Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by mark winstanley, Apr 4, 2021.
I think that I even prefer this ending!
"Last Of The Steam Powered Trains"
The music is spot on for the theme of the lyrics, and the track as a whole is spot on for the concept of the album. The train station wouldn't have been at the village green - it would probably have been a couple of miles outside the village on a country lane that is still called "Station Road" even though the station was probably closed by the Beeching cuts in the early 60s.
How many of us on this thread feel exactly the same about our place in today's world? I'm quite happy to live in a museum as long as it has a decent turntable and selection of vinyl.
The Kinks show that they can play the blues now better than they could when they were actually trying to play the blues. All of the band is on fire here - particularly the fast section - and this is a great track.
Was this the first officially released Kinks track to exceed four minutes?
As a young lad who grew up fascinated by steam trains, I was a big fan of the song even before one digs into the metaphor of the lyric itself. I agree that it starts a little by the numbers, but it blossoms beautifully, and the way the track builds, the dual guitars come in, the tempo picks up, it all adds up to one of my favourites on the album. The chug of the train is represented perfectly by the music, and it feels like a crash is about to occur at the peak of the build... but then the points are changed, the train sails past, and it steams on at full speed, majestically down the line. Pure musical goodness from all four guys.
A fun little side note, I always felt jarred by the edit into the last section of the track, but assumed it was because they faltered at some point after it and it was a natural edit point. Once I heard the first mono mix on the SDE everything fell into place, and I can definitely hear the slight sonic change as the two recording sessions are spliced together. And while I’m very glad and happy to have the shorter version, it always feels like I’ve been cheated when it ends!
“Last Of The Steam Powered Trains"
when I first heard this album years ago, this was one of the clear standout tracks for me. And it has stayed in that upper echelon ever since. It certainly isn’t as deep or complex as the others, and is really just a straight blues song, but the band pulls off the genre extremely well here. From what I could gather over the last couple days, it sounds like for many this is a low point of the record? We are all entitled to our opinion, but my opinion is this a great track to continue an amazing Side 1, and allows the band to loosen up a little. The live-sounding recording, the tempo and tension changes are just so fun to listen to. Ray’s vocal delivery again is great as he almost yells “bloooow this woooorld awaaaay”. Dave’s background echos “live in museuuuum” are great. And again that great rhythm section of Mick and Pete almost-literally driving the train faster and faster has to be much harder than it sounds. It all just flows so effortlessly from them.
lyrically, it’s so Kinksian. I just cannot imagine any other band singing about living in museum, choo choo trains, soot and scum brigade, etc. Also of note that the actual lyric adds “good old fashioned” to the actual song title.
I like the album track closing, it seems fitting to just sorta break down like that at the end.
Surprisingly, yes, I think so.
Harry Nilsson's nostalgic "Nobody Cares About the Railroads Anymore" I feel is "Last of Steam Powered Train's" cousin in spirit. In fact, one might say that Nilsson's vaudeville-bounce arrangement--with Nicky Hopkin-esque piano--is actually more "Kink-ish" sounding that the Kink's reinterpretation of Howlin' Wolf.
Aside from all the other stuff, it has been eye opening how good the backing vocals are on Kinks albums.
Definitely, and again, just like a steam train would wind down, and puff out.
Last of the Steam Powered Trains
As one of the few out-and-out rockers on the album I've always enjoyed this song. That it includes an obvious Howlin' Wolf homage makes it all the more lovable. But I don't think Ray is singing the blues here: to me it's a step or two removed from Smokestack Lightning or Chicago Blues generally. Even so, I think Ray does make a point about the blues which is fully in sync with the theme of this album. By 1968, Howlin’ Wolf was as deserving of preserving as Johnny Thunder or any of the people or items Ray names in the opening track. The American blues revival of the early to mid 60s was largely over and most of its disciples in the UK were playing heavier blues rock or had switched to pop-based rock. Muddy Waters was pressured into recording a psychedelic blues album in 1968 in an effort to stay relevant!
As simple as the blues may sound it's funny how some of its early British disciples struggled with it, especially at first. They couldn’t quite replicate the feel of the originals, even when they played the right notes in the right order. The classic example is Eric Clapton being schooled by Howlin’ Wolf in a 1970 studio session on how to play the riff to Little Red Rooster. Thankfully the tapes kept a rolling
Do you know what, you're dead right. I find it too easy to get swayed here by a general lukewarm reaction. But listening again "Johnny Thunder" is not only absurdly catchy, it's also a tremendous piece, romantic even.
I always guessed it was an ode to a semi-legendary local figure, or even a semi-fantasy character (like the phenomenal cat). I'd guessed with his name that this was a charismatic, rebellious type.
But in fact there is no direct mention of motorbikes or leather jackets in the song (until its sequel, which I've not heard). There's deliberate choice in the way the language is used, "lives on lightning", etc. It's like Beat poetry, there's magic at work here. So the shouts that it's simply about a local biker, that the song doesn't 'belong' in the Village setting - no, no, no! The contrast is the beauty of it. A fable or a legend, maybe a rocker with a greaser hairdo but one who might also literally ride off with his girl on an electrical storm. Let us not drown "VGPS" in deadly reality or boring cream-tea-and-china aspic, I think it's much more 'fantastic' than that..
“Last Of The Steam Powered Trains"
I'll keep it short.. it's ace.. I love hearing Brit rock groups try and regularly fail to play "blues".. this more or less invented much of the music I love. Like the Beatles or The Who, The Kinks can't really do it, and that is what is so interesting. (More interesting to me than the more authentic Yardbirds et al, cool as they were). Ridiculously catchy, and stuffed full of brilliant vocal harmony arrangements, "woo woo"s and the bell-like "steeeeam" parts, adding a more - European? Pop? - feel to the earthy, Howlin' Wolf stuff.
I mean, is that the album in a nutshell? The reference to friends "old and grey" reminds me of "Walter" - the world may change but I ain't gonna fade away..
The backing vocals are replicating the "whoo whoos" of a steam train whistle on "museum." Pretty clever!
I read recently that the alt ending of "Steam Powered Trains" was found on one of Ray's demo tapes! Ray was re-using studio tape, but his home recording setup had the tracks aligned differently. The alt version was left un-erased in the gaps between the tracks of one of Ray's demos. Now, how they realigned a tape head to grab that track without getting Ray's demo.... wow. Kudos again to Andrew Sandoval. It's thanks to him that we have that.
I just noticed that the ends of both versions are pretty much a reprise of the end of "'Til The End of the Day"
You can hear where the alt ending was cut. At the end of the raveup, there's a clear edit to a new, clean chord, and the song continues for another minute or so at a faster tempo.
I am among those who feels that, though the song is crucial to the album's theme.... if I were to skip over any of them from time to time, this would be the one. It's fine and dandy and well done. It just doesn't hold my interest on repeated (and I mean REPEATED) listenings, over the decades, to the degree that the others do.
Going back to yesterday's discussion for a moment, that expression you cite I believe is taken from Hunter S. Thompson's book on the Hells Angels (It's been a while since I read it, so I might be mistaken). It was published in 1967 so it's possible that specific verbiage could have inspired Ray for "Johnny Thunder."
Here’s my take on how and why the last two tracks fit into this album. The album isn’t about the Village Green per se; it’s focus is on a number of different people, things and ideas that have been lost or gone out of fashion by 1968. That could be the greasy haired motorcycle rebel of the ‘50s, or a steam train that brought the world into the industrial era a century before. It’s all of one piece if you take a step back outside the trees.
Did Rick Rubin have Johnny Cash record Last of the Steam Powered Trains? If not, he should have.
I have to admit, "Last of the Steam Powered Trains" wasn't one of my fave raves when I first heard VGPS, but I've grown to appreciate it. Although the lyrics may seem that the narrator is proud to be a survivor of a dying breed, there's the Ray twist again when he sings about being in a museum & no longer out on the tracks. It reminds me of seeing airplanes like the Concord no longer flying, but stuck in museums or 1960s American muscle cars over-restored to more to new condition and either being in a museum or trailered to show to show. One on hand it's nice to see this machinery preserved & not destroyed. On the other hand they can't do what they were built to do roaming the skies or the highways. So preservation can be a two-edged sword & being a survivor comes w/a price.
It was amazing to first see the Julie Felix clip on You Tube in such great shape. How did it survive? What I did is that I downloaded the recent documentary on VGPS & I then downloaded the video clips of this & other Kinks songs of that era & burned them on one 2-hr. DVD. They should have done something like that on the Super Duluxe Box Set.
Last of the Steam Powered Trains
I get a real sinking feeling from the intro - "Oh no, they're not going to attempt a blues again, are they?" but if it let it play they pull it off better than their earlier blues songs. I like the group vocals and breeziness. It's OK. Again, like "Picture Book", it's not a favourite of mine and it's one I would consider replacing in a personalised version of the LP.
One of many BBC music performances saved unofficially by a VT engineer there by the name of Bob Pratt who had a habit of duping and saving as many pop music items of interest as he could. Without his work, the BBC’s 60s pop music archive would be even more diminished than it is! ‘Preserving the old ways, from being abused, protecting the new ways for me and for you’!
More info here: Bob Pratt tapes | www.missing-episodes.com
Last of the Steam Powered Trains
I think that 1968 was more or less the one year in popular music where you could combine tons of different styles together and still make a cohesive record. That is to say, of course, that not everyone who attempted to do so was successful, but I think that many of the famous albums that tried (Kinks being one of them) did so well. The White Album, Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, Child is Father to the Man, Bookends, Notorious Byrd Brothers.... and VGPS probably has the most diverse collection of songs of all the Kinks records. Considering that 1968 was more or less the start of the second British Blues boom and the Kinks had cut their teeth on R&B already, it seems natural that the album should have one jammy blues track. I'm sure they were thinking about their live repetoire at the time too.
I'll concede that musically it seems like a step backwards, but thematically it fits right in. The whole album is supposed to be vignettes and character sketches right? So what better music to underscore a song about trains than the blues?
Ultimately, the songs on VGPS are primarily about, or driven by, nostalgia. That many of the tracks are bucolic does not mean that the album is about quite country life; that is simply one face of Ray’s nostalgia. One can be nostalgic about steam trains and motorcycle riding misfits just as easily as churches, rivers and magical fairy tale characters.
While I certainly believe that everyone is entitled to their own (wrong) opinion, I do feel that if justifications for said opinions are off base they are open to finger pointing.
Last of the Steam Powered Trains
Lots of talk about the blues here, understandably so. But there's also some country and a lot of folk in this song. Now I'm not much of a folkie and I really can't tolerate country.... but as for many this was a standout track for me the first time I heard the album and has remained so ever since. This track really is sheer perfection.
And don't sell the lyrics short either. I love how we've got all these characters.... Walter, Johnny, Annabella; and here we've got a non human character who is every bit as much a part of the scene as any human. And to help cement that character as an actual character rather than just a hunk of metal, this song is sung in the first person! A very clever lyrical twist here. Genius. Also worth noting that the song sits perfectly well in a literal sense, but like much of the album, it can be taken metaphorically as well. I think most of us here in middle age can really start to relate.
Absolutely top shelf all the way around.
I have to go along with this opinion. This is a great tune for what it is. Nothing wrong with a little blues riff that has been partially lifted from Howlin' Wolf! That was a really excellent live clip posted and I don't recall ever seeing it before. This just speaks to how great this album is when a high quality track like this gets labeled as my least favorite tune on the album. It's a solid album track, but starting with the next tune we hit the upper echelon of Kinks tunes and it never lets up.
Yes, I've always found it interesting that he chose to not only anthropomorphize a mechanical object, but to actually make himself that object. He could just as easily have written, It's The Last Of The Steam Powered Trains or He's The Last... or She's The Last... but for whatever reason, he didn't.
"Salt Of The Earth" is the only song on Beggar's Banquet that would not have sounded out of place on VGPS, and "Last Of The Steam Powered Trains" is the only song on VGPS that would not have sounded out of place on Beggar's Banquet. The metaphor here is that the song itself is also the only thing on the album that would not have sounded out of place on any of The Kinks' first three albums.
When the group was finally able to resume touring in the U.S. in the fall of 1969, the current album was "Arthur" and the setlist revolved around that fact. This was the only song from VGPS that remained in their stage repertoire, as it was clear that there had been a seismic shift in the tastes of America's younger generation who, for whatever reasons, were now abandoning harmonious sunshine pop for harder sounds in droves.
idleracer said: "there had been a seismic shift in the taste of America's younger generation who, for whatever reason, were now abandoning harmonious sunshine pop for harder sounds in droves"
What was no, 1 in the Top 40 charts in the fall of 1969? It was the biggest song of the whole year, "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies, the very definition of "harmonious sunshine pop." I think to be more accurate, you can say that that time was the beginning of the cleavage between those who listened to AM Top 40 & FM rock.
‘Big Sky’ was also still in the 1969 US tour repertoire. It’s a big unknown how much of VGPS (if any) The Kinks would have actually have performed live at the time (1968/early 69) anyway, given that they were still playing shorter old style sets then and didn’t start playing longer shows until the return to the US. Also with the return to the US comes bootleg culture, so a decent representative amount of shows start getting taped. Before then there’s so little!
(Insert mind-blown emoticon)
Sorry, but if this song is the blues then Johnny Thunder is heavy metal. In the early days they were trying to do the blues. Not here.
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