7 STEAMIN’ ALBUM COVERS

When the boy was little we took an afternoon drive around the ring road to Altona, home of Victoria’s Railway museum. To me it seemed, on that Autumn afternoon, a windswept mausoleum, but the youngster enjoyed clambering up, through, and around the old steam engines. Despite their size (big to enormous), it seemed to make sense to him. I put this down to his deep familiarity with the island of Sodor and the world of Thomas the Tank Engine. Though slightly disappointed at the absence of faces on the front of the locomotives, he was otherwise delighted with the expedition.

It being a day discouraging of a picnic rug on the grass, we entered an old passenger coach—a somewhat decrepit fifties veteran of the Melbourne-Sydney run—that to our surprise revealed an eating counter lined with vinyl-topped stools like a retro diner on steel wheels. There we huddled away from the elements while the lunch prepared by Ms Connection was attacked with gusto.

As we munched, I found myself rattling down lines of memory to childhood holidays on the Mornington Peninsula, where a popular cold weather entertainment option was to drive to Rosebud and climb into and over the black railway engine stationed on the edge of the foreshore playground. For years it sat there, gazing vacantly across the swings and see-saws and suffering the indignity of children wee-ing in the fire-box and drunken teenagers throwing up into the tender at night. Eventually sea air and the various depredations of time reduced even this metal giant to a rusting wreck and it was removed.

Perhaps those two generations of boys were with me a few weeks ago when a local Opportunity Shop delivered a surprise. Sitting next to the usual dross of Harry Secombe and Kamahl LPs was a plastic bag full of albums of steam train sounds. I bought it, not really knowing why at the time.

I still cannot quite explain why I staggered home with almost 20 records of locomotive field recordings—certainly not to play them. Maybe it was nostalgia, or perhaps the archivist in me (that’s a fancy word to justify hoarding tendencies, you know). Certainly the image of anorak-clad steam train devotees lugging cumbersome 50s and 60s tape recorders around the countryside to capture the sounds of these relics in all their chugging, snorting, thundering glory is quite entrancing. Whatever the explanation, something about a collection of Australian, American and British recordings of these lost giants of industrial technology signalled from an unknown and long-forgotten station and I answered. It may only be me, but if you heard the puff and whistle of a steam train on your local train line today, wouldn’t you crane your neck to catch a glimpse?

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BONUS SOUVENIR ALBUM

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Britain: 1 & 2

USA: 3 – 6

Australia: 7, 8 and Feature Image

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Got a railway story? Do share.

 

38 comments

  1. In an outtake from This Is Spinal Tap, a young man asks the band to sign his LP. But it is an LP of train sounds, not one of their records. The young man explains he listens to both records at the same time.

    I work in the rail industry, actually. Does that count for a story?

    This post actually reminds me of three records Aaron gave me this weekend — three records with awesome pictures of Spitfire planes on the cover.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. THREE stories. That is an outstanding contribution. Everyone else can relax, you’ve done the heavy lifting (or perhaps haulage) on this one Mike. And I really don’t mean to quibble, but didn’t Spitfires operate at a kinda higher altitude than trains?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, Spitfires do transit at a higher altitude. It’s confusing. I find this song helps.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you. That has clarified everything and deepened my understanding of American song substantially.
          On a lighter note, you might enjoy this. It is one of my all time favourite tracks from the 70s (dunno now the lyric will come through on this version).

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I like that little riff! But I hope her aeroplane head doesn’t have a propeller nose. That would make kissing impossible.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. In fact, that is the touching part of the song. Thirty years later, she’s still awaiting the return of her airman. No kissing, I’m afraid. 😢

          Liked by 1 person

        4. It’s a tragedy of the Shakespearan kind! If they had planes in the 16th century.

          Like

        5. Will invented them, didn’t he?

          Liked by 1 person

        6. The aeroplane? No, that was Napoleon.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t have any rail or train stories to share, but some of those covers are pretty great. Especially Steam On The 5′ 3″

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that one too, J. I’m sort of hoping Joe might come up with something about a short lascivious lover for that LP.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. One of my favorite places is the Railway Museum in York, maybe it’s because the train my dad was fireman on is there and for some reason this gives me a greater connection to him. Also coincidentally the last gig I went to was Billy Bragg and Joe Henry last Saturday, an evening of Railway Songs and Socialism, my title not theirs.
    My favored cover is Remember When, maybe because of the subtitle of For Students of the Iron Horse.

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    1. There is something dramatic about the very size of steam locomotives, isn’t there? The heavy metal, the steam and dirt… B&W photography seems to augment this.
      A connection to one’s own father is a powerful reason to visit a railway museum, that’s for sure.

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  4. Theme post!
    Always a fan of these Bruce – I’d add Blur’s ‘modern life is rubbish’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And you know, I just realised, this is the first entire post about non-music records!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love the album titles, especially “Whistling Thru Dixie”, which is a fun play on the expression “to whistle Dixie” (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=whistling%20dixie). Not sure if that expression has any currency Down Under, so have included an explanation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the link. Although I have heard the phrase, I really had no idea what it meant – one of those where context doesn’t always help!

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  6. On British commuter trains in the days of steam there was a warning notice on the doors saying “Do Not Lean Out Of The Window”. Some wag had used a marker pen to make it read “Do Not Clean Soot Off The Window”. Sometimes you forget that steam trains weren’t just big, strong, romantic beasts of iron and steel, they were also noisy and very dirty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe that was part of the attraction of the LPs. Steam trains without soot!

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  7. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Steam on the 5’3″. It came out of a friend’s collection – well after midnight and, well, after a huge evening of ‘celebration’. Sounded pretty good too.
    Thanks for entertaining post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If that is not a true story, it should be. Marvellous, DD.

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      1. If you check the track listing of 5′ 3″ you should find one for an uphill gradient through a cutting out of Ballarat. Impressive. Some might even claim it is on a par with A Love Supreme. (Well, Vaughn the secret steam train enthusiast would anyway).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The closest titles on Steam on the 5’3″ are:
          Big Hill – Ravenswood
          Night-time in Bendigo Yard
          Rainy Night, Bealiba
          and
          Beech Forest Line.

          Do any of those close synaptic points?

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        2. It was a long time ago and vast quantities of a chemical thought to interfere with memory processing were consumed on that night. Best guess: Night in Bendigo Yard.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Fabulous purchase there, I believe I would have done the same.
    Cheers,
    Jim

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Restraint? Dunno the meaning of the word.

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  9. I spy some Mobile Fidelity labeled albums in that haul! MoFi founder Brad Miller was the field recording enthusiast responsible. Here’s a bit of the backstory: http://www.mofi.com/Articles.asp?ID=255

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot – I’ll check that out very soon.

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  10. You do know that there are people all over the world who would get “stupid” to have those records. (Before CB was, CB, he was a Switchman/Brakeman in another life). Trains do something to people, especially Steam Locomotives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have real train exposure in your background? Do tell!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 20 years of working the rails. People go nuts for trains. I could tell you hundreds of stories of people I ran across down at the rails. Like I said people go nuts for trains. Obsessed. Neil Young is a train nut. We had one young guy who used to follow us around with his tape recorder taping the engine sounds. The railroad cops would kick him off the property and he’d be back the next day. This went on for years. There’s a good take for you, Train songs.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. There are indeed lots of excellent ‘train’ songs. In fact I think I made a C90 cassette back in the day. But perhaps you’re the guy for the railroad themed story+song posts?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I’d really be interested in what was on that cassette (playlist?). I haven’t worked the rails for a long time, moved onto other things. Lots of great tunes and lots of great flicks. ‘Rock Island Line’. Little Richard and Fishbone off ‘Folkways a Vision Shared’ just popped into my head. ‘Boxcars’ by Butch Hancock.. His buddy Joe Ely does a killer version. Didn’t I just read one of your takes where you took a Train journey?

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I did deploy a train metaphor in The Orb / David Gilmour review. That might be it.

          Not sure whether the cassette survives. Might have a root around later.
          I immediately thought of “Mystery Train” (An Elvis high point, for sure), The Monkees heading for Clarksville, “King of the Road”, “She caught the Katy”…

          Liked by 1 person

        4. ‘Mystery Train’ came to mind. We’ll have to share this with the world. It would be interesting how many hits it would get. There’s that good lyric from the Waterboys in ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ “I wish I was a brakeman on a hurtlin fevered train…..” I love that one. I thought I read something you wrote about a trip you took on a train to pick up a record. Do you have an email on your site?

          Liked by 1 person

        5. I did indeed. Well remembered. “BB King rides the Frankston line“.

          (If you’re on FB, ‘like’ the Vinyl Connection page and we can use that for other communication)

          Like

        6. That was the post. I liked that one.

          Like

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