Train in Vain (Stand By Me)

Album: London Calling (1979)
Charted: 27
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  • Despite the title, the words "train in vain" don't appear in this song. The predominant lyric is "stand by me," but that's the title of a famous song by Ben E. King.

    The title of The Clash song comes from the train rhythm in the song combined with the theme of being lost. It's also a reference to Tammy Wynette's 1975 hit single "Stand By Your Man" ("you say you stand, by your man, tell me something, I don't understand").
  • On the original vinyl copy of the album, "Train Is Vain" isn't listed on the tracklisting on the sleeve. The story is that the song was recorded for an NME promotional flexi-disc once the London Calling sessions were done, and the flexi-disc idea then fell through, leaving the song with no home. The band hastily tacked the song onto the end of the album just before vinyl pressing, but the sleeve had already been designed and there was no time to add it to the tracklisting. The only clue of it's existence is in the run-out groove on Side 4, where the name is carved into the vinyl. On all subsequent releases (including the CD copy) "Train In Vain" is included on the tracklisting on the sleeve.
  • According to NME magazine (3/16/91), this isn't listed on the sleeve credits for London Calling because it was originally going to be a flexi giveaway with NME magazine. Unfortunately, the idea proved too expensive and the track went on the album instead.
  • Clash guitarist Mick Jones sang lead vocals on this song. The lyrics appear to reference the end of his on-off relationship with Viv Albertine, which he also explored on the London Calling track "I'm Not Down." "Train In Vain" also contains a pointed reference to his flat being burgled in early 1979 and to his feelings of depression ("I need new clothes, I need somewhere to stay").
  • This was the first US Top 40 hit for The Clash. They had only one more - "Rock The Casbah" in 1982.
  • The album cover was designed as a tribute to Elvis Presley's first album. The words "London" and "Calling" are displayed the same way "Elvis" and "Presley" were on his 1956 debut. Instead of a photo of Elvis, however, the text frames a shot of Clash bass player Paul Simonon smashing his bass during a show at The Palladium in New York. That bass was later displayed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • The song became a firm live favorite for the band, introduced to their live set in December 1979 and played consistently until Mick Jones was fired in 1983. The music video is taken from one of these many live performances, a February 1980 show in Lewisham filmed by Don Letts and featuring an amusing introduction from Joe Strummer: "We'd like to take the soul train from platform one... and if you don't want to come, there's always the toilet!"
  • You'd think a big hit like "Rock the Casbah" or "Should I Stay or Should I Go" would be the most covered Clash song, but it's actually "Train in Vain." Cover versions exist by Third Eye Blind, Ill Rapture, Dr. Haze/DJ X-Cel, The Sabrejets, Dwight Yoakam, Annie Lennox, The Manic Street Preachers, Jones Crusher and Kirsty MacColl.
  • The Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde was on the scene when the band recorded this at Wessex Studios. Mick Jones explained to Daniel Rachel (The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters): "It wasn't about Chrissie Hynde but she was upstairs and there was a window from the pool room where she could look in. I was singing it to Chrissie."
  • This R&B-flavored tune introduced The Clash to a new audience. "We couldn't believe how popular it became, especially in America," Jones said. "That broke us in there. They thought it was a regular R&B song, then they found out it was The Clash."

Comments: 34

  • Sunny Boy Kd from Riviera Beach FloridaI'm 61 years old. I still listen to the class. London Calling is the first album I ever heard from them. When I listen to the 1st song, I said what the heck is this and I've been a fan ever since. One thing I would like to know though what key on the harmonica was Mick Jones playing during the song?
  • Mimi from ColoradoThe Clash is one of my favorite bands. A lot of people my age think I'm weird because I listen to this type of music and not rap.
  • Taylor from Sydney, Australia One of the greatest Clash songs by far.
  • Mark from Syracuse, NyIve read somewhere the name of this song is a reference to one of the band members that would take the train to see the love of his life only to be rejected every time he went there
  • Derek from Great Barrington, Ma The day ithe album came out in Boston, I snapped it up. My girlfriend came over to my crappy little college apartment. She was beautiful, but not much of a music fan. Her favorite performers were Andrew Gold and the Bay City Rollers. I swear, when I cued up "TIV", she started to listen. "What song is that?" "Who is this band?" And she became a huge Clash fan. I don't know, exactly, what that means, but I think it means "Train In Vain" was a great song, at least.
  • Dorian-michael from Decatur, Al"Trains" need no mention in the actual lyrics of "Train In Vain"; The Clash depict - with guitar, bass, drums and harmonica - an aural portrayal of "the essence" of a passing train so well that an actual lyrical mention would be downright tacky - and quite redundant.
  • Dorian-michael from Decatur, AlA couple of people have posted that "the first North American pressing had the title scratched on the inner groove of the vinyl?" and "the word's (sic)'train (sic) In Vain' were actually etched in to (sic) the vinyl of the record to acknowledge the song'.

    I can assure you... not ALL of them! I bought the only copy of The Clash album, "London Calling", sold by our lone, local record store on the day it was released . When I got home, I was shocked and dismayed that "Train In Vain" (my new, ABSOLUTE favorite song at the moment) was to be seen NOWHERE on cover, sleeve, or album-label! I closely perused the discs and quickly noticed the "track bands" on the four album sides totaled one greater than the sum of the listed tracks. Though tempted to skip tracks - I didn't cheat.

    I immersed myself into "London Calling" while following along to the illustrated lyrics on the inner-sleeves and studying what may still be the "Greatest Rock Album Cover Ever" in all its clever, artful, "King of Rock'n'Roll"-referencing glory: equal parts Elvis-mocking and Elvis-homage. Engrossed in this unique, uber-creative music, I experienced the entire work, each song in proper sequence, until finally, with growing anxiety (What if the song's not on here?) and eager anticipation, I listened as "Revolution Rock" gradually faded out and was followed by several, trepidly quiet seconds punctuated only by vinyl's inherent, subtle-yet-ubiquitous, "snap-crackle-pop."

    Then... a freight-train of musical bliss overtook me as that railroad, locomotive-chug drumbeat heralded those beautifully deliberate guitar notes - stabbing emphatically from my stereo speakers: bont-dount bont-b'dou-dont / bont-dount bont-dou-dont... "Train In Vain"! Yes! Of course it's on there - it's the single - and, here, I doubted "Train In Vain" in vain.

    So!... My runaway train-of-thought, finally pulling up alongside the platform now - after having gone quite the long, meandering, way 'round - arrives at this simple terminus: I was quite the Clash-enamored lad who studied that wonderful, vinyl-masterpiece thoroughly. I can say with total certainty that, scratched into the surface of the outro-groove area between the last tracks and the labels, were, NOT the words; "Train In Vain" - but a surprising and unusual gibe - seemingly aimed at taunting their biggest cross-genre, "punk vs. metal/hard rock" rival. Starting, at one word per album side, on side one; "TEAR...", side two continued; "...DOWN...", "...THE..." followed on side three, and side four concluded: "...WALL!" Was it coincidence that Pink Floyd's huge and epic "The Wall" album had just been released two weeks earlier? How snotty and cheekily "punk" of "the only band that matters!"
  • Niles from Belpre, OhI agree with Rahul
  • Rahul from Chennai, Indiadefinitely 'one of the best' clash songs.....
  • Adam from South Pasadena, Israelthe live version is sick
  • Kevin from Reading , PaIt's a longstanding belief that Joe Strummer disliked this song because it was too pop for the "Only Band that Matters." I find this a little hard to believe, because the "Londong Calling" was, for the Clash anyway, a fairly poppy album, so the song doesn't sound so out of place, as it might on some other efforts. Maybe Strummer was just jealous that Jones got the spotlight on this one.
  • Pat from Reading, Mai just got back from bass lessons and i learned this song. Paul Simonon is the best non-solo bassist ever.
  • Allie from Pine Knob, MiHarmonica, drums, piano and bass= an awesome song that doesn't rely on a big guitar part, something you don't really hear that much anymore,good singing, his voice quivers a bit!!!=)
  • Peter from Buffalo, NyThis song is featured in the EA sports video game "NCAA '06"
  • Joe from Chicago, Arawesome song by an awesome band..... and the lyrics are really good as well i love this song and i love the london calling album......they have other really good albums but london calling is the the way not that it matters (because it really dosen't) but this song was in you me and dupree :P
  • Brandi from El Paso, TxThis is such a great song and such a great band that they are truely an influence on my life. Paul Simonon is totally hot in his younger days. Long live the Clash!!!
  • Jim from Dayton, OhThe band "Garbage" sampled the drum intro for the song "Stupid Girl".
  • Devin from Rancho Cucamonga, CaActually, The Clash refrenced two songs. The first, "Love In Vain" by Robert Johnson and Ben E. Kings famous song "Stand By Me" That's echoed in this songs chorus.
  • Joshua from Twin Cities, MnThe song also features a fairly obvious response to Tammy Wynette's country hit "Stand By Your Man" from the previous year (a la Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" whose second verse responds to two different Neil Young songs).
  • Nathan from From The Country Of, Canadamy favourite Clash song
  • Ralph from Newton, MaThough they don't get airplay anymore, I remember "I Fought the Law," "Clampdown" and "Police on my Back" at the time getting some airplay on the rock (as opposed to top 40) stations.
  • Sara from Pakenham, Australiathe guy that said that the clash only have 3 songs that get mainstearm radio airplay.....i think u got the 3 song wrong scrap train in vain 4 london calling..
  • Ace from Kingston , CanadaI agree wiht what the guy said below me, they have SO MANY GOOD SONGS! and they dont get noticed,thanks god for the young generation like me that knows good music when he hears it eh!! aha, but i love this.. it is kind of on the same lines of the Queen Song "Save Me" i dontmean the music but the meaning, the clash ARE a great band
  • Roger from Los Angeles, CaThe Clash were one of the great bands in the history of rock. Unfortunately only 3 of their songs really got any real mainstream radio airplay, this song, Rock the Casbah, and Should I Stay or Should I Go. Those songs all had a jangly top 40 feel to them that their other songs didn't have. It is unfortunate because they have so many other better songs than these three.
  • Mark from Los Angeles, CaHere's are thoughts on the meaning of the title:

    Johnny Black:
    The meaning of the song's title is equally obscure. Sometimes it seems as if every little boy who once dreamed of growing up to be a train engineer became a songwriter instead. Throughout popular music, from blues to country to disco to rock, songs about trains are almost as common as songs about cars: Chattanooga Choo Choo, The Midnight Special, Mystery Train, Love Train.

    With the Clash, however, things are never quite what they seem â?? and no train is mentioned in the song. Mick Jones, who wrote most of it, offers a prosaic explanation: The track was like a train rhythm, and there was, once again, that feeling of being lost.
  • David from Montreal, CanadaThis song was definitely a last minute addition - can you believe that the first North American pressing had the title scratched on the inner groove of the vinyl?!!! It was not on the album cover any where. They did not want to release it as it was too commercial. But the label convinced them in the end last minute.
  • Dan from Pacific, MoShould I Stay Or Should I Go went to #1 in 1991.
  • Johnny from Oakland, CaGarbage used the drum line from Train In Vain for their song "Stupid Girl", and in a gracious gesture credited Strummer/Jones with writing the song.
  • Jackie from Fairfield, CtWhen the album came out, since there was no time to redo the packaging, the word's "train In Vain" were actually etched in to the vinyl of the record to acknowledge the song.
  • Chris from New York, NyThe song was written and recorded in one day. The N.M.E. had requested a song to include in the tabloid as a single sided flexi-disc to coincide with the album's release. The catch was that N.M.E. wanted an exclusive, a song that someone could only get with their paper. The Clash agree, but had no out-takes from the session to contribute. So, they rushed into the studio and wrote and recorded the whole thing on the spot in one day. After all that (kissing ass to the music press), the N.M.E. flaked out and changed their minds. The publisher didn't want to pay to have the flexi-disc pressed and copped out. The album cover and the labels for the LP had already been printed. The albums had not, however, been pressed yet. The band really liked the song and didn't want to toss it so they squeezed it on to the end of the album anyway. Hence the unlisted track...

    But this still doesn't explain why it is titled "Train In Vain"...

    Now, someone that really has the scoop needs to share that one.
  • Adam from Jupiter, FlWasn't the catchy intro to this song copied at the beginning of a mid-to-late 90's alternative song? (Stupid Girl by Garbage?) Every time I heard the song on the radio I got excited because I thought it was Train in Vain.
  • Jon from Cardiff, WalesWas also covered live by the Manic Street Preachers, a recording of which they used as a B-Side.
  • Audrey from Boston, MaAnnie Lennox did an amazing cover of this song, which later showed up in the Ashley Judd movie "Someone Like You".
  • Matt from London, EnglandNot intentionally hidden. The song was brought into the studio and indeed to the attention of the band after the copy for the cover had been approved and gone to press.
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