlo Guthrie
Train Whistle Blues - Merle Haggard
Night Train - James Brown


...no love yet for Boxcar Willie? Old 97's?

Speaking of which,

Wreck Of The Old 97 - JC

Anonymous said...

Boomers' Story - Ry Cooder
Choo Choo Mama - Ten Years After
Whiskey Train - Procol Harum
OBS - Seatrain
Good Morning Mr. Railroad Man - Ry Cooder

hookfinger said...

Don't forget that Train Kept A Rollin' was valiantly covered by Aerosmith

Michael Atchison said...

I had Aerosmith down originally, but it caused the entry to go to a second line, so I exercised the editor's discretion.