Train in Vain

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"Train in Vain"
Train in Vain by The Clash (New Zealand single).png
1980 New Zealand release
Single by the Clash
from the album London Calling
B-side"London Calling"
Released12 February 1980 (1980-02-12)
StudioWessex Studios (London)
Producer(s)Guy Stevens
The Clash singles chronology
"Train in Vain"
The Clash reissued singles chronology
"London Calling (2nd re-release)"
"Train in Vain (re-release)"
"Complete Control (live)"
"Train in Vain" on YouTube

"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,[5][6] 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[5][6] and in 2010, the song was ranked number 298 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[7][8]

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".


It was a Saturday afternoon when Mick Jones invited me to hear the finished album. Walking into Wessex, I saw him in the vocal booth, laying down vocals for a new song.

By Monday night, "Train in Vain" was finished. Originally mooted as an NME giveaway flexi, it became the final track on London Calling – too late, however, to include on art-work that had already gone to the printers.

— Bill Price[9][10][5]

"Train in Vain" was added after the deal for the band to write a song for an NME flexi disc fell through, and as Mick Jones later said "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."[11] 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, but its 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]

When the album London Calling (1979) was released, many fans assumed it was called "Stand by Me",[8] 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."[5]

The song has been interpreted by some as a response to "Typical Girls" by the Slits, which mentions girls standing by their men. Mick Jones split up with Slits guitarist Viv Albertine shortly before he wrote the song.[12]

The song has been interpreted to be about Jones' volatile relationship with 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 Shepherd's Bush and I would not let him in. He was bleating on the doorstep. That was cruel".[13] The couple separated around the time of the recording sessions for London Calling (1979).

Critical reception[edit]

Cash Box wrote that this was Clash's "most commercial date," stating that "an infectious rhythm has supplanted the three chord guitar attack" and added that Joe Strummer's playing is "more restrained but equally as effective."[14] Record World wrote that "Mick Jones' vocals reach expressive cries and the overall sound has a crisp, rockabilly feel that should move the Clash into best-seller status."[15]

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 a 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:[16]

Year B-side Format Label Country Note
1979 "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)" – 3:10 33⅓ rpm 10" vinyl Epic AS 749 US Promo
1980 "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
1991 "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
1980 "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).



Year Chart (1980) Peak
1980 Canada Top Singles (RPM)[17] 62
1980 New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[18] 26
1980 US Billboard Hot 100[19] 23
1980 US Dance Club Songs (Billboard)[20] 30


Certifications for "Train in Vain"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[21] Gold 40,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Covers and samples[edit]

"Train in Vain" has become an influential and well-known Clash song, covered by artists as diverse as the British indie dance band EMF, American country singer Dwight Yoakam, and San Francisco rockers Third Eye Blind.[5]

Annie Lennox recorded a soulful, dance-beat cover of the song on her 1995 album Medusa,[5] and performed the song in her appearance during the twentieth season of Saturday Night Live.

Drummer and producer Butch Vig of the U.S. rock group Garbage used a drum loop from "Train in Vain" in 1996 for the Garbage song "Stupid Girl".[5] Joe Strummer and Mick Jones received a co-writing credit and royalties from the Garbage song under its original release. In 2007, when the song was remastered for a Garbage greatest hits album, the writing credit for the song named all four members of the Clash.


  1. ^ Partridge, Kenneth. "The Clash's 'London Calling' at 35: Classic Track-by-Track Album Review". Billboard. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  2. ^ Taylor, Tom (12 February 2021). "The Story Behind The Song: The Clash's punk rock classic 'Train in Vain (Stand by Me)'". Far Out. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  3. ^ Nascimento, Débora (October 2009). "The Clash: Clássico do rock politizado chega (atual) aos 30 anos". Continente multicultural (in Portuguese). No. 106. p. 83.
  4. ^ Egan, Sean (2009). Los discos del cambio (in Spanish). Ediciones Robinbook. p. 251. ISBN 9788496924475.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Black, Johnny (May 2002). "The Greatest Songs Ever! "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)" Article on Blender :: The Ultimate Guide to Music and More". Blender. Archived from the original (ASPX) on 21 February 2009. 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.
  6. ^ a b 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).
  7. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". RollingStone. 9 December 2004. Archived from the original on 25 October 2006. Retrieved 22 November 2007. 292. Train in Vain, The Clash
  8. ^ a b "Train in Vain The Clash". The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Rolling Stone. 9 December 2004. Archived from the original on 28 December 2006. 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.
  9. ^ Needs, Kris (2 January 2019). "The Clash - London Calling". Record Collector.
  10. ^ "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. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 11 December 2007. "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.
  11. ^ "MTV Rockumentary Part 2 [Transcript]". Archived from the original on 12 October 2008. 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[sic] wasn't time because the sleeves were already done.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "Post punk band interviews/photos: clash - slits - ruts - gang of four - Viv Albertine (Slits)". Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  14. ^ "CashBox Singles Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. 1 March 1980. p. 18. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  15. ^ "Single Picks" (PDF). Record World. 1 March 1980. p. 16. Retrieved 19 February 2023.
  16. ^ "Albums by The Clash — Rate Your Music". Retrieved 3 December 2007.
  17. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 0189b." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  18. ^ "The Clash – Train In Vain". Top 40 Singles.
  19. ^ "The Clash Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  20. ^ "The Clash Chart History (Dance Club Songs)". Billboard.
  21. ^ "Canadian single certifications – The Clash – Train in Vain". Music Canada. Retrieved 18 July 2022.

External links[edit]