Night Train (composition)
Label of the original Jimmy Forrest single. Note the misspelling of Forrest's name.
|Single by Jimmy Forrest|
|Released||March 1, 1952|
|Recorded||November 27, 1951|
|Genre||Rhythm and blues|
1964 UK re-release on Sue
|Single by James Brown|
|from the album James Brown Presents His Band|
|B-side||"Why Does Everything Happen to Me"|
|Recorded||February 9, 1961, King Studios, Cincinnati, OH|
|Genre||Rhythm and blues|
|James Brown singles chronology|
Origins and development
"Night Train" has a long and complicated history. The piece's opening riff was first recorded in 1940 by a small group led by Duke Ellington sideman Johnny Hodges under the title "That's the Blues, Old Man". Ellington used the same riff as the opening and closing theme of a longer-form composition, "Happy-Go-Lucky Local", that was itself one of four parts of his Deep South Suite. Forrest was part of Ellington's band when it performed this composition, which has a long tenor saxophone break in the middle. After leaving Ellington, Forrest recorded "Night Train" on United Records and had a major rhythm & blues hit. While "Night Train" employs the same riff as the earlier recordings, it is used in a much earthier R&B setting. Forrest inserted his own solo over a stop-time rhythm not used in the Ellington composition. He put his own stamp on the tune, but its relation to the earlier composition is obvious.
Like Illinois Jacquet's solo on "Flying Home", Forrest's original saxophone solo on "Night Train" became a veritable part of the composition, and is usually recreated in cover versions by other performers. Buddy Morrow's trombone transcription of Forrest's solo from his big-band recording of the tune is similarly incorporated into many performances.
Several different sets of lyrics have been set to the tune of "Night Train". The earliest, written in 1952, are credited to Lewis P. Simpkins, the co-owner of United Records, and guitarist Oscar Washington. They are a typical blues lament by man who regrets treating his woman badly now that she's left him. Douglas Wolk, who describes the original lyrics as "fairly awful", suggests that Simpkins co-wrote (or had Washington write) them as a deliberate throwaway in order to get part of the tune's songwriting credit; this entitled him to substantial share of "Night Train"'s royalties, even though it was most often performed as an instrumental without the lyrics.
Eddie Jefferson recorded a version of "Night Train" with more optimistic lyrics about a woman returning to her man on the night train.
James Brown version
James Brown recorded "Night Train" with his band in 1961. His performance replaced the original lyrics of the song with a shouted list of cities on his East Coast touring itinerary (and hosts to black radio stations he hoped would play his music) along with many repetitions of the song's name. (Brown would repeat this lyrical formula on "Mashed Potatoes U.S.A." and several other recordings.) He also played drums on the recording. Originally appearing as a track on the album James Brown Presents His Band and Five Other Great Artists, it received a single release in 1962 and became a hit, charting #5 R&B and #35 Pop.
A live version of the tune was the closing number on Brown's 1963 album Live at the Apollo. Brown also performs "Night Train" on with his singing group The Famous Flames (Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett, and Lloyd Stallworth) on the 1964 motion picture/concert film The T.A.M.I. Show.
Brown's backing band The J.B.'s would later incorporate the main saxophone line of "Night Train" in their instrumental single "All Aboard The Soul Funky Train", released on the 1975 album Hustle with Speed.
"Night Train" has been recorded by numerous performers over the years:
- Jimmy Forrest's original version of "Night Train" was a #1 R&B hit in 1952. Forrest later recorded a Spanish Tinge version titled "Night Train Mambo".
- Rusty Bryant also had an R&B hit in 1952 with "All Nite Long", an uptempo version recorded live that also incorporated the riff and audience chorus from Joe Houston's "All Night Long".
- A big band version recorded by Buddy Morrow and His Orchestra reached #27 on the charts, also in 1952. This version features a Morrow himself playing lead trombone and performing the classic trombone solo.
- Louis Prima released a version in his album The Wildest!, released in 1957. It features Sam Butera on saxophone and begins with a "C. C. Rider" segment.
- Chet Atkins performed "Night Train" as a guitar-lead big band instrumental on Teensville, 1960.
- The rock and roll instrumental group The Viscounts recorded the tune twice, once in 1960 and again in 1966 in a version where they used their instruments to imitate the sound of a train.
- Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson recorded "Night Train" with his trio on a 1962 album of the same name.
- Bill Doggett, famous for his own instrumental "Honky Tonk", released a version of "Night Train" in 1964 as a two-part single.
- The Kingsmen released a version on their 1964 LP The Kingsmen In Person.
- The tune was part of the repertoire of the British rhythm and blues group Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames during their residency at the legendary Flamingo Club in London's Soho in the early 1960s (with Fame mimicking the list of train stations used by James Brown). It featured on Fame's first 1964 album, the live Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo. It featured again on the 1998 album The Very Best of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.
- The World Saxophone Quartet recorded a version on their album Rhythm and Blues (1989).
- Ska band The Toasters covered the song on their 1992 album New York Fever
- Kadoc released a dance/electronic track "The Nighttrain" with samples from the James Brown recording.
- Public Enemy also released a version of "Night Train" which took samples from the James Brown version.
- Saxophonist Lou Donaldson recorded a version on his 1995 album Caracas
- The group Reverend Organdrum (featuring Jim "The Reverend Horton Heat" Heath) performs "Night Train" on their 2008 album Hi-Fi Stereo.
- Wes Montgomery & Jimmy Smith's version appears on the album Jazz Like You've Never Heard It Before.
- Fergie interpolates the song in the bridge of her 2006 "Fergalicious".
Appearances in film
- Forrest himself performs an extended version of "Night Train" with the Count Basie Orchestra in the 1979 film Last of the Blue Devils.
- "Night Train" is played by the band "Marvin Berry and The Starlighters" at the high school dance in Back to the Future. It is heard again in its sequel.
- "Night Train", by James Brown, is played in the bar fight scene in Rush Hour.
- "Night Train" is played during a club scene towards the end of Raging Bull.
- "Night Train" is featured on the soundtrack album to Quadrophenia (1979)
- "Night Train" is played at the beginning of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Badda-Bing Badda-Bang".
- "Night Train", by James Brown, also features in the soundtrack of the Tom Hanks movie Apollo 13.
- "Night Train" is played by Bob Crane (drummer) and house bands at various clubs in Auto Focus.
- "Night Train" is played in the Happy Days episode "The Skin Game".
- "Night Train" plays an important part in Roddy Doyle's novel The Commitments.
- Martin Amis' 1997 novel Night Train is named after the song.
- Diana Krall performed a version on Spectacle with Elvis Costello, interviewed by Elton John Video on YouTube
- On the Nancy Walker episode of the Muppet Show, Crazy Harry and some Whatnot soldiers perform a target practice sketch to the music of "Night Train". Because of Harry's urge to blow everything up, he orders the Whatnots to shoot everything but the target with a cannon. Eventually, one Whatnot faints and the cannon's aim is changed. When it fires, it blows a hole in the wall near Statler and Waldorf's box.
- Billboard Mar 1, 1952 Rhythm & Blues Record Releases page 31
- BMI Repertoire Search, "Night Train". Accessed 16 April 2012
- Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks - REGALS
- Wolk, Douglas. (2004). Live at the Apollo, 97. New York: Continuum Books.
- Wolk, Douglas. (2004). Live at the Apollo, 99. New York: Continuum.
"3 O' Clock Blues" by B.B. King
|Billboard Best Selling Retail Rhythm & Blues Records number-one single
March 15, 1952
"Booted" by Roscoe Gordon