Even today, trains are very important for commerce, but they used to be one of the most reliable forms of transportation. You can also make almost limitless metaphors with trains, which makes them perfect for music.
In this article, we’ll look at 31 songs about trains and locomotives and show you that they appear much more often in all-time classics than you might think.
1. Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
After this song came out, a midnight train to anywhere became one of the most famous trains in the entire world. Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey is an all-time classic for people looking for a way out of their boring lives and who want to get away from everything. If nothing else, the opening verses of this track are some of the best-known ones out there and they include trains, so it’ll count.
2. Long Black Train – Josh Turner
The long black train in this Josh Turner song is really a metaphor for temptation. It’s always coming towards you and could round the bend at any time. The engineer of this one is also stated to be the devil, so not a train you want to hop on. The track is a reminder to hold tight to the Lord and avoid letting temptation trip you up.
3. You Never Even Called Me By My Name – David Allen Coe
This track from David Allen Coe is one of the best country songs of all time. He spends most of the time comparing himself to other country artists, which turns into a who’s who of the genre. The chorus is one of the best ones out there too, but none of that is why it makes this list.
At the end of the track, he talks about writing the perfect country and western song of all time but rejects what is apparently this track up to that point because it doesn’t mention trains, moms, prison, drugs, or getting drunk. So, an additional verse gets added on that sees him try to pick his mom up from the prison, but she, unfortunately, gets run over by a damned old train.
4. Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne
Hop aboard the Prince of Darkness’s mind-altering train with his song. While it isn’t a physical train, you can surely come along for the ride. Crazy Train is one of his most iconic tracks, but it mainly deals with the fear of total destruction that ran rampant throughout the years of the Cold War.
5. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash is a name that’s going to appear several times on this list. He talked about trains quite a bit. But Folsom Prison Blues is one of the most iconic songs he ever released and the perfect example of his music. Most of his instrumentals chugged along just like a train does, with no track sounding like it more than this one. From the opening lines of hearing that train coming and shooting a man just to watch him die, this one is an all-time best in any category.
6. Night Train – Jason Aldean
The title track of Jason Aldean’s 2012 album, Night Train, is all about a couple of lovers finding the perfect spot to watch a train pass. You know they’re out really late too since the night trains don’t run until the wee hours of the morning to help avoid traffic pileups.
7. Peace Train – Cat Stevens
Peace Train came out in response to the chaos surrounding the Vietnam War. Cat Stevens called it his own anthem for peace, advocating for nonviolent solutions to world issues and hoping for the end of conflicts. It became a standard song for his live shows for a long time and holds an incredibly important message that still resonates today.
Recommended: Songs about the Vietnam war
8. Train Kept a Rollin’ – Aerosmith
Train Kept A Rollin’ started out as a track by Tiny Bradshaw in 1951, but Aerosmith picked it up and turned it into a massive classic rock song. Throw in a few of their awesome guitar solos, and you’ve got a track about a train chugging along to headbang to.
9. Midnight Train To Georgia – Gladys Knight & The Pips
Midnight Train To Georgia is an R&B classic. After a man heads out to Los Angeles in search of fame, he realizes it isn’t going his way. He hops on a train going back to his home in Georgia to try to figure out the rest of his life.
10. Love Train – The O’Jays
Love Train has that soulful enthusiasm that makes it hard to not give your neighbor a hug the next time you see them. It’s another train song that pleads for an end to the Vietnam War and begs for peace. It’s really a groovy version of the many anti-war tracks to come out during that time period.
11. Last Train Home – Blink-182
Last Train Home sees a defeated man looking for a way home. Their motivations are all gone, and they just want some semblance of hope back in their lives, willing to do anything to find a cause that makes them feel alive.
12. Wabash Cannonball – Johnny Cash
Wabash Cannonball has the distinction of being the oldest song on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the 500 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time. Johnny Cash’s version is a cover of an even older folk song about a fictional train called the Wabash Cannonball that ran through the Midwest way back in the early days of America.
13. Midnight Train to Memphis – Chris Stapleton
Trains run on a pretty regular schedule. You can sometimes figure out what time it is just by when a train goes by. Chris Stapleton finds himself stuck in jail for not being able to pay a fine in this song, marking the passing of the days by the midnight train he hears rumbling along on its way to Memphis each night.
14. Locomotive Breath – Jethro Tull
Locomotive Breath is one of Jethro Tull’s most famous songs and was designed to sound just like a chugging train engine. It was written as a comment on population growth, but it would be used in a lot of other media like the film Jumanji and on the TV show Supernatural.
15. Rock N Roll Train – AC/DC
Rock N Roll Train is an example of AC/DC still having it after decades together as a band. It came out in 2008, rising to the top of a few different Billboard charts and becoming a popular song on TV promos for sports events.
16. Runaway Train – Soul Asylum
Runaway Train is all about personal depression and how quickly your mental health can get away from you. If you struggle with mental issues, you have to constantly keep working on them or have some sort of control or it’ll take off like a runaway train. The best option is to always find someone to help and learn techniques to keep it under control.
Recommended: Songs about mental health
17. Freight Train – Elizabeth Cotton
Elizabeth Cotten is one of the best guitar players in history, so anything she wrote is going to be worth listening to. Freight Train was inspired by the train rumbling she could hear from her childhood home and how she wondered where it was headed.
18. The Wreck of The Old 97 – Johnny Cash
You should always tell your loved one that you love them before you walk out the door, especially if your job involves some level of risk. The Wreck Of The Old 97 sees Johnny Cash giving this message to his listeners by telling the story of a man who died in a deadly train crash.
19. Driver 8 – R.E.M.
Driver 8 is a direct reference to the Southern Crescent route that has operated since 1891. It never became one of R.E.M.’s most popular songs, but that didn’t stop it from being covered by a lot of other artists.
20. Hear My Train A Comin’ – Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix never recorded this song in a studio, it was one of the tracks he only played live. Eventually, an early piece of it was found and included on one of his compilation albums, but that didn’t happen until the 90s.
21. Last Train To Clarksville – The Monkees
Last Train To Clarksville sees a young man getting drafted into the Vietnam War and has to deal with all of the emotions that go along with the process. Will he make it home? The Monkees produced the song to add another voice to the protest over the Vietnam War and the draft process the United States used for it.
22. Casey Jones – Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead used the legend of Casey Jones to create a track about drug use. It sees a conductor high on cocaine driving too fast and heading right toward another train on the track that’s being driven by a sleepy man. They also played the folk song The Ballad Of Casey Jones in shows often, with that track helping inspire this one.
23. Mystery Train – Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley owns the most popular version of Mystery Train, seeing the narrator take a spooky train ride that seems to be on its way to the land of the dead. Junior Parker was the original writer of the song, releasing it in 1953, two years before Presley recorded his version of it.
24. Downtown Train – Tom Waits
Downtown Train is a popular song for artists to record, but Tom Waits was the first one to put it on record. It sees him trying to deal with the pace of living in a big city and looking for a way to be with the woman he loves despite her barely knowing he exists.
25. Take The A Train – Duke Ellington
Take The A Train would eventually become one of Duke Ellington’s signature songs and one of the tracks he played most in live shows. It was inspired by the route he often had to take through the Harlem district of New York, riding the A-train between destinations. It’s also one of the few tracks with a jazz solo that doesn’t get changed every performance, a rare treat in the genre.
26. Train of Consequences – Megadeth
Train Of Consequences became one of Megadeth’s biggest songs, serving as the first single from their sixth album and appearing on several of their compilations. Instead of a locomotive, this track is about the consequences of gambling.
27. Girl On A Train – Skizzy Mars
Girl On A Train sees Skizzy Mars spot a beautiful woman on a train and decides they want to get to know her better. Unfortunately, before they work up the nerve, the girl gets off at a train stop and the love story ends before it ever actually got started.
28. Stop This Train – John Mayer
Trains don’t stop quickly. They really just keep going as long as they have fuel and feel like something unstoppable. John Mayer compares a train to the unstoppable and ever-driving nature of time in Stop This Train, a song that’s really about wishing time could stop or go backward for a little bit.
29. The Train – Macklemore Feat. Carla Morrison
One of the least expensive ways to travel is by train. A lot of nomads—especially the digital ones—will use trains to get between cities, especially in Europe where railways have a lot more passenger investment. The Train by Macklemore is from one of those travelers’ perspectives, always far from home and never turning back.
30. Train of Love – Johnny Cash
Our last entry from the legendary Johnny Cash, Train Of Love was one of the most popular jukebox songs in history. He released it all the way back in 1956.
31. Shut Up Train – Little Big Town
If you live near train tracks, you eventually get used to the noise. But that can take a while and it can be very annoying, especially when you’re trying to sleep. Shut Up Train by Little Big Town sees the narrator telling a loud train outside to shut up because they’re trying to sleep. They’re stuck dealing with a lot, making it a somber song, but the train is interrupting the small amount of peace they’re getting.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.