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 is bound’, into the future. Unsurprisingly the locomotive pays no heed and keeps rolling inexorably forward, so Al entreats the conductor, telling him ‘all you’ve got to do is turn this train around’.
But Al, that’s the one thing a train cannot do. You made a wrong decision. You’ll never forget the girl standing there with tears rolling down her face, but life’s like a train carrying you along, there’s no going back. No wonder, just before the fade, Mr. Green lets out a beautiful, falsetto howl of anguish, as lonely as a train-whistle on a midnight bridge.
Listen to Back Up Train here:
Writer on the Train would like to thank Jon Savage for his help in finding material for this seriesThis entry was posted in Music, Train Songs, trains and tagged soul music on .