20 Best songs about trains

Embark on a melodic journey with our curated list of the 20 best songs about trains. Each track captures the essence of travel, motion, and the timeless allure of the railway.

From the rhythmic chug of a locomotive to the poignant stories of passengers, these songs about trains offer a unique blend of nostalgia, adventure, and profound storytelling.

Whether you’re a die-hard rail enthusiast or simply a lover of great music, this compilation is sure to resonate.

Dive into our selection and let each song transport you to the heart of the railroads’ enchanting world.

1. “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash

In “Folsom Prison Blues,” Johnny Cash channels the raw emotions of a man imprisoned, longing for freedom while hearing the haunting sound of a train pass by. Released in 1955, this song combines elements of blues and country, showcasing Cash’s deep, resonant voice and distinctive guitar work. Its lyrical content, blending a narrative of lament and a yearning for redemption, has resonated with audiences worldwide, making it an iconic track in Cash’s repertoire and a staple in American music history.

2. “City of New Orleans” by Steve Goodman

Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” is a masterful ode to the Illinois Central Railroad passenger train. Released in 1971, the song paints a vivid picture of American life from the perspective of a rail journey, highlighting the beauty and decay, the passengers, and the fading glory of train travel in America. Goodman’s evocative lyrics and gentle melody capture the soul of the nation, making it a poignant reminder of the past and an enduring classic in folk music.

3. “Long Train Runnin’” by The Doobie Brothers

Released in 1973 by The Doobie Brothers, “Long Train Runnin’” is an upbeat track that fuses rock with elements of blues and soul. With its infectious guitar riff, smooth harmonies, and energetic rhythm, the song encapsulates the spirit of freedom and the enduring appeal of the open road. The lyrics, hinting at love and the passage of time, coupled with the band’s dynamic performance, have cemented “Long Train Runnin’” as a classic hit, embodying the carefree, adventurous essence of the 70s rock scene.

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4. “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens

“Peace Train” is a hopeful anthem written and performed by Cat Stevens, released in 1971. With its gentle melody and uplifting lyrics, the song calls for peace and unity in a tumultuous world, envisioning a future where everyone is invited aboard the metaphorical train to harmony. Stevens’ soft, emotive voice and the song’s optimistic message resonated deeply during a time of social upheaval, making “Peace Train” a timeless classic that continues to inspire those who dream of a better, more peace-filled world.

5. “Train Wreck” by James Arthur

James Arthur’s “Train Wreck,” released in 2016, is a soul-stirring ballad that delves into themes of turmoil, redemption, and the struggles of overcoming personal demons. Arthur’s emotive voice, paired with poignant lyrics and a haunting melody, captures the essence of feeling lost and the desperate search for salvation. The metaphor of a train wreck is used effectively to depict the chaos of life’s challenges, making the song a powerful anthem for resilience and hope in the face of adversity.

6. “Love Train” by The O’Jays

The O’Jays’ “Love Train,” released in 1972, is a vibrant, soulful hit that invites listeners to join in a global journey of love and harmony. With its catchy chorus, rousing horn section, and joyful rhythm, this classic song embodies the optimism and unity of the early 70s soul era. The lyrics emphasize solidarity and the power of love to bridge divides, making “Love Train” an enduring call for peace and understanding in a world in need of both.

7. “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips

Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia,” released in 1973, is a soulful masterpiece that tells the poignant story of love’s sacrifice. With its smooth melodies, rich harmonies, and Knight’s powerful lead vocals, the song narrates a woman’s journey back to Georgia with her partner, who has failed to make it in L.A. The emotional depth of the lyrics, combined with the group’s stellar performance, makes this track a timeless classic, celebrating the strength found in love and support.

8. “Driver 8” by R.E.M.

“Driver 8,” by R.E.M., released in 1985, showcases the band’s alternative rock sound and lyrical depth. The song uses the imagery of trains and railways as metaphors for escape and reflection, set against the backdrop of the American South. With Peter Buck’s jangling guitar and Michael Stipe’s distinctive vocals, “Driver 8” captures a sense of longing and the search for meaning amidst the monotonous landscapes of life. It remains a quintessential track from R.E.M.’s early years, highlighting their storytelling prowess.

9. “Last Train to Clarksville” by The Monkees

The Monkees’ debut single, “Last Train to Clarksville,” released in 1966, is a catchy pop-rock track with an underlying story of a soldier calling his beloved to meet him before he must leave, possibly for Vietnam. The song’s infectious melody, upbeat rhythm, and memorable chorus made it an instant hit. Despite its seemingly light-hearted sound, the song’s context adds a layer of depth, reflecting the uncertainties of the 60s. “Last Train to Clarksville” endures as a pop classic, emblematic of its era while carrying a timeless appeal.

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10. “Train in Vain (Stand by Me)” by The Clash

Released in 1979 as a hidden track on “London Calling,” “Train in Vain” represents The Clash’s foray into a blend of punk, rock, and R&B. This song, marked by its catchy rhythm and Mick Jones’ emotive vocals, narrates the tale of a love gone sour, underscored by a sense of betrayal and loss. Despite its seemingly upbeat tempo, the lyrics convey a deep emotional turmoil, showcasing The Clash’s versatility and their ability to infuse punk with soul-stirring sincerity.

11. “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” released in 1980, is a heavy metal anthem that delves into the theme of mental health and the uncertainty of the Cold War era. The iconic opening riff, coupled with Osbourne’s distinctive voice, creates an electrifying sound that has captivated fans for decades. The song’s powerful message about the madness of war and the hope for peace resonates strongly, making “Crazy Train” a signature track in Osbourne’s solo career and a staple in heavy metal music.

12. “Mystery Train” by Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley’s rendition of “Mystery Train,” recorded in 1955, is a seminal rockabilly track that captures the essence of early rock and roll. With its infectious rhythm and Presley’s charismatic delivery, the song pays homage to the power of trains as symbols of freedom and adventure. The simplicity of the arrangement belies the depth of emotion in Presley’s voice, making “Mystery Train” a quintessential example of his impact on the fusion of blues and country into the rock and roll genre.

13. “Locomotive Breath” by Jethro Tull

Released in 1971 on the album “Aqualung,” “Locomotive Breath” by Jethro Tull is a progressive rock masterpiece that explores themes of existential dread and the unrelenting pace of modern life. Ian Anderson’s flute play, combined with the song’s driving riff, creates a compelling musical force that mimics the unstoppable power of a train. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of a world out of control, making “Locomotive Breath” an enduring reflection on the human condition.

14. “Rock Island Line” by Lead Belly

“Rock Island Line,” popularized by Lead Belly in the 1930s, is a classic American folk song that has been covered by numerous artists over the years. This song tells the story of a train engineer who cleverly evades a toll by claiming his train is carrying only livestock, only to reveal after passing the tollgate that he’s also carrying pig iron. Lead Belly’s robust voice and rhythmic guitar work breathe life into this narrative, highlighting his talent for storytelling and his profound influence on American music.

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15. “Downbound Train” by Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s “Downbound Train,” released on the 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.,” is a haunting narrative of loss and despair. The song’s evocative lyrics tell the story of a man whose life has been shattered by the loss of his job and his love. Springsteen’s raw vocal delivery, combined with the somber, driving rhythm, captures the bleakness of the protagonist’s situation. The imagery of the “downbound train” serves as a powerful metaphor for his spiraling descent, making this track a poignant exploration of the American dream gone awry.

16. “Last Train to London” by Electric Light Orchestra

“Last Train to London,” part of Electric Light Orchestra’s 1979 album “Discovery,” is a vibrant track that mixes disco beats with the band’s signature orchestral rock sound. The song’s catchy melody and upbeat tempo contrast with the theme of a rushed and possibly regretful goodbye at a train station. Jeff Lynne’s distinctive voice gives life to the lyrics, which convey both excitement and a hint of melancholy. This track showcases ELO’s ability to blend different musical styles into a memorable pop hit.

17. “Take the ‘A’ Train” by Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” is a cornerstone of big band jazz, composed by Billy Strayhorn and adopted as Ellington’s signature tune in the early 1940s. This instrumental piece is celebrated for its sophisticated melody and vibrant energy, embodying the excitement of New York City and its famous subway system. The song’s infectious rhythm and elegant orchestration make it an enduring classic of the swing era, showcasing the unparalleled genius of both Ellington and Strayhorn.

18. “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum

Released in 1993 on the album “Grave Dancers Union,” Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” became an anthem for awareness of missing children and teens. The song’s poignant lyrics, delivered with heartfelt sincerity by Dave Pirner, tap into feelings of isolation and loss, while the accompanying music video featured images of actual missing kids. Its powerful message, combined with the catchy, melancholic melody, helped “Runaway Train” resonate with a wide audience, making it a significant cultural artifact of the early ’90s.

19. “Hear My Train A Comin’” by Jimi Hendrix

“Hear My Train A Comin'” is one of Jimi Hendrix’s most compelling blues-infused tracks, showcasing his extraordinary talent as a guitarist. Though never officially released on an album during his lifetime, various recorded versions have since surfaced, each one highlighting Hendrix’s raw emotional depth and innovative guitar techniques. The song epitomizes Hendrix’s ability to blend the blues tradition with his psychedelic style, creating a powerful tribute to his roots while pushing the boundaries of rock music.

20. “The Ballad of John Henry” by various artists

“The Ballad of John Henry” is a traditional American folk song that mythologizes the life of a legendary African American steel driver. Various artists have contributed their voices to this enduring tale of man versus machine, in which Henry, a worker on the railroad, races and ultimately wins against a steam-powered hammer, only to die from his efforts. The song serves as a powerful symbol of human strength, resistance, and the costs of industrial progress, resonating through various interpretations across generations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, these 20 songs about trains weave together tales of journey, longing, and the timeless spirit of adventure that railways inspire. Each song not only celebrates the marvel of train travel but also explores the deep, often emotional narratives associated with it. From rock anthems to soul-stirring blues, this collection offers a diverse soundtrack that captures the essence of the rails. So, let the rhythm of these tracks carry you away, echoing the enchanting call of distant destinations and the untold stories waiting along the tracks.

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