Not all Americana songs are about trucks and trains, but the same subjects do pop up over and over again. So here's some suggestions for thematic CD samplers. The list is in no particular order and is, of course, entirely subjective and primarily based on the contents of my CD collection. Click below the list to make your own suggestions. Or submit an entire list for future publication here.
Country songs are traditionally about trains and trucks. Since this site isn’t really about country music, this is a list about train and truck crashes.
Brian Burns is up first, with the story of an extraordinary incident in the history of the west – the deliberate crashing of two trains into each other as a publicity stunt in 1896. More than 30,000 spectators turned out to see the crash, and two died when the boilers unexpectedly exploded on impact. Burns has another true story song that could also have made this list – “The Train Wreck at Kiowa Creek”.
Johnny Cash’s telling of the story of the brave engineer Casey Jones and Doc Watson’s story of an engineer who dies on the day before he is to be married are both songs that many artists have tried. Cash also has another famous train crash song, “The Wreck of the Old 97”. Sam Baker, whose song provides the title for this list, knows what he’s singing about – he almost died when the train he was in was blown up by a bomb.
Townes Van Zandt works up a version of a traditional country song about a train engineer proud to die with the engine he loves while the Long Ryders tell of a spectacular train crash in which the narrator's father dies.
Meanwhile, out on the road, former truck driver Phil Lee has a shocking story to tell about a truck that ran into a group of children, killing 11 of them, and he laments misplaced glamour ascribed to drivers of big rigs. Red Sovine’s ghost story is in some ways the opposite – the tale of a trucker who avoids the children in his path but loses his own life instead.
Verlon Thompson’s truck driver is “just like you, just like me”, and his death is felt by his parents far away. Finally, the Austin Lounge Lizards take a satirical look at the loss to the world’s cultural heritage when a truck filled with modern art crashes and burns.
1. The Crash at Crush – Brian Burns
The engines met in a thunderous crash and climbed each other toward the sky
2. The Ballad of Casey Jones – Johnny Cash
Leanin’ out the window, making a trip to the promised land
3. Wreck of the Number Nine – Doc Watson
And he threw on the air as he whispered a prayer
For he knew this would be his final race
4. Steel – Sam Baker
Trains explode, steel flies, and the sisters ring the Catholic bell
Smoke rises through a hole in the roof and the dead say “fare thee well”
5. The FFV – Townes Van Zandt
Well I wanna die with the engine I love, a hundred and forty three
6. Wreck of the 809 – The Long Ryders
People screamin’ running’ and a fire lightin’ up the sky
7. Sonny George – Phil Lee
The songs get sung stories’re told, oh man how they glamorise
Those pill-popping lunatics, toothpicks holding up their eyes
8. Phantom 309 – Red Sovine
It could have been slaughter, but he turned his wheel
9. He Left the Road – Verlon Thompson
In the blink of an eye, in the shiftin’ of a load
10. Truckload of Art – Austin Lounge Lizards
An important artwork was thrown burning to the ground, tragically landing in the weeds
The smoke could be seen for miles all around, but nobody knows what it means
(Thanks to Backroads reviewer Yellowmoon for help with this list)