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?