One Song/Three Versions – Train in Vain

If you’ve seen any of my “One Song/Three Versions” posts before, you’ll know that I totally dig hearing reinterpretations of a song. Well, love or hate them, I’ve got a couple of pretty radical reinventions right here. 

We’ve all got a copy of London Calling on vinyl somewhere, right? Great album. Classic. Clash. Almost 40 years old. The song was added to the album at the last minute and so was in some releases a hidden track.

Per Mick Jones, “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.”

Ben E. King, formerly of the Drifters, had long ago done a song called “Stand By Me” so the song was called “Train in Vain.” I read something about the title referring to a Lonesome Train but this makes more sense:

“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.””

You say you stand by your man
Tell me something I don’t understand
You said you love me and that’s a fact
And then you left me, said you felt trapped
Well some things you can explain away
But the heartache’s in me till this day
Did you stand by me
No, not at all
Did you stand by me
No way

Spotify link

There are some people who just don’t like Annie Lennox’ version of “Train in Vain.” I think it’s funky as hell. Forget comparing it to the original for a second. That’s not the point. The point is taking that train in a different direction. If she had put this out first we’d all be saying, Oh, yeah. She gets her best Aretha on near the end.

All the times
When we were close
I’ll remember these things the most
I see all my dreams come tumbling down
I can’t be happy without you around
So all alone I keep the wolves at bay
And there is only one thing that I can say

Did you stand by me
No, not at all
Did you stand by me
No way
You must explain why this must be
Did you lie when you spoke to me
Did you stand by me
No, not at all

Spotify link

Now, Wikipedia, in speaking of this song, says, “Train in Vain” is a love song, with an almost country-and-western lyric that echoes Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man.” I didn’t pick that up at all. Of course it doesn’t help that I thought the lyric was “Stand by me or not at all” when it fact it’s “Did you stand by me, no not at all.”

Ah, that’s completely different. And so country singer Dwight Yoakam picked up on this. And while I’m hardly a country aficionado, I kinda like this version. Again, forget the original arrangement. This is not called “Three Versions That Sound Exactly the Same.” I think I actually understood the song better after hearing this version.

Now, excuse me while I go sit in my pickup truck with my dog Hap and sip a cold one. And think about the one that got away.

Now I got a job
But it don’t pay
I need new clothes
I need somewhere to stay
But without all these things I can do
But without your love I won’t make it through
But you don’t understand my point of view
I suppose there’s nothing I can do

Did you stand by me
No, not at all
Did you stand by me
No way
Did you stand by me
No, not at all
Did you stand by me
No way
You must explain why this must be
Did you lie when you spoke to me?

Spotify link

Did you stand by me
Did you stand by me
No, not at all
Did you stand by me
No way
Did you stand by me
No, not at all
Did you stand by me
No way

Source: Wikipedia

22 thoughts on “One Song/Three Versions – Train in Vain

  1. I like all three, and probably Yoakum’s version the best (the accordion and banjo really add something). Country’s not my favorite genre, either, but this is good country.

    I have the version of “London Calling” with this song as a hidden track. Any clue what it might be worth? $$:)

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    1. I’m partial to the Clash one but yeah, I like the way Yoakam squeezed a country tune out of it. I would not have heard it that way in a million years. BTW, I thought you weren’t a Lennox fan.

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    1. I think the album ‘Medusa’ that this is from lays it out. What I love is the diversity of sounds artists get from one song, regardless of whose it ‘best.’ I tend to get locked into one version and I can’t hear it any other way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oops, that posted too early. Basically, I like the instrumentation in Yoakam’s take. I’m less fond of the singing, which is too traditional country to me. That being said, I think it’s cool he made the tune his own, just as Lennox did.

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    1. Bingo! That’s exactly what these posts are about, showing how people make the song their own. How he ever pulled that version out I’ll never know. Like you, his version is too traditional country for me. That said, I wouldn’t buy it but neither would I turn it off on hearing it on the radio. And Lennox is great at just about everything she puts out. I bet she was heavily influenced by Ms. Franklin.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Really like this idea of one song / three versions. I’ll have to go back in your archive and check out some more. I have always liked Annie Lennox version just because it is so different. That’s what great covers do – take a song successfully in an entirely different direction. I really hate covers that sound exactly the same as original. What’s the point.

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    1. Yeah, I remain endlessly fascinated by how artists can hear something in a song that the rest of us don’t hear. It’s not always the case that the alternative versions are better. But they tend to be at least trying to bring their own spin to it which is what I like.

      Liked by 1 person

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