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Train Songs No. 6: Guttersnipe

Guttersnipe kicks off with a simple acoustic guitar figure, before Bhi Bhiman’s aching vocal kicks  in: I jumped the first train I saw, it’ll surely take me home If I had a mama, at least I’d have a place to go But I’m just a guttersnipe, I got no place to wipe my nose… The son of Sri Lankan immigrants to the US, Bhiman was raised in St Louis and is now based in San Francisco. American through and through, as…

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Train Songs No. 4: ‘The Last of the Steam-Powered Trains’ by The Kinks

How to summarise the song-writing genius of Ray Davies? At certain moments he seems to capture the soul of England, in all its pathos, absurdity and beauty, better than anyone else.  For long periods he has disappeared from view, returning each time with a face a little craggier, hair a little less full but that thin-lipped impish smile, eerily reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman, always in place. This is a vintage performance from the vaults of the BBC,…

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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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