I’ve always had difficulty falling asleep at night. Some people can fall asleep wherever whenever; that’s definitely not me. I struggle sleeping on planes, despite usually flying red-eye flights. I struggle sleeping in cars; something in my subconscious makes me anxious enough to snap awake if I realize I’ve fallen asleep. Still to this day, I spend countless wasted minutes and hours of my would-be sleep time laying in bed staring off into the dark listening.
Growing up in suburban Portland, we lived a few miles away from two train crossings. It was one train line, but two intersections where the train tracks would cross through traffic. On those rare occasions when it was warm enough to sleep with a window open, I could hear the train blow its whistle a few times as it approached the first intersection. Then a few minutes later, I’d hear the second whistle blast. Even to this day, when I hear a train whistle at a distance, it reminds me of trying to sleep.
I took a train once from San Jose to Portland. You could call it a red eye, but that’s only because it somehow took just over 24 hours to complete the trip. I was tired enough that nothing in me was strong enough to fight falling asleep. Because of the length of my trip and because Amtrak is used as a commuter train in the Bay Area of California, the steward put me in an empty car toward the back of the train. There were only a few other people who joined me throughout the evening in that car. I’d wake up at every stop if only to look out the window and wonder where I was. And then at one point, I awoke to quite a commotion. It seems while I was sleeping this once empty car was now full of a group of elderly travelers headed to Canada. I played tour guide as much as I could, but I kept wondering how these people got on the train somewhere in Northern California and knew absolutely nothing about Oregon.
One of the things I like about trains is that they usually have a different route than you would take when traveling by car. They take different passes through mountains, different tunnels and different bridges. It’s a different perspective you get and sometimes it’s just what you need. It might be this reason that I enjoy songs about trains. I still dream of jumping on a train going anywhere just to get somewhere else. They’re always going somewhere and they always have a purpose. Some take people, some take goods, some take machinery, but all take dreams wherever they go. Every time they blow their whistles they’re warning the world that here they come, whether you’re ready or not.
This installation of the Supply and Demand Podcast goes down a number of tracks. Some people are using the train to get away, some are using it to get home, all are going somewhere, so let’s not keep them any longer.
1. Grant Lee Phillips – I Often Dream of Trains
Sometimes a cover song is better than the original. This is one of those times. Grant Lee Phillips takes a Robyn Hitchcock song that I might normally skip through and turns it into a compelling song that could fit right into the Grant Lee Buffalo library.
2. Bob Dylan – It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
3. David Gray – Flame Turns Blue
4. The O’Jays – Love Train
5. Travis – Last Train
6. Wilco – Venus Stop the Train
This is a song that Wilco recorded when they were making Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I’m pretty sure Jay Bennett wrote it, hence the omission from the final tracks. It later showed up on Jay Bennett’s solo album. For those unfamiliar with the YHF sessions, Wilco fired Jay Bennett before they finished the record. There’s a movie about it that is very engaging; it’s worth it just for the interaction between Jeff Tweedy and his son.
7. The Decemberists – The Engine Driver
Watch out for this song, not only is it like most Decemberists songs and gets stuck in your head, but it will sneak up on you.
8. Raul Malo – Downbound Train
Sometimes a cover tune isn’t better than the original, but makes you view the song in a different light. Raul Malo takes a Born in the USA Springsteen song and just slightly manipulates the feel.
9. Johnny Cash – Waiting for a Train
I whittled down from about a dozen Cash songs about trains. I think this one works, don’t you?
10. Vigilantes of Love – Nothing Like a Train
I think this is my favorite VOL song. There’s nothing wrong with it at all. Even though it was already in the mix, I’ll throw some credit toward TMF because this was in his list he sent to me.
11. R.E.M. – Driver 8
12. The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Runnin’
13. U2 – Zoo Station
Wow, remember the first time you heard this song? If you were like me, you didn’t know what to expect after they released “The Fly” as their first single before Achtung Baby was released. There’s no doubt that the whole “going away and dreaming it up again” idea was really more than a vacation for the boys.
14. Lyle Lovett – Texas Trilogy: Train Ride
15. Daniel Lanois – Death of a Train
The guitar solo in this song has always been on the list of great guitar solos.
16. Counting Crows – Ghost Train
“She buys a ticket because it’s cold where she comes from.”
17. Hothouse Flowers – Good For You
“I’ve hoarded all experiences I’ve had, written down all memories on a train, and you ask me where I’m headed, it can be good for you, and it’s been good for me.”
18. Soul Asylum – Runaway Train
19. The Monkees – Last Train to Clarksville
20. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Trains
Ryan Adams in 2005 was kind of like a blog. Sometimes if you post too many posts in a short period of time, the common reader misses a few. Ryan Adams released so much music in 2005, you may have missed this gem. We’ll have to work together to come up with a solution for mass blog posting and Ryan Adams spitting out great music, because it’s bound to continue.
21. Paul Simon – Train in the Distance
22. Ghost Train (To Nowhere) – Lost Dogs
Another great contribution from TMF…he’s going to be so proud!
23. Sarah McLachlan – Train Wreck
24. The Silver Jews – Trains Across the Sea
25. Ozzy Osbourne – Crazy Train
You were expecting maybe Cat Stevens to finish it off? Nope you get the Blizzard of Oz.