Category Archives: Music

Train Songs No. 7: ‘This Train’ by Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Trains in songs represent many things: sometimes they are a way of uniting people, at others of separating them; they can an escape route or the agency by which someone is left behind; the path to the future or a reminder of a vanishing past. One of the earliest guises the train appears in is as a vehicle of spiritual deliverance, expressed nowhere more succinctly than in this song, first recorded in 1925 by Wood’s Blind Jubilee Singers and covered since by everyone from Woody Guthrie…

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Train Songs No.5: ‘Take the A Train’ by Duke Ellington

This train song takes us back to 1943 and a rendition of a signature Duke Ellington/Billie Strayhorn number, taken from the movie Reveille with Beverly. The spinning record in the centre of the screen merges with footage of an oncoming locomotive over some ominous, Hitchcockian brass figures, and then we are on board an express train and the full Ellington band are there too, all polished brass and immaculate white suits. Duke flirts shamelessly with the camera, his right hand hopping as…

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Train Songs No.2: ‘Friendship Train’ by Gladys Knight and the Pips

It’s the first episode of Soul Train and presenter and creator of the show Don Cornelius is encouraging us to welcome ‘Four beautiful people who represent a mighty mountain of soul…’ Straight away we are transported. These men make beige tank-tops and big collars seriously cool. Check out the choreography, the little shoulder wiggle in time with a flourish from the brass. And Gladys is looking great too, in a kind of Flintstones suede number, flowing tresses and venus-flytrap eyes….

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Train Songs No.1: ‘Back Up Train’ by Al Green

Back Up Train is introduced by instrumental stabs from a vibraphone, its metallic shimmer perfectly evoking the sound of a heavy train grinding the rails as it moves out of the station. The song pitches us straight into the singer’s mind; he has left his girl crying on the platform but realises too late he has made a terrible mistake. He asks the train to back up so that he can beg her forgiveness and take her along, ‘wherever he…

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