Their rail system may not live up to European standards, but boy, Americans really are obsessed with trains. You know what causes this love? It’s not an extensive network, it’s not high speed, it’s not accurate timing, it’s not working A/Cs, it’s: Horns, or, to use the technical term, choo choooo! Listen to this Amtrak train passing trough Oakland on its way to or from Berkeley. We can hear them every day where we live. In fact, I can hear one right now!
There’s a whole genre of American music that consists of train imitation. Start out with this very simple, very skilfull example from 1926 – if you’re DeFord Bailey, you don’t need more than a harp:
Choo-choo and rhythm can be done in many different ways, here’s some of my favorites:
Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues is missing the Choo-choo, but it has great rhythm and gangsta lyrics to make up for that (“I shot a man in Reno / Just to watch him die”). Can you imagine this train stopping because there’s some ice or snow on the tracks? I don’t think so! Johnny Cash really Had a Thing About Trains, liked Riding The Rail, wanted you to Come Along And Ride This Train, whether it’s the Bible Train or the Orange Blossom Special (that one is a typical imitation including choo and rhythm) – and finished it up with the very sad Let The Train Blow Her Whistle.
I also like the Mystery Train:
Bob Dylan’s wonderful version of the Freight Train Blues:
And the Chattanooga Choo Choo:
Wikipedia offers this extensive (but not complete) list of train songs. It’s missing the only German train song that I can think of (maybe for the better)…the other one is of course a cover version of the aforementioned Chattanooga. The lack of train music is probably due to the fact that German trains don’t choo-chooo. Maybe the Deutsche Bahn should invest in some decent horns?
31. December 2010 at 02:56
What a gorgeous post – makes me remember nostalgically my rendition of “Freight Train” in my folky youth…yes I managed to rise above the House of the Rising Sun!!
When my Mum retired she fulfilled her life’s dream and travelled through “Amerika” by Amtrak. Choo Choo sog i!!
31. December 2010 at 02:58
Wow incredible how the Amtrak just goes through the city – unsecured level crossings, everyone just wandering about…it NEEDS the loudest horn ever!!
31. December 2010 at 05:52
Though I prefer Dylan and Cash.
1. January 2011 at 07:30
Deutsche Zuglieder… hochinteressanter Forschungsauftrag für den Eisenbahnernachkommen in mir… Das wäre wohl echt mit Andreas Dorau 1981 abgedeckt. Bloß die Franken müssen wieder den Kasper machen; Brandl & Schmitt sind nämlich normalerweise ganz fähige Leut… Dafür sind beide including prominent Choo-choos.
Xunz Neis aa!
1. January 2011 at 10:07
Thanks Ralph, we were just talking about whether there are train imitations in classical music, but couldn’t think of any.
1. January 2011 at 13:22
there is, of course, Steve Reich
rather a different kind of train.
2. January 2011 at 09:38
Doch leider hat Sony den Daumen drauf, die meisten lassen sich in Deutschland nicht abrufen.
Kennen Sie denn den “Zug nach Nirgendwo” von Christian Anders? Eine kleine Alternative zur “Schwäbsichen…”.
Die Schwaben habe es auch so mit dem Zug. Deshalb kämpfen sie auch so um ihren Bahnhof.
(Wobei ich diesen Stuttgarter Bahnhof liebe, obwohl ich mir dort fast Frostbeulen geholt habe, manche Erkältung und eine Narbe am Schienbein)
3. January 2011 at 17:41
I like this Reich guy! Strangely enough, you’re more likely to hear him on German public radio than on NPR, they don’t really do contemporary classical music here. It’s all Yo-Yo Ma and The Nutcracker 😉
20. February 2011 at 07:32
Hey, some Krauts wrote “Trans-Europa Express,” surely a very good train song.