Different Narratives about Trains.

Even the non-musicologist, and I don’t include myself in that category, is perfectly aware that songs about trains play a central role in the pantheom of popular American music, however configured: Blues, Country, Traditional, Bluegrass and even Soul. In the time it takes to prepare tea and toast, I had no problems coming up with three dozen titles.

As per SOP, I turned to Wikipedia and was bowled over by the fact that here are literally thousands of songs dealing with trains or train derived themes HERE.

Train lyrics encompass all of the most endearing themes central to great songs – rootlessness and Manifest Destiny, love and romance, significant meetings and departures, outlaws and ladies (loosely termed), hobos and travel lust, hard times, fast trains, slow trains and every other variant in between.

While the railroading of America during the 19th century had its dark side – the demise of the buffalo, the use of Chinese coolie labour, the destruction of indigenous Indian culture, and the rise of the Robber Barons, lets dwell on the musical and cultural positives and briefly review the Wiki entry.

Modern rock and roll was ushered in with Elvis’ version of Mystery Train, although I prefer The Band’s version, which surprisingly was not included in the Wiki entry. I was also most fortunate to see that great rockabilly journeyman Sleepy La Beef cover this song on two different occasions. This MAN provided a non-stop two and a half hour revue which covered the pre-modern foundations of modern popular music.

Casey Jones and Big Railroad Blues by The Grateful Dead would have to feature in any Boomer’s list.

Five Hundred Miles by Seldom Scene, again not included, must rank due to the sweetest bluegrass harmonies ever put to vinyl.

Locomotive Breath by those poms Jethro Tull involved a power riff which exemplified hard rock circa 70s at it very best.

The blues staple Ramblin On My Mind was covered by Clapton with truly exemplary guitar work. Incidentally, it was his first vocal outing.

Love in Vain by the Stones(wrongly attributed to Woody Paine and not Robert Johnson) showed why the band was wise in signing up Mick Taylor after the death of Brian Jones.

Perhaps the darkest country song of all times was Travellin’ Man by Hank Williams.

And who can forget Loco-motion by Little Eva. Shit, even that truly forgettable power-trio Grand Funk Railroad managed to turn in a formidable version.

And to show my multi-media explorations, I thoroughly recommend the The Yardbirds version of Train Keeps a Rollin’ all Night Long. Killer stuff found on YouTube.

Now, lets cut to the chase and revue the narratology of trains in China, and I will only provide Chinese media links when they are able to be located in a hurry.

I strongly suspect that the Ministry of Truth has been working overtime deleting some China Daily entries following last nights disastrous collision, given that some of the more hubristic statement by railroad officials seem to have disappeared. (Possibly my search skills need upgrading.)

US train narratives celebrate individual agency/freedom of action – be it positive or negative – whereas the praise songs coming out of China celebrate the overarching institution within Chinese society, the CCP ie opening the Beijing Shanghai superfast connection coincided with the 90th anniversary celebrations.


Unfinished op pieces the story of my virtual life. If you aren’t totally exhausted by the Wenzhou train story, which is now losing its precision and turning into a soupy fog, I leave you with the following.

The WSJ has done some okay reporting on the numerous issues involved, including the larger commercial-financial considerations which make the share market go round. There has been a bit of smirking by a couple of Japanese newspapers which I scrolled thru.

Custer at ChinaGeeks has had his hand on the pulse of outraged domestic opinion, and so doing provided a better platform for my scribbles. I leave you with Justrecentlys latest entry on Wen’s big press conference at Wenzhou, which I recommend be read in conjunction with the silly hat entry on ESWN HERE.

If Monty Python didn’t exist, China’s Ministry of Truth would have invented him.

Finally, I discovered the existence of another blogger with musical taste (Gram Parsons and the Who) almost as discerning as mine, so this has not been a lost exercise.

4 Responses to “Different Narratives about Trains.”

  1. bucketoftongues Says:

    Don’t forget “Locomotive” by Guns N’ Roses.

  2. kingtubby1 Says:

    I should finish this piece, but Custer has left us all in the dust. I tried to forget Guns N’ Roses, until you so rudely reminded me hehe.

    I had the misfortune to watch their MTV treatment of California Girls recently, and despite the fact that I am an amoralist, it grossed me out.

  3. NiubiCowboy Says:

    For more train-related songs, I throw out these two blues classics:

    “Long Black Train” – Lonnie Johnson
    “Train Whistle Blues” – Jimmie Rodgers

  4. kingtubby1 Says:

    Very nice choice indeed. A classically educated musicologist like myself.

    Fooling around at a friends house yesterday and for the first time in over three years visited youtube. Didn’t realise there were so many versions of Train keeps a Rollin’ all Night Long.

    Panther Burns the Memphis rockabilly outfit do a pretty neat version. They were probably the last band I’ve ever seen also some decades ago.

    As soon as I hear from someone, the latest post will finish on a musical note. Cheers

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