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I do not know much about music, but I keep noticing a strange pattern in rock song names and was wondering if there’s more to it.

Many bands tend to have a song, and usually on the first album, entitled with the word "train".

Is this a mere coincidence or intentional? Does the word have symbolic significance in rock music or music in general?

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    Could you give a few examples? There might be a pattern within those examples. However, at the moment what comes to mind is Night Train (G'nR), Downtown Train (Rod Stewart) and Crazy Train (Ozzy), and none of those seems to form a pattern. The only thing I could suggest is a train's movement is out of its passengers control. You may or may not get to your destination, and you may not even know what that destination is. – Johnny Bones Jun 15 '15 at 11:03
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The existence of many blues, gospel, and rock songs featuring trains is indisputable. The correlation you see to rock band's first albums is probably some kind of selection bias.

Trains were a major part of American life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Unlike today, when most passenger train use is in cities, passenger trains would be regularly used in both urban and rural settings. Because of how common, yet impressive, they were, they found their way into many songs, just as the car would later leave its mark on popular music, starting in the 1950's. A train can be used in song to represent travel, escape, break-up, returning, industry, working men: a whole host of great song concepts. Some people have even speculated about chugging blues rhythms being inspired by the sound of trains going past.

Passenger train use declined as cars became the more common means of transportation, but the legacy of train songs did not go away quickly. Long Steel Rail by Norm Cohen documents the earlier period of folk and gospel train songs, but there are also many "second generation" (more like fifth generation) train songs found in rock music (Crazy Train, Train Kept a Rollin, Midnight Train to Georgia, City of New Orleans, Tuesday's Gone, on and on and on).

I don't have time to do a serious study, but if you wanted, you could try to chart songs that mention trains and list what album number they appeared on for a given musician or group. This might be skewed somewhat because some groups only have one album, or the first album is the strongest. Also, some group's first albums were comprised mostly of cover songs (e.g. The Rolling Stones), so that might bump up the likelihood of a train song.

  • @WheatWilliams Interesting. – Mike Supports Monica Jun 17 '15 at 22:16
  • Skwisgaar: "Alls they sings abouts is trains." Mashed Potato Johnson: "Is there anything else really to talk about?" – user1103 Dec 3 '15 at 0:59
  • 'Folsom Prison Blues' by Johnny Cash demonstrates the power of the train metaphor for freedom and travel (in contrast to the incarcerated singer). The Cure's 'Jumping someone else' s train' has an outro which demonstrates the rhythmic 'chugga chugga' admirably outside a blues setting. – Robert de Graaf May 12 '16 at 11:58
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There are traditional spirituals that use the word and image of a train, for example "Same train," "Mary Had a Baby," "Gambler, Get Up Off A Yo Knees." You can find even more at http://www.negrospirituals.com

My mother lived in a small town in Alabama in the forties and there were four basic ways of getting around: walking, riding in a horse-drawn wagon, taking a bus, and taking a train. The bus was the newest mode. It might be a symbolic link to getting out of poverty.

I'm not an expert on rock music, but my impression is that it evolved from rhythm and blues, which in turn grew out of traditional black music.

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Blues has its root in slavery and its economic low-wage equivalents, and reliable mass transports for plantage workers were basically train and steamboat. And they often implied being separated, possibly forever, from your friends, loved ones and family.

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To summarize and expound upon what has been said in earlier answers:

It has to do with race, ethnicity and music history. Rock is a derivative form of music mostly created by white people in England and the USA from the late 1950s forward. The clearly-acknowledged source material for white rock musicians in the 1950s and 1960s was the music of black Americans from previous decades: blues, rhythm & blues, gospel and rural and urban folk music of black people, from the late 1800s up through the beginning of rock and roll itself in the 1950s and 1960s.

Early rock songs borrowed themes from African-American music from earlier decades, and in many cases early rock songs were simply cover versions of existing black music in more of a rhythm and blues genre. One of these prominent themes was that of trains.

Besides this, however, references to trains are found in other kinds of music of white people in the USA and England going back to, well, the invention of trains in the early 1800s. There are numerous references to trains in old-time Appalacian music and in bluegrass and country music throughout this long time-period.

So no, the use of trains and travel by train as a theme is not particular to rock music at all. It is found in all the earlier kinds of music that rock and roll music paid tribute to.

The clearest example I can think of is that of the song "Train Kept A-Rollin'", released in 1951 by the black musician Tiny Bradshaw, in the jump-blues style.

This record was a minor hit, but it was only known among black Americans, because the record of that song was only marketed and sold in black communities and in stores that only sold records to black customers. It was only broadcast on radio stations that catered exclusively to black listeners. This was the reality of the segregationist society in the USA in the early 1950s.

However, in 1956, a group of white musicians named Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio recorded the song in New York and the record was marketed to white record stores and white radio stations, becoming a much larger hit. Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio are considered to be among the very first rock bands. Then, in 1965, the British white rock band The Yardbirds made a hugely successful cover-version of this song. Led Zeppelin performed this song in concert. In 1976, the American white rock band Aerosmith made another cover-version of this song, and this version became a standard among rock bands.

So with this example you can see how the theme and the music progressed from a black source that pre-dates rock and roll and carries through to the classic rock era.

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