Train in Vain

"Train in Vain" is a song by the British punk rock band the Clash. It was released as the third and final single from their third studio album, London Calling (1979). The song was not originally listed on the album's track listing, appearing as a hidden track at the end of the album. This was because the track was added to the record at the last minute, when the sleeve was already in production. Some editions include the song in the track listing. It was the first Clash song to reach the United States Top 30 charts and in 2004, the song was ranked number 298 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In the US, the song's title is expanded to "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)", as the words "stand by me" dominate the chorus. It was titled "Train in Vain" in part to avoid confusion with Ben E. King's signature song "Stand by Me".


The song was written in one night and recorded the next day, near the very end of the recording for London Calling. It was initially intended to be given away as a promotion with the British rock magazine New Musical Express. Sound engineer Bill Price later recalled:"Train in Vain" was added after the deal for the band to write a song for an NME flexi disc fell through, and as Mick Jones later commented, "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." The result of its late addition was that it was the only song without lyrics printed on the insert, and was not listed as a track, although its title and position on the original vinyl record was scratched into the vinyl in the needle run-off area on the fourth side of the album.

Meaning and inspiration

When the London Calling album was released, many fans assumed it was called "Stand by Me", but the meaning of the song's title is obscure as the title phrase cannot be found in the lyrics. Mick Jones, who wrote most of the song, offered this explanation: "The track was like a train rhythm, and there was, once again, that feeling of being lost."

The song has been interpreted by some as a response to "Typical Girls" by The Slits, which mentions girls standing by their men. Mick Jones split up with Slits guitarist Viv Albertine shortly before he wrote the song.

The song has often been interpreted to be about Jones' volatile relationship with 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". The couple separated around the time of the London Calling recording sessions.

Formats and track listings

"Train in Vain" was released in mainland Europe as a 33 rpm single in June 1980 (catalogue number CBS 8370) and included the tracks "Bankrobber" and "Rockers Galore... UK Tour". In the UK, "Train in Vain" was not released as a single at the time; only "Bankrobber" and "Rockers Galore... UK Tour" were released on a 7" single in August 1980 (catalogue number CBS 8323). The song was released in the US as a 10" white label promo in 1979 (catalogue number AS 749). The US commercial release of 12 February 1980 (catalogue number 50851) consisted of a 7" that included the track "London Calling". The 1991 UK re-release (catalogue number 657430 7) included the track "The Right Profile". The formats and track listings of "Train in Vain (Stand By Me)" are tabulated below:"Train in Vain" also features on the Clash albums The Story of the Clash, Volume 1 (1988), Clash on Broadway (1991), The Singles (1991), From Here to Eternity: Live (1999) (live version recorded on 13 June 1981 at Bond's Casino, New York), The Essential Clash (2003), Singles Box (2006) (disc eleven — Spanish 7" issue), The Singles (2007), Sound System (2013) and The Clash Hits Back (2013).


  • Mick Jones - lead vocals, guitar, harmonica
  • Joe Strummer - piano
  • Paul Simonon - bass guitar
  • Topper Headon - drums, percussion
  • Mick Gallagher - organ

    In popular culture

    This song (along with "London Calling", "The Guns of Brixton", and "Clampdown") was performed on The Clash's debut television appearance in the United States, on ABC's Fridays.

    It also appeared in The Wire episode "Transitions" and in the season finale of the third season of Fresh Meat as well as in the film You, Me, and Dupree. It was also used on the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars, performed by Ty Murray and Chelsie Hightower to a Cha Cha.

    "Train in Vain" appeared on the skate video Almost: Round Three during Rodney Mullen's part. It is also featured on the soundtrack of the video game NCAA Football 2006, as well as being available as a downloadable track in the Rock Band game.


    "Train in Vain" has become an influential and well-known Clash song, covered by artists as diverse as the British indie dance band EMF, the Brazilian rock band Ira! on their acoustic special for MTV Brasil in 2004, where the song was titled "Pra ficar comigo", the blues-oriented hard rock jam band The Black Crowes, the Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers, and the Swedish indie rock band Shout Out Louds.

    Annie Lennox recorded a soulful, dance-beat cover of the song on her 1995 album Medusa.

    The American country music singer and songwriter Dwight Yoakam did a country version on his 1997 album Under the Covers.

    The band Third Eye Blind recorded a version for the 1999 tribute album Burning London: The Clash Tribute. The Afghan Whigs, who covered "Lost in the Supermarket" on the same album, added portions of "Train In Vain" and the Ben E. King song "Stand By Me" to their contribution.

    "Stupid Girl", a song released by the US rock group Garbage in 1996, is musically built around the drum rhythm from "Train in Vain". Both Joe Strummer and Mick Jones received a co-writing credit and royalties from the song under its original release. In 2007, when the song was remastered for the band's greatest hits album, the credit for the song was expanded to include Paul Simonon and Topper Headon.