The Clash – ‘Train In Vain (Stand By Me)’
  • Writers: Joe Strummer and Mick Jones
  • Producer: Guy Stevens
  • Recorded: Fall 1979 at Wessex Studios in London, England
  • Released: December 1979
  • Players:
    Joe Strummer — vocals, guitar
    Mick Jones — guitar, vocals
    Paul Simonon — bass
    Nicky “Topper” Headon — drums
  • Album: London Calling (Epic, 1979)
  • Also On:
    The Story Of The Clash, Volume 1 (Epic, 1991)
    The Clash On Broadway (Epic/Legacy, 1994)
    From Here to Eternity/Live (Epic, 1999)
    and other compilations
  • The Clash‘s first Top 40 hit in the U.S., “Train In Vain” peaked at Number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • Interestingly, “Train In Vain” is not listed on the jacket of the London Calling album. The song was originally intended to be part of a free flexi-disc that would be distributed by the British music magazine New Musical Express the week that London Calling was released. When NME‘s publisher wouldn’t authorize the flexi-disc, the Clash decided to stick “Train In Vain” on the album, but the covers were already printed so it was too late to put it on the jacket. This has continued with some CD reissues.
  • Despite its title, the song makes no reference to a train. “The track was like a train rhythm,” singer-guitarist Mick Jones explained. “And it was, once again, the feeling of being lost. So there it was.”
  • Having a hit had its drawbacks. Singer-guitarist Joe Strummer remembered, “The first time we hit Berlin, after London Calling came out, I was sitting at this cafe, talking to this 16-year-old skinhead. He was saying he was horrified, that he couldn’t stand it, because his grandmother was grooving around to the London Calling album in his flat.”
  • Much of the London Calling album was recorded in a burst in August of 1979, during which the Clash and producer Guy Stevens — whose credits include Free and Mott The Hoople — finished 12 songs in just three days. But the Clash had spent three months writing and demoing new material — and coming up with so much of it that the group decided to make it a double album.
  • Bassist Paul Simonon said that Stevens was “the best person I ever worked with because if ever I made a mistake, he said it didn’t matter. He was running around smashing chairs and wrestling… He did a lot. He really inspired everyone and kept everyone’s spirits up.”
  • Among Stevens’s antics was pouring beer over a piano when he objected to the group’s desire to use it on a particular song.
  • The charged atmosphere surrounding London Calling was the result of some backlash the Clash was experiencing in Britain, as well as their then-recent split with manager Bernie Rhodes. The group was heavily in debt as well. Said Strummer: “I remember that things were so up in the air, and there was quite a good feeling of us against the world. We felt that we were struggling, about to slide down a slope or something, grasping with our fingernails. And that there was nobody to help us.”
  • Several of the album’s songs feature keyboardist Mickey Gallagher, who also toured with the group in North America in September 1979.
  • The London Calling album — which has been named in several polls as one of the greatest rock albums of all time — reached Number 27 on the Billboard 200 and Number 9 on the U.K. album chart.

FAST FORWARD:

  • Drummer NickyTopperHeadon left the Clash in May 1982 due to “a difference of political direction,” and was replaced by his predecessor, Terry Chimes.
  • Mick Jones parted with the Clash in 1983 and started his own band, Big Audio Dynamite.
  • After trying to replace Jones with two guitarists, the Clash folded in 1985, with each of the members starting their own musical endeavors.
  • London Calling was finally certified platinum for sales of a million copies in 1995, nearly 16 years after its release.
  • The song “Stupid Girl” by Garbage is built around the drum rhythm from “Train In Vain.” Joe Strummer and Mick Jones receive a co-writing credit and royalties from the song.
  • Despite rumors of big money offers, including a reported $7 million offer to headline Lollapalooza in 1995, the Clash have never reunited.
  • Strummer died of a heart attack in December 2002 at age 50. He was honored at the 2003 Grammy Awards ceremony with an all-star performance of “London Calling” that featured Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and Dave Grohl of Nirvana/Foo Fighters.
  • The Clash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. The surviving members didn’t perform, and there was no other musical tribute to the group, unlike most other Rock Hall ceremonies.

A diesel train engine named Locomotive Joe Strummer was unveiled in 2005 in the U.K., with a ceremony at Bristol Temple Meads station.