Train in Vain

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"Train in Vain"
Single by The Clash
from the album London Calling
B-side "London Calling"
Released 12 February 1980
Format Vinyl
Recorded 1979, Wessex Studios, London
Genre Rock
Length 3:09
Label CBS 50851
Writer(s) Mick Jones
Producer(s) Guy Stevens, Mick Jones
The Clash singles chronology
(AUS, 1980)
"Train in Vain"
The Clash reissued singles chronology
"London Calling" (2nd rerelease)
"Train in Vain" (rerelease)
"Complete Control" (live)

"Train in Vain" is a song by the British punk rock band The Clash. It was released as the third and final single from their third studio album, London Calling (1979). The song was not originally listed on the album's track listing,[1][2] appearing as a hidden track at the end of the album. This was because the track was added to the record at the last minute, when the sleeve was already in production. Some editions include the song in the track listing. It was the first Clash song to reach the United States Top 30 charts[1][2] and in 2004, the song was ranked number 298 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[3][4]

In the US, the song's title is expanded to "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)", as the words "stand by me" dominate the chorus. It was titled "Train in Vain" in part to avoid confusion with Ben E. King's signature song "Stand by Me".


The song was written in one night and recorded the next day, near the very end of the recording for London Calling. It was initially intended to be given away as a promotion with the British rock magazine New Musical Express.[5] Sound engineer Bill Price later recalled:

'Train in Vain' was the last song we finished after the artwork went to the printer. A couple of Clash Web sites describe it as a hidden track, but it wasn’t intended to be hidden. The sleeve was already printed before we tacked the song on the end of the master tape.[1]

"Train in Vain" was added after the deal for The Clash to write a song for an NME flexi disc fell through, and as Mick Jones commented, "The real story on 'Train in Vain' is that originally we needed a song to give to the NME for a flexi disk that NME was going to do. And then it was decided that it didn't work out or decided the flexi disk didn't work out so we had this spare track we had done as a giveaway. So we put it on London Calling but there wasn't time because the sleeves were already done."[6] The result of its late addition was that it was the only song without lyrics printed on the insert, and was not listed as a track, although its presence is announced as the title and position on the original vinyl record was scratched into the vinyl in the needle run-off area on the fourth side of the album.

Meaning and inspiration[edit]

30-second sample—with applied 4-second fadeout—of "Train in Vain" taken from London Calling

Problems playing this file? See media help.

When the London Calling album was released, many fans assumed it was called "Stand by Me",[4] but the meaning of the song's title is obscure as the title phrase cannot be found in the lyrics. Mick Jones, who wrote most of the song, offered this explanation: "The track was like a train rhythm, and there was, once again, that feeling of being lost."[1]

"Train in Vain" is a love song,[7] with an almost country-and-western lyric that echoes Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man".[8]

The song has often interpreted to be about Jones' volatile relationship with The Slits guitarist Viv Albertine who commented "I'm really proud to have inspired that but often he won't admit to it. He used to get the train to my place in Shepherds Bush and I would not let him in. He was bleating on the doorstep. That was cruel".[9] The couple separated around the time of the London Calling recording sessions.

Formats and track listings[edit]

"Train in Vain" was released in mainland Europe as a 33 rpm single in June 1980 (catalogue number CBS 8370) and included the tracks "Bankrobber" and "Rockers Galore... UK Tour". In the UK, "Train in Vain" was not released as a single at the time, only "Bankrobber" and "Rockers Galore... UK Tour" were released on 7" single in August 1980 (catalogue number CBS 8323). The song was released in the US as a 10" white label promo in 1979 (catalogue number AS 749). The US commercial release of 12 February 1980 (catalogue number 50851) consisted of a 7" that included the track "London Calling". The 1991 UK re-release (catalogue number 657430 7) included the track "The Right Profile". The formats and track listings of "Train in Vain (Stand By Me)" are tabulated below:[10]

Year B-side Format Label Country Note
  1. "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)" – 3:10
33⅓ rpm 10" vinyl Epic AS 749 US Promo
  1. "London Calling"
45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 50851 US
  1. "Bankrobber" – 4:33
  2. "Rockers Galore... UK Tour" – 4:39
33⅓ rpm 7" vinyl CBS 8370 Europe
  1. "The Right Profile" – 3:51
45 rpm 7" vinyl Columbia 657430 7 UK Reissue
  1. "The Right Profile" – 3:55
  2. "Train In Vain ('91 7" Remix)" – 3:02
  3. "Death or Glory" – 3:56
CD Columbia 657430 5 UK Reissue
  1. "The Right Profile"
Cassette tape CBS 50851 UK

"Train in Vain" also features on the Clash albums The Story of the Clash, Volume 1 (1988), Clash on Broadway (1991), The Singles (1991), From Here to Eternity: Live (1999) (live version recorded on 13 June 1981 at Bond's Casino, New York), The Essential Clash (2003), Singles Box (2006) (disc eleven — Spanish 7" issue), The Singles (2007), Sound System (2013) and The Clash Hits Back (2013).


In popular culture[edit]

This song (along with "London Calling", "The Guns of Brixton", and "Clampdown") was performed on The Clash's debut television appearance in the United States, on ABC's Fridays.

It also appeared in The Wire episode "Transitions" and in the season finale of the third season of Fresh Meat as well as in the film You, Me, and Dupree. It was also used on the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars, performed by Ty Murray and Chelsie Hightower to a Cha Cha. Joseph Gordon-Levitt sings a karaoke version of the song in the film 500 Days of Summer.

"Train in Vain" appeared on the skate video Almost: Round Three during Rodney Mullen's part. It is also featured on the soundtrack of the video game NCAA Football 2006, as well as being available as a downloadable track in the Rock Band game.

It appeared in the game Forza Horizon 2 on the radio station Horizon XS.


"Train in Vain" has become an influential and well-known Clash song, covered by artists as diverse as the British indie dance band EMF, the Brazilian rock band Ira! on their acoustic special for MTV Brasil in 2004, where the song was titled "Pra ficar comigo", the blues-oriented hard rock jam band The Black Crowes, the Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers, or the Swedish indie rock band Shout Out Louds.[1][11]

Annie Lennox recorded a soulful, dance-beat cover of the song on her 1995 album Medusa.

The American country music singer and songwriter Dwight Yoakam did a country version on his 1997 album Under the Covers.

The band Third Eye Blind recorded a version for the 1999 tribute album Burning London: The Clash Tribute.[2] The Afghan Whigs, who covered "Lost in the Supermarket" on the same album, added portions of "Train In Vain" and the Ben E. King song "Stand By Me" to their contribution.

"Stupid Girl", a song released by the US rock group Garbage in 1996, is musically built around the drum rhythm from "Train in Vain".[1] Both Joe Strummer and Mick Jones received a co-writing credit and royalties from the song under its original release. In 2007, when the song was remastered for the band's greatest hits album, the credit for the song was expanded to include Paul Simonon and Topper Headon.[12]

"Train in Vain" was played frequently, in addition to many other Clash songs, by The Max Weinberg 7 on US late night talk show Late Night with Conan O'Brien. New York City hardcore punk band H2O also covered "Train In Vain" in 2011 for their cover CD Don't Forget Your Roots.

British hardcore rock and roll band The Computers, featured their cover as the B-Side to their 'Group Identity' single released on 21 February 2011.

Grateful Dead alumni Phil Lesh and Bob Weir's band Furthur have covered the song three times, on 25 March 2011 at Radio City Music Hall, 26 July 2011 in Canandaigua, New York and on 24 April 2013 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York.

American punk rock band Against Me! has played "Train in Vain" live frequently, particularly during their 2016 Transgender Dysphoria Blues Tour. It's speculated that the band's cover is a nod to lead singer Laura Jane Grace's relationship with her wife that ended during Grace's gender transition.


Year Chart (1980-1981/1991-1992) Peak
1980-06-211980 Canada Top Singles (RPM)[13] 62
1980-05-041980 New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[14] 26
1980-??-??1980 US Billboard Hot 100[15] 23
1980-??-??1980 US Dance Club Songs (Billboard)[16] 30


  1. ^ a b c d e f Black, Johnny (May 2002). "The Greatest Songs Ever! "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)" Article on Blender :: The Ultimate Guide to Music and More" (ASPX). Blender. Retrieved 2 December 2007. a, b) Thrown together at the last minute in the dying hours of sessions for the Clash's classic 1980 album, London Calling, 'Train in Vain (Stand by Me)' was not even listed on the record's cover. It was the Clash song that almost wasn't, but it turned out to be the one that brought the band into the Top 30 for the first time.
    c) 'Train in Vain', written in one night and recorded the next day, was initially going to be given away as a promotion with the British rock magazine New Musical Express. Only after that failed to happen did the band consider the song for inclusion on the album.
    d) As Wessex Studios' manager and house engineer Bill Price points out, 'Train in Vain' was 'the last song we finished after the artwork went to the printer. A couple of Clash Web sites describe it as a hidden track, but it wasn't intended to be hidden. The sleeve was already printed before we tacked the song on the end of the master tape.'
    e) 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. With the Clash, however, things are never quite what they seem — 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.'
    f) Another curious aspect of 'Train in Vain', given the Clash's political stance and reputation for social consciousness, is that it's a love song, with an almost country-and-western lyric that echoes Tammy Wynette's classic weepie "Stand by Your Man".
    g) If the Clash were hard-line British punks who despised America as much as their song 'I'm So Bored with the USA' suggested, why did 'Train in Vain' have such a made-in-the-USA feel? Strummer has admitted that despite the band's anti-American posturing, much of its inspiration came from this side of the Atlantic Ocean. 'I was drenched in blues and English R&B as a teenager,' the singer says. 'Then I went to black American R&B with my [pre-Clash] group the 101ers. Mick had heard a lot of that stuff too, and he had this extra dimension of the glam/trash New York Dolls/Stooges scene.'
    h, i) 'Train in Vain'... has become a Clash standard, covered by artists as diverse as EMF, Dwight Yoakam, Annie Lennox and Third Eye Blind. Its influence crops up elsewhere, too: Listening to 'Train in Vain' and Garbage's 'Stupid Girl' in succession makes clear where Garbage drummer and producer Butch Vig located 'Stupid Girls distinctive drum loops.
  2. ^ a b c Janovitz, Bill. "Train in Vain". Song Review. Allmusic. Retrieved 4 December 2007. a, b) Despite being hidden — it was originally not listed on the sleeve, for the band felt it was too commercial (imagine any late-'90s 'alternative' bands taking a similar stance) — 'Train in Vain' cracked the Top 40 in the US. This was remarkable in 1980 for a so-called punk rock band. The song was literally the hidden gem of the master-stroke London Calling.
    d, e, f) Masters of pale pop Third Eye Blind recorded a weak sugar-coated, suburban hip-hop version in an ill-advised 'tribute' on Burning London: The Clash Tribute (1999), which is almost a disaster from start to finish. On the other hand, on her 1995 album Medusa, Annie Lennox manages to pull off what Third Eye Blind seemed to be attempting: a soulful, dance-beat cover of the song. The differences are that Lennox can actually sing and the production and arrangement are thought-out and well-crafted. In addition, Dwight Yoakam turns in a fine, countrified rendition on Under the Covers (1997).
  3. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". RollingStone. 9 December 2004. Retrieved 22 November 2007. 292. Train in Vain, The Clash 
  4. ^ a b "Train in Vain The Clash". The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Rolling Stone. 9 December 2004. Retrieved 22 November 2007. 'Train in Vain' was the hidden track at the end of the Clash's London Calling, unlisted on the sleeve or on the label. It didn't even have a proper title; fans initially assumed it was called 'Stand by Me', after the chorus. But it became a surprise US hit, with hard-charging drums and weary vocals from guitarist Jones, who wrote the bitter love song in his grandmother's flat. 
  5. ^ "The Uncut Crap — Over 56 Things You Never Knew About The Clash". NME. London: IPC Magazines. 3. 16 March 1991. ISSN 0028-6362. OCLC 4213418. "Train In Vain" isn't listed on the sleeve credits for "London Calling" because it was originally going to be a flexi give-away with NME. Unfortunately, the idea proved too expensive and the track went on the LP instead. 
    Related news articles:
  6. ^ Interviewer: Unknown; Presenter: Kurt Loder. "MTV Rockumentary". MTV.  Missing or empty |series= (help)[dead link]
    Related news articles:
    • "MTV Rockumentary Part 2". Retrieved 6 December 2007. The real story on "Train In Vain" is that originally we needed a song to give to the NME for a flexi disk that NME was going to do. And then it was decided that it didn't work out or decided the flexi disk didn't work out so we had this spare track we had done as a giveaway. So we put it on London Calling but their wasn't time because the sleeves were already done. 
  7. ^ Caws, Matthew (December 1995). "Mick Jones". Guitar World. New York: Harris. 12. ISSN 1045-6295. OCLC 7982091. Guitar World: You wrote the love songs.
    Mick Jones: (laughs) We never did any!
    GW: What do you call "Train In Vain?
    Mick: Oh yeah, apart from that one. (laughs)
    Related news articles:
  8. ^ Gray, Marcus (26 October 2007). "Marcus Gray on the ongoing pop influence of 'Stand By Me' - Guardian Unlimited Arts". Arts. Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 3 December 2007. In 1979, the Slits released their highly idiosyncratic avant-punk dub single Typical Girls. The titular girls worry about clothes, spots, fat and smells, and conform to one of two stereotypes: either they're femme fatales or they're downtrodden drudges who "stand by their men", a reference to the Tammy Wynette song.
    Typical Girls stalled at No 60 in the UK, but one man paying attention was Mick Jones of the Clash. His volatile relationship with Slits guitarist Viv Albertine had recently come to an end, leaving him distraught. His band's third album, London Calling, was nearly complete, but he was inspired to write a last-minute addition. It opens with the line, "You say you stand by your man ..." - a misreading of Typical Girls, wilful or otherwise — and its oft-repeated chorus is, "You didn't stand by me, no, not at all." Lyrically, then, it follows a chain of reference back to both Wynette and King, and offers a negative echo of both: the "walls come tumbling down", and the jilted protagonist can't be happy or keep "the wolves at bay" without the woman's love and support.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Albums by The Clash — Rate Your Music". Retrieved 3 December 2007. 
  11. ^ Pirnia, Garin (25 October 2007). "Radio Free Chicago : Shout Out Louds w/ Johnossi @ Logan Square 10/19/07". Radio Free Chicago. Retrieved 4 December 2007. Half way through the song, the group burst into "Train in Vain" by the Clash then back to their song. The Shout Outs successfully conquer America and our hearts. 
  12. ^ "Garbage and Absolute Garbage album booklets — compared credits for 1995's "Stupid Girl" and 2007's "Stupid Girl (Remastering)""
  13. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 0189b." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  14. ^ " – The Clash – Train In Vain". Top 40 Singles.
  15. ^ "The Clash – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for The Clash.
  16. ^ "The Clash – Chart history" Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs for The Clash.

External links[edit]