Last of the Steam-Powered Trains
|"Last of the Steam Powered Trains"|
|album track by The Kinks from the album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society|
|Released||22 November 1968|
|Recorded||July 1968 at Pye Studios, London|
|Genre||Blues rock, rock and roll|
Sanctuary (2004 Reissue)
|The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society track listing|
"Last of the Steam-Powered Trains" is a song by the English rock band The Kinks. It first appeared on their 1968 album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. It was written by The Kinks' principal songwriter, Ray Davies.
"Last of the Steam-Powered Trains" was inspired by "Smokestack Lightnin'", a rhythm and blues track by Howlin' Wolf. The track, first released in 1956, became a standard number for blues bands at the time to perform (including The Kinks). However, as time passed, R&B began to lose its appeal, with pop music taking over. In "Last of the Steam-Powered Trains", Davies not only references the blues musically, but acknowledges this situation lyrically.
When talking about "Last of the Steam-Powered Trains", Ray Davies said, "Again, like the 'Walter' song it's really about not having anything in common with people. Everybody wanted to know about steam trains a couple of years ago, but they don't any more. It's about me being the last of the renegades. All my friends are middle class now. They've all stopped playing in clubs. They've all made money and have happy faces. Oddly enough, I never did like steam trains much."
"Last of the Steam-Powered Trains" was one of the final tracks recorded for The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, being recorded after the original 12-track version of the album was pulled from shops at Ray Davies's insistence. Also recorded at this point in time was "Big Sky", the track that followed it on the final 15-track version of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.
Lyrics and Music
The lyrics of "Last of the Steam Powered Trains", the singer takes the role of an antique steam-powered train. The singer calls himself "the last of the blood and sweat brigade," " the last of the good old renegades," and "the last of the good old fashioned steam-powered trains." He says, "I don't know where I'm going, or why I came," and that all of his friends are "middle class and grey." He "live[s] in a museum, so [he's] okay," but then goes on to say, "all this peaceful living is drivin' me insane." These lyrics can be taken literally, but they also compare the dwindling popularity of blues with these now obsolete steam-powered trains.
Musically, the track is considered one of the more rocking and bluesy tracks on The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. Andy Miller wrote in his 33 and 1/3 book, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, that "the track hovers between paying homage to the R&B sound and spoofing it." It features Ray Davies on vocals, as well as harmonica (which is occasionally double tracked). Midway through the song, the track dramatically speeds up for a short section, featuring a bass line by Pete Quaife described by Miller as "Chuck Berry-like."
Release and Reception
"Last of the Steam-Powered Trains" was first released on The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. It has since appeared on the 1970 compilation album, The Kinks. It was not released as a single.
"Last of the Steam-Powered Trains" has generally received positive reviews from critics. AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine said that "the bluesy shuffle of 'Last of the Steam-Powered Trains' is the closest [The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society] comes to rock & roll." Robert Christgau, in his review of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, said, "the album's most memorable song--it would be the single were there enough demand--is probably "Last of the Steam Powered Trains." Like the title song and about half the others, it is a song about the past—or rather, about how to deal with the past. It is possible to see the country-western thing here in the same perspective." Rolling Stone's Paul Williams said, "The song is completely itself, but you can't overlook even on the first hearing the fact that it's Howling Wolf's 'Smokestack Lightning.' And that makes me smile, good old Kinks, finally recording 'Smokestack Lightning,' and a good job of it too. A little fancy kineticism in the break, harmonica and bass and lead buildup, just so you know all the old tricks are as relevant to their music as any new tricks they might enjoy could be. They even throw on a "Till the End of the Day" ending, and that's not the second time they've done that. Might be the fifth."
- Miller, Andy. Kinks' The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.
- Kitts, Thomas M. (2014-05-25). Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "AllMusic Review". Retrieved 2014-05-25.
- Christgau, Robert. "Kinks Kountry". Retrieved 2014-05-21.
- Williams, Paul. "Rolling Stone". Retrieved 2014-05-21.