Classic Rock Wiki

"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,[1][2] 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[1][2] and in 2004, the song was ranked number 298 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[3][4]

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".



  • 1 Origins
  • 2 Meaning and inspiration
  • 3 Formats and track listings
  • 4 Personnel
  • 5 In popular culture
  • 6 Cover versions
  • 7 Charts
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links


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.[1][5]

'Train in Vain' was the last song we finished after the artwork went to the printer. A couple of Clash Web sites describe it as a hidden track, but it wasn’t intended to be hidden. The sleeve was already printed before we tacked the song on the end of the master tape.

"Train in Vain" was added after the deal for The Clash to write a song for an NME flexi disc fell through, and as Mick Jones 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."[6]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 presence is announced as the 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[edit][]

The Clash "Train in Vain" (1980)



30-second sample—with applied 4-second fadeout—of "Train in Vain" taken from London Calling

Problems playing this file? See media help.

When the London Calling album was released, many fans assumed it was called "Stand by Me",[4] 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."[1]

"Train in Vain" is a love song,[7] with an almost country-and-western lyric that echoes Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man".[8]

Clash lead singer Joe Strummer has been quoted in multiple interviews in regards to the song's meaning. During the course of their relationship, Mick Jones would frequently take the train across town to see his girlfriend Viv Albertine, but his visits were often fruitless as the meetings would seldom see Jones departing a 'satisfied' and happy man.

Formats and track listings[edit][]

"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 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:[9]

Year B-side Format Label Country Note
  1. "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)" – 3:10
33⅓ rpm 10" vinyl Epic AS 749 US Promo
  1. "London Calling"
45 rpm 7" vinyl Epic 50851 US
  1. "Bankrobber" – 4:33
  2. "Rockers Galore... UK Tour" – 4:39
33⅓ rpm 7" vinyl CBS 8370 Europe
  1. "The Right Profile" – 3:51
45 rpm 7" vinyl Columbia 657430 7 UK Reissue
  1. "The Right Profile" – 3:55
  2. "Train In Vain ('91 7" Remix)" – 3:02
  3. "Death or Glory" – 3:56
CD Columbia 657430 5 UK Reissue
  1. "The Right Profile"
Cassette tape CBS 50851 UK

"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, guitars, harmonica
  • Joe Strummer - piano
  • Paul Simonon - bass guitar
  • Topper Headon - drums, percussion
  • Mickey Gallagher - organ

In popular culture[edit][]

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.

The song was featured as part of the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: Philippines and Grand Theft Auto: Manila City Stories in the DWJM Rock Radio station.

It appeared in the game Forza Horizon 2 in the radio station Horizon XS

Cover versions[edit][]

"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, or the Swedish indie rock band Shout Out Louds.[1][10]

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.[2] 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".[1] 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.[11]

"Train in Vain" was played frequently, in addition to many other Clash songs, by The Max Weinberg 7 on US late night talk show Late Night with Conan O'Brien. New York City hardcore punk band H2O also covered "Train In Vain" in 2011 for their cover CD Don't Forget Your Roots.

British hardcore rock and roll band The Computers, featured their cover as the B-Side to their 'Group Identity' single released on 21 February 2011.

Grateful Dead alumni Phil Lesh and Bob Weir's band Furthur have covered the song three times, on 25 March 2011 at Radio City Music Hall, 26 July 2011 in Canandaigua, New York and on 24 April 2013 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York.


Year Chart (1980-1981/1991-1992) Peak


1980 Canada Top Singles (RPM)[12] 62
1980 New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[13] 26
1980 US Billboard Hot 100[14] 23
1980 US Hot Dance Club Songs (Billboard)[15] 30