Just like trains, life, can move at full speed, veer off the tracks, and become a total wreck.
A tried-and-true metaphor, trains symbolize both freedom and rebellion in music.
A persistent message that carries on unchanged through genres.
It is a popular metaphor artists used in the 50s and 60s.
So, let’s take a look at the 30 best songs about trains and locomotives.
1. “Midnight Train To Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
This 1970s classic won the 1974 Grammy for best R&B vocal performance.
This soulful song is about a woman’s love for her man, who wants to leave on a “midnight train to Georgia” to pursue his singing career elsewhere in the country, and how she will follow him anywhere.
Jim Weatherly was inspired to write this song after a phone conversation with actress Farrah Fawcett about her crumbling relationship with Lee Majors.
The overall composition is perfectly synchronized, creating a harmonious melody that will stay with the listener long after the song is done.
2. “Night Train” by Jason Aldean
Jason Aldean’s album Night Track debuted at number one, his first to do so, on the Billboard 200 in the United States.
The title track, “Night Train,” is a mid-tempo rock ballad about two lovers looking for the perfect spot for nighttime romance while waiting for a train.
Aldean’s romantic, twangy song about snuggling in a field by the train tracks with “a fifth of Comfort” and a blanket under the stars makes the idea sound incredibly appealing.
This song is perfect for a secret date night out under the starry sky.
3. “All Night Train” by The Allman Brothers Band
The subject of “All Night Train” is a man attempting to flee from his problems by riding a train through the city at night.
He plans to use the locomotive all night, every night until he has no money left and his problems are resolved; even though his doctor says it is bad for his health.
This song is a nod to the drugs Greg Allman used as escapism for most of his adult years.
4. “Trains” by Al Stewart
“Trains,” released in 1993 on the album Famous Last Words, is about the passing of time, losing one’s innocence, and the struggles one faces in trying circumstances.
It contains elements of autobiography, history, and allegory.
Stewart contrasts the rise of the railways and the role they played in the two World Wars, transporting troops to the front or captives to the Nazi concentration camps in Poland, with his own boyhood experience of riding trains to boarding school.
Using trains as a connecting point, Al Stewart highlights the variety of extremes within human suffering.
5. “Big Black Train” by Flatt & Scruggs
Since the beginning of time, people have always been able to empathize with running away from heartache.
In this song from Selected Cuts 1952 – 1959, the artist sings about escaping from a disloyal lover, who had pledged to be there for him.
With its simple lyrics, close-harmony vocals, and virtuosic performance on banjos, this song is best suited for days when you want to wallow in despair.
6. “Stop This Train” by John Mayer
John Mayer has an honest conversation with the listener about time in this quiet, intimate pop song.
He reflects on his parents’ aging, mistakes made, and lessons learned using a train as a metaphor for the passage of time.
Mayer admitted in a 2006 interview that the song was about being chased by the unstoppable speed of time and wanting to return to childhood.
“Stop This Train” appeared on Mayer’s album Continuum, which was known for its tracklisting emphasizing raw emotion and soul-searching lyrics.
“I want to get off and go home again / I can’t take the speed it’s moving in”
7. “Train In Vain” by The Clash
This famous Clash breakup song from London Calling was added to the album at the last minute after the artwork was done, thus it didn’t make the tracklist.
It’s a surprisingly upbeat punk song about someone mourning the loss of a romance.
Despite the title, the words “train in vain” never appear in this song; the trio chose the unusual title because of its train-like beat.
8. “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne
People are very likely to recognize the distinctive chords and lyrics of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” which was released in the 80s.
Guitar World magazine readers ranked the song as containing the ninth-best guitar solo of all time.
The theme of this heavy metal song is coping with mental instability, particularly after the Cold War.
9. “Last Train to Clarksville” by The Monkees
The Monkees were a made-up band of chosen actors for a TV program that aimed to emulate the Beatles’ well-known sound.
“Last Train to Clarksville”, an international hit, is an anti-Vietnam War song that topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966.
The song’s lyrics, which are about a young kid who is drafted, deal with the youngster’s agonizing emotions related to leaving home and not knowing if he’ll ever return: a reality for many young people drafted into the Vietnam War.
10. “Casey Jones” by Grateful Dead
Robert Hunter, who collaborated with the Grateful Dead, added a hint of the legend of Casey Jones to this song about drug usage.
When several trains collided, Casey Jones, an American railroader, bravely gave his life to protect those of his passengers.
Although the song bears no resemblance to the actual train wreck, it is still one of the band’s most famous songs non-Deadheads will recognize.
The song has a train-like feel to it thanks to the odd instrumentation that mimics the chugging of a train.
11. “Midnight Train” by Sam Smith
In “Midnight Train,” released on their 2017 album The Thrill of It All, Sam Smith’s sensitive and sincere voice reveals a heartbreaking confession.
A bereaved lover leaves their beloved at midnight, choosing themselves instead of the relationship which doesn’t seem to be working any longer.
Although it’s possible that the speaker disappeared at night, the image of a mostly empty, gloomy train suggests a lonely, dejected traveler fleeing an unhappy relationship.
A fresh day and an uncertain future await the singer at midnight, naturally a moment of mystery and risk.
“I’ll always love you / But tonight’s the night I choose to walk away.”
12. “Long Black Train” by Josh Turner
While still a university student, Josh Turner penned this song about how a glossy, black train represents temptation, whereas faith in God will help people overcome everything life throws at them.
The music video depicts people standing on the tracks, contemplating whether they should succumb to biblically sinful temptations such as alcohol, drugs, and other transgressions as a long, black train barrels towards them.
Turner had imagined passengers choosing whether or not to board the train even if it was going nowhere in particular.
Turner’s bewitching smooth baritone will give you goosebumps as you listen to the soul-stirring lyrics.
13. “Rock N Roll Train” by AC/DC
Fun fact about AC/DC: the band uses the word ‘rock’ or a variation of it in 23 of their songs.
When they released this classic rock song on their 2008 album Black Ice, it was met with success despite being published later in the band’s career.
It quickly became the No. 1 song on the Billboard charts after its initial release.
14. “The Train” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
This bilingual ballad with Carla Marrison describes the viewpoint of a detached nomad who is constantly on the move and far from family and friends.
The song “The Train,” which appears on the album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, is a huge metaphor describing how the rush of life may frequently cause people to become estranged from the people that matter the most.
The protagonist addresses his mother, with whom he doesn’t always have time to speak, a girl he left behind, and his brother, whom he misses terribly as he narrates his heartfelt story.
“Made a wrong turn now I’m long distance / And I miss them”
15. “Long Train Runnin’” by The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers’ folk/rock song has a quintessential ’70s feel, owing to the harmonica melody it incorporates.
Before recording this song onto an album, the band performed this song live for several years.
The lead singer of The Doobie Brothers, Tom Johnston, would ad-lib to the song as they performed it live while performing the lead vocal, playing the driving repetitive guitar strum and the harmonica solo.
When they finally recorded it, it was for The Captain and Me, a project they started in 1973.
16. “Downbound Train” by Bruce Springsteen
The song “Downbound Train” is about a man who lost both his career and his relationship.
He has the impression that he is traveling downhill or in a downward spiral; he believes his life has lost all meaning and is unsure of how to get out of the terrible situation he is in.
Yet he intends to keep going and make every effort to escape the hole he has dug for himself.
It is a pensive song, ideal for people who can’t see a way out yet but need some motivation to keep on going.
17. “Train Kept A Rollin” by Aerosmith
Steven Tyler gave Tiny Bradshaw’s 1951 recording of “Train Kept A Rollin’” a classic rock makeover in 1974.
This song, by the famous rock band Aerosmith, with an incredible guitar solo, explores the emotions of two people who meet on a long train journey.
Although they’re interested in one another, the singer is more focused on his feelings of lust for the woman and doesn’t want to disrupt their chemistry by telling her about it.
He hopes the train keeps going so they can have some quality time together.
18. “Just Missed The Train” by Kelly Clarkson
This song, from Clarkson’s debut album Thankful, is about a woman singing to her lover while they sleep next to each other on a bench since they missed their train and are now stranded somewhere late at night.
Her mid-range is incredibly reassuring, while her high notes are lovely and pillowy; she understands how to sound passionate and sincere while keeping the melody and fundamental notes in place.
19. “New Ways / Train Train” by Jeff Beck
Two parts make up this fast-paced rock song, with the first part expressing the thoughts of a young man who believes he needs to change his life since he doesn’t feel respected or cared for where he is at the moment.
The second section details the young man’s journey as he boards a train and travels to a new location to begin a new life.
Experimenting with distortion, feedback, and a ‘fuzz’ tone, the song’s lyrics encourage the listener to live life the way they want.
20. “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens
Songs advocating peace were commonplace as the Vietnam War ended, and Stevens’ folk-pop hit reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971.
The enlightening song “Peace Train” comes at a time when we all need hope.
Conveying the never-ending goal of world peace, Stevens has done yet another great job at writing a masterpiece with a Mediterranean vibe.
For a long time, he used this song to finish every show because it perfectly encapsulated the values he wanted his work and career to represent.
“Why must we go on hating? / Why can’t we live in bliss?”
21. “Lord Of The Trains” by Tom Russell
Russell’s music has elements of folk, rock, and American West cowboy music, despite being more closely associated with the Americana music genre.
“Lord of the Trains” tells the story of the demise of a time when coach cars replaced railroad cabooses.
The hobo in the song refers to himself as the Lord of the Trains because, even though there are no more cabooses for him to travel in, he is probably one of the last remaining hobos.
With a beautiful historical story woven through the lyrics, the song’s toe-tapping beat will have you singing along in no time.
22. “Train Wreck” by James Arthur
James Arthur’s strong voice stands out in this candid song about facing dark feelings and trying to escape the destructive path of drugs and sadness.
It exhibits the distinctive sorrow that gave the 2012 “X Factor” champion a solid reputation as a ballad performer.
What Arthur does is always heartfelt, and you can hear the emotion behind his words as he sings this soul-baring, authentic song.
“I, I’m down on my knees and I need you to be my God”
23. “The Train Song” by Nick Cave
Nick Cave is best known for his baritone voice and for leading the rock group Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Lyrically obsessed with the themes of death, religion, love, and violence, Cave’s music is marked by emotional intensity and a wide range of influences.
“The Train Song” expresses the longing for a lover who has moved on.
This heartfelt ballad inquires about the length of the journey, the number of coaches, and the condition of his love at the time they boarded the train without him.
It is certain to make everybody who hears it think of their ex-lover.
24. “The Memphis Train” by Rufus Thomas
Rufus Thomas was an American R&B, soul, funk, and blues singer, who released “The Memphis Train,” in 1968.
It’s an upbeat, funky jazz song about a man growing impatient while waiting for his train at the station. Even after other trains have come and gone, he’s still left waiting.
The perfect song to listen to while you wait for your train at the station.
25. “Girl On A Train” by Skizzy Mars
In this unfortunately underrated song about love at first sight, Skizzy Mars sings passionately about falling in love with a girl he sees on the train and wonders what she’s like as a person.
As her stop arrives and she departs without saying anything to him, Skizzy is left heartbroken; he regrets not talking to her.
It is a quintessential Brooklyn almost-love song for hopeless romantics.
Many both love and hate this song as it reminds them of all the times they missed their chance at love with that perfect stranger on the street.
26. “Wreck of the Old ‘97” by Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash’s music often featured trains and locomotives to represent larger-picture messages.
“Wreck of the Old ‘97” from Cash’s debut album, Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar!, tells the story of a deadly train crash that kills its newly appointed engineer.
In his deep, calm, baritone-bass voice, Cash explains the moral of his story near the end of the somber song.
Who knows how much time you have left with your loved ones? So take the opportunity to show them you care.
“Never speak harsh words to your true lovin’ husband / He may leave you and never return”
27. “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum
The power ballad, “Runaway Train,” became a sensational hit all across the world, reaching No. 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Its music video includes pictures of missing people, the majority of whom are children and teenagers.
According to the lead singer David Pirner, the song, at first, represented his personal depressive episode; the runaway train was a metaphor for his depression that was spinning out of control.
A mid-tempo ballad with an acoustic foundation and a lovely, string-led undercurrent perfectly captures the song’s romantic, cinematic lyrics.
28. “Come on Train” by Don Thomas
In the jazzy and soulful pop song “Come on Train,” which was released in 2014, a man is waiting for a train at two in the morning to take him home to the woman he loves after spending months traveling from city to city.
The tune gradually changes pace as the track progresses, with the singer using a staccato rhythm to keep the song upbeat and playful.
29. “Sleeper Train” by America
The song “Sleeper Train” from America’s 1994 album Hourglass communicates to the audience the aching yet hopeful thoughts of a man traveling to an unknown destination.
The man sings about how, even though he is leaving his life behind, he still thinks of his love while watching the scenery pass by outside his train window.
30. “Locomotive Breath” by Jethro Tull
Ian Anderson, the leader of Jethro Tull, wrote the song “Locomotive Breath,” which has a geopolitical tint and addresses the problems of living in a crowded world.
Many metal bands have since covered it; it first appeared on their well-known 1971 album Aqualung.
The well-known song was also featured on a classical side project Jethro Toll worked on in 2017 that comprised some of their most well-known songs in instrumental form.
Songs About Trains – Final Thoughts
Whether you’re a fan of classic rock, death metal, country, bluegrass, jazz, or even contemporary pop, there’s a song about trains for everyone out there.
Like Agatha Christie said, “To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches, and rivers, in fact, to see life.”
The songs on this list allow you a glimpse into the lives of the artists who use the imagery of trains to convey their message to the world.
So, go ahead and give these songs a listen and maybe you’ll find a unique gem.