Long Train Runnin'

Album: The Captain And Me (1973)
Charted: 7 8
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  • Doobie Brothers guitarist and lead singer Tom Johnston wrote this song, which they played live for three years before recording. Johnston told Songfacts: "Generally I write the music first, and sometimes I have a devil of a time getting the words. Sometimes they come right away, and sometimes it's like pulling teeth. We played 'Long Train Runnin'' for three years before it got recorded, and it got called several different names, and most of the time I would make up the words as we were playing the song.

    I think we started playing that in the Chateau, so that would have been around 1970-71. And it got called 'Osborne,' it got called 'Parliament,' it got called a lot of things. It was just anything to put down on the set list so we'd know what song it was, but it didn't have any words - I would just make up the words as we played the song. So they might be nonsense - might be? They're definitely nonsensical. And it continued that way until Teddy [producer Ted Templeman] heard it and said, 'You should cut that.' And I said, 'Oh, man, this is just a throwaway song.' I didn't think it was any big deal. I didn't think it had any great merit as far as the chords and everything went, because it seemed too simplistic to me. But I was wrong, and wrote the words in the bathroom, which happened a lot down there. I wrote the words sitting in the bathroom at Amigo Studios in Burbank, which doesn't exist anymore. But that's where we did all those records, and it was owned by Warner Brothers. So it was like a last-minute deal, and then I came in and sang, and boing, the record was done."
  • Regarding the lyrics, Johnston said: "None of that stuff really had any basis in anything. It was just out the top of my head, which, quite frankly, is where all lyrics come from. Songwriting's a weird thing, and everybody does it differently. For me, I always write the music first, the words come later. But I've had songs that just seem to write themselves, and those are blessings for me, because you don't have to sit there and strain your brain for hours trying to come up with the lyrics, it seems like they just flow out on the paper, and you don't even have to think. Other songs, like 'Long Train Runnin'' - not that the words are that difficult or anything - it's just finding the words that I thought fit the track. Took me a long time. I got into the whole train mode, and it's just stuff that comes into your head. It's not like I had a point of reference with anybody named Lucy, I had been around trains on and off throughout my life. Coming from the Central Valley in California, there's a lot of trains running up and down that valley. And I assume that's where some of that stuff probably came from."
  • Always a crowd-pleaser when The Doobies play this live, it starts with a very recognizable guitar riff that Johnston came up with. When he came up with the riff, Johnston didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary. In our 2009 interview, he said: "It surprises me, because we just finished doing that song in Japan for a TV show, and they wanted to know all about the guitar lick, and I really can't tell anybody anything in depth. It's just a lick to me."
  • Arlo Guthrie released a popular train song the previous year: "City Of New Orleans." Both songs mention the Illinois Central train in the lyrics.
  • This was the first single from the band's third album, The Captain And Me. Their first album stiffed, but their second, Toulouse Street, had two hits: "Listen To The Music" and "Jesus Is Just Alright," so there was lots of anticipation for their next one. When "Long Train Runnin'" was issued, rock radio stations quickly put it into rotation.
  • This did not originally chart in the UK. However in 1993 it became the Doobie Brothers only British Top 10 hit when a remixed version climbed to #7 on the singles chart.
  • Girl group Bananarama scored a #30 hit in the UK with their cover version, in which they were backed by The Gypsy Kings.
  • Randy Bachman has implied that The Doobie Brothers lifted the guitar riff of this song from the Bachman-Turner Overdrive song "Let It Ride." According to Bachman, in 1972 The Doobie Brothers were sharing a dressing room with BTO for a show at The Warehouse in New Orleans, which is when they wrote "Let It Ride."
  • In Stephen King's 1980 novel, Firestarter, this plays on Andy McGee's car radio during a frantic drive.

Comments: 10

  • Robin from MontanaKawa from Tokyo, Japan I just read the explanation of the lyrics by the writer of the song. Not where it came from at all but it was a good guess.
  • Kawa from Tokyo, JapanHi Music fans, I think the idea of this song came from the song 'I'm A Man' written by Steve Winwood and played by the Spencer Davis Group in 1967. I think that they wrote this song by hearing the Chicago' cover version in 1970. Also I think that the lyrics of the song came from the song 'Midnight Train To Georgia' in 1973. Then the band finished writing, recorded and released in the same year, 1973 ! The rest is history. Don't you know how many times you hear the words 'Train' on that song ?
  • Birdman_euston from London, UkAbout the Doobies ripping off Bachman-Turner Overdrive's guitar riff from "Let It Ride": The Doobies' side of the story is that after one of their gigs, BTO came backstage to learn the technique from them! NB "The Captain and Me'' was released nine months before "Bachman-Turner Overdrive II''.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 23rd 1987, the original members of the Doobie Brothers reunite for a Vietnam Veterans benefit at the Hollywood Bowl in LA...
    And exactly fourteen years earlier on May 23rd, 1973 the band's "Long Train Runnin'" was at #30 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; on June 24th, 1973 the song would peak at #8 {for 1 week} and it stayed on the chart for 18 weeks...
    It would also peak at #8 on the Canadian RPM Singles chart...
    Between 1972 and 1989 the group had twenty-seven Top 100 records; five made the Top 10 with two reaching #1, "Black Water" for one week in 1975 and "What a Fool Believes" for one week in 1979...
    They just missed having seven Top 10 records when "Listen to the Music" and "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)" both peaked at #11.
  • Jeff from Kingston, TnIn 1994 I seen Hootie and the Blowfish cover this while on the cracked rear view tour. Darius Rucker didn't take the lead vocal. Lead guitarist MarkBryan took lead vocals. I have seen them three times in concert which every concert has resulted in cover songs.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 15th 1973, "Long Train Runnin'" by the Doobie Brothers entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 at position #84; and on June 24th it peaked at #8 (for 1 week) and spent 18 weeks on the Top 100...
    It was the group's first Top 10 record...
    And personally, the Doobie Brothers are a perfect example of why the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame is a joke!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyIn 1979 Tom Johnston charted as a solo artist, his "Savannah Night" peaked at #34 and stayed in the Top 100 for 12 weeks...
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxBy far my favorite DB song. LOVE the guitar and percussion.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhMarch 2010-this song must have only recently been put on Songfacts; I looked for it here not long ago and didn't find it-probably why not many comments yet. This song seemed average to me for a long time until last year my trumpet-playing teenage son joined the STEUBENVILLE BIG RED HIGH SCHOOL MARCHING BAND and "LONG TRAIN RUNNIN'" is one of their signature tunes. It is on their songlist every year and the band ROCKS OUT with it. HIGH ENERGY. A true crowd-pleaser. Now I love to hear the song on the radio, love the guitar riff, the bass guitar, and the lovely wailing at the end "Wheeeerre would you be now?"
  • Ani from Yerevan, ArmeniaCan't believe there's no comment yet// Anyway, a very nice story!! Nice and lovely song. I also like very much "dark eyed cajun woman" from "the captain and me"! :)
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