Train in Vain – The Clash – 1979

Okay, so it was released as a single in 1980, but The Clash’s Train in Vain (Stand by Me) was recorded in 1979 and that’s good enough for me.


I confess it wasn’t actually The Clash I heard singing this on the radio this week. It was Annie Lennox singing that wonderful version she recorded for her 1995 album Medusa – Annie sings it so well, but it will always be a Clash song.

the clash

The Clash were typical of so many English bands of the late 70’s-early 80’s – punk orientated, politically motivated , rebellious in nature… but, unlike many such bands, The Clash were great musicians who made great music and achieved great success.

As recently as 2004 the band was listed at a creditable #28 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Artists of all Time. The previous year they were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. At that time The Clash were described as;

…one of the most overtly political, explosive and exciting bands in rock and roll history.

Formed in 1976, The Clash lasted through until 1986 with virtually the same line-up. At the helm for most that time was Joe Strummer.

hey joe

Joe Strummer was an interesting fellow. He and his band-mates were well-known for getting in trouble with the law. It culminated with Joe being arrested after a 1980 concert in Germany. Upset at a violent audience member, Joe dished out some violence of his own and hit the fellow over the head with his guitar. Joe later expressed great remorse saying;

I nearly murdered somebody, and it made me realise that you can’t face violence with violence. It doesn’t work.

Another time Joe disappeared. It was supposed to be a publicity stunt. Concert tickets for an upcoming tour weren’t selling as well as hoped and so it was suggested that Joe go “missing” for a while.  Joe took it all too seriously and actually went missing. No one knew where he was.

He’d decided to pop over to France and hang out there. He even ran the 1982 Paris Marathon in April 1982 claiming he’d stuck to a strict training regime of ten pints of beer a day including the night before the race.

In 1987 Joe joined The Pogues for a short time. His sudden death on 22 December 2002 was due to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect.

train in vain just made it…

Train in Vain nearly didn’t make it to vinyl – read on…

train in vain fax

  • Train in Vain was the third single (after London’s Calling and Clampdown) from The Clash’s third album, London’s Calling.
  • Train in Vain was not mentioned on the album’s original track listing, appearing as a secret track at the end of the album. The track was originally recorded as a giveaway for New Musical Express magazine after the album was completed and the cover printed. When the free giveaway didn’t eventuate it was shoved on the end of the album.  Of course, it was way more difficult to hide a track on vinyl than on CD.
  • Train in Vain was not only the first of The Clash’s songs to make the US Top 30, it came to be ranked #298 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
  • In the US, Train in Vain is known as Train in Vain (Stand by Me). The words “stand by me” dominate the chorus but the song was not called that for fear that it would be confused with the Ben E. King his, Stand By Me. The words Train in Vain don’t actually appear in the song lyric.
  • Train in Vain was written in one night and recorded the next day.
  • Some people interpret Train in Vain to be a response to the song by The Slits, Typical Girls, which talks about girls standing by their men. Mick Jones had separated from Viv Albertine, The Slits guitarist, shortly before he wrote the song.
  • Train in Vain has been covered by The Black Crowes, Manic Street Preachers, Annie Lennox, Dwight Yoakam.
  • In 2007, Train in Vain was remastered for the band’s greatest hits album.
  • Train in Vain lyrics.

train in vain – the clash – 1978 – video

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