Song of the Day, February 27: Downtown Train by Tom Waits

WaitsDogsTrainToday’s song is Downtown Train by Tom Waits. It appears on his complicated 1985 masterpiece Rain Dogs. It’s a beautiful ballad of love and loss, blending a night-time story with dreamlike aspects and the powerful transient symbol of the train. Waits crafts an emotional scene of wandering, with faint hope dashed as the train eases away.

The song resonates so strongly that it has become one of Waits’ most successful, covered by a wide array of artists. Mary Chapin Carpenter included it on her 1987 debut and Patty Smyth had a minor hit with it the same year. Two years later, Rod Stewart had a #3 smash [#1 Adult Contemporary and #1 Rock] with his interpretation. Since then, Everything But the Girl did a delicate acoustic take, The Piano Has Been Drinking did a German dialect rendition, Moneybrother covered it in Swedish, Austrian hardcore band Rentokil amped it up, and Bob Seeger took it to the Adult Contemporary Top 20.

The diversity of these interpretations is testament to the power and honesty of the song. Nothing, however, matches the raw intensity of Waits’ own understated original. Enjoy this classic track today.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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