Tomorrow is the third annual National Train Day. Now, country music is known to have more than a few good train songs, but since this event has only been in existence since 2008, this week’s Friday Five will only feature songs released since Train Day’s inception.
This song/history lesson from Family Circle is about the construction of Alaska’s White Pass Railroad, built in the late 19th century, to transport gold prospectors. This was no simple undertaking, sings McCoury: “It took 30,000 workers and a million pounds of powder just to lay a hundred miles of track/35 men and 3000 horses went to work and never came back.”It’s still in use, so if you ever get a chance to ride that line, be sure to remember those lyrics and give some thanks to the hard work of those who’ve gone before.
They don’t call him “Wayne the Train” for nothing. Just try to stop your feet from tapping along to this slice of juke joint swing. If you’ve worn out your dancing shoes, also on Viper of Melody is the slower, classic sounding “High Rolling Train.”
Written by Tim Stafford, “How Long is This Train” is a moving ballad about an encounter at a train station with an old man (that purveyor of wisdom in country songs everywhere) waiting for his son to return. No happy ending here: the old man is left with a folded flag, and the young observer is left to remember the scene every time he hears a train pass.
On this catchy, banjoriffic track from Watch America Roll By, a hobo espouses trainhopping as a method to cure one’s sorrow and pain. I prefer a stiff drink and some Hank Williams on the stereo, but, hey, whatever works for you.
The number one song on this list isn’t an Ozzy Osbourne cover, but it’s still excellent. Beginning with an infectious rubbery bass line, this jazzy, grassy tune from Whatcha Gonna Dofinds the sweet-voiced Lynch comparing a less than ideal relationship to a “fullspeed, hellbound train” as she realizes she’s had enough. So maybe the crazy train isn’t a real train, but anyone who’s ever ridden Amtrak during the Thanksgiving rush would beg to differ.
Juli Thanki is the editor of Engine 145 and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bluegrass Unlimited, and M Music & Musicians Magazine. In 2011 she received the International Bluegrass Music Association Print Media Person of the Year award.