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1973 – Long Train Runnin' (The Doobie Brothers)

Updated: Mar 4, 2023

"We played 'Long Train Runnin' for three years before it got recorded, and it got called several different names, and most of the time I would make up the words as we were playing the song."
Tom Johnston

Doobie Brothers Long Train Runnin' Full guitar mix Balearic Breakfast

'Long train runnin' is one of these songs that you can't get enough of. It has been played on Balearic Breakfast many times in its various incarnations and always brought great joy and excitement.

The track was in the doobie brothers' minds for a long time; it took them three years to finally cut it. Written by Tom Johnston, founder, guitarist, lead vocalist and songwriter of the Doobie Brothers, it has been included on the band's 1973 album The Captain and Me and was released as a single, becoming a hit and peaking at No. 8 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Strangely enough, the song did not initially chart in the UK. It became the Doobie Brothers' only British Top 10 hit in 1993 when a remixed version climbed to #7 on the singles chart!



The story has it that 'Long Train Runnin' was, in the beginning, an improvisational piece called "Osborn" (a throwaway song, a Jam – according to Tom Johnston – that the band played live without being seriously considered a contender). After laying down the track in the studio (no play on words intended ^^), and according to producer Ted Templeman, the doobie brothers still didn't have it. So, Ted told Tom, "Make it about a train since you have this thing about 'Miss Lucy down along the track." The song, as we know it today, was born then.


What's incredible, and it seems to be happening quite often in the musical realm, is that, as Tom stated:

“I didn't think it was any big deal. I didn't think it had any great merit as far as the chords and everything went, because it seemed too simplistic to me. But I was wrong, and wrote the words in the bathroom, which happened a lot down there. I wrote the words sitting in the bathroom at Amigo Studios in Burbank, which doesn't exist anymore. But that's where we did all those records, and it was owned by Warner Brothers. So it was like a last-minute deal, and then I came in and sang, and boing, the record was done."

Sound-wise, Tom stated in an interview with Dave Paulson (Music and Entertainment Reporter, The Tennessean) :

“Donn Landee (ed.) was the engineer, and he was excellent. He wasn't given a lot of credit like maybe he should have been, but we had phasing (effects) on one of our songs, and that'd only been done once before (on Toni Fisher's 1959 single "The Big Hurt"). He really had a lot to do with the sound of the band, as far as how he mixed the instruments together, the voices and harmonies. That had a lot to do with it (the success of the song ed.).

To understand how 'Long train Runnin' is structured, watch this video!


The song has always been a « crowd pleaser » and has been covered by many artists, including Bananarama, who scored a #30 hit in the UK. 'Long train running' appeared on their fifth studio album, Pop Life (1991). When recording the song, the girl band was backed by The Gypsy Kings (a very famous Gipsy band that had a tremendous career - notably in France - with hits like Djobi, Djoba or Bamboleo).



The craziest version of all is the Trak's one (being such a Long act, the full version has been played during a Cosmodelica show by Colleen). The four members of the band (Aax Donnell on lead vocals, Paul Micioni on electric guitar, Peter Micioni on bass guitar and Marian Savati on drums) were all working as disc jockeys from the mid-1970s onwards. During one of their car trips, they decided to make a new version of 'Long Train Runnin', the song being often programmed into their DJ sets. And what a Jam that version is! It seems obvious that the Traks took their inspiration from Rare Earth's playing (they famously covered their hit 'Get Ready' in 1983), and their version quickly became a reference for the then-nascent Italo disco.


Though it was initially pressed on 12" vinyl in only 30 copies, those were sent to many record companies present at the Midem in Cannes (France) in February 1982 (at the time, the leading international market for the global music community and an important showcase for new products).


The French Savoir Faire Records, which tested the single for the first time, both on the radio and the dance floors, immediately realised the innovation of the adaptation and decided to license it worldwide. Just a month following its official release, 'Long Train Runnin' was released in Italy on Best Records and in France on Carrere Records; it was then also licensed by PolyGram (Germany), Blanco Y Negro (Spain), RCA (Japan) and in many other countries in the world. The success was immediate, and the band quickly conquered the top of the charts, obtaining Gold Discs in France and Germany, even reaching number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 (USA) in 1982.


Despite this considerable success, the band didn't produce a lot of other albums, and, among the record collectors, Trak's 'Long train running' remains a little Jewel every connoisseur has to have!


To end this journey, take the time to listen to that track played at the end of the first 'Coffee with Colleen' show. Don't you recognise anything ? ;-)




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