All my dreams on a downtown train

November 3, 2014


The other month I read that years ago, Bob Seger was talking to Rod Stewart about a Tom Waits song he was excited about recording called Downtown Train.  He did record it, in 1989, but just a month after his conversation with Stewart, Stewart stole the idea, recorded it and made it a big hit. The song’s been associated with Rod Stewart ever since.

That’s some bad ju-ju about a really great song, a favorite of mine that’s got a great tune but is also some of Tom Waits’ best writing.  And I do mean BEST.

Just the opening lines: Outside another yellow moon punched a hole in the nighttime — oh that I could write like that!

Not to mention the line, All of my dreams just fall like rain. The way Waits captures the angst of young love is perfection.

Oh heck, here are all the lyrics, and below it the Bob Seger version, which is fabulous. Bob Seger just rocks. Literally.  And after you listen (and I dare you not to want to belt it out along with Seger), a couple questions for you. So read on, give a listen and then….

 Downtown Train

Outside another yellow moon
Punched a hole in the nighttime, yes
I climb through the window and down the street
Shining like a new dime
The downtown trains are full
With all those Brooklyn girls
They try so hard to break out of their little worlds

You wave your hand and they scatter like crows
They have nothing that will ever capture your heart
They’re just thorns without the rose
Be careful of them in the dark
Oh if I was the one
You chose to be your only one
Oh baby can’t you hear me now

Will I see you tonight
On a downtown train
Every night its just the same
You leave me lonely, now
I know your window and I know its late
I know your stairs and your doorway
I walk down your street and past your gate
I stand by the light at the four way
You watch them as they fall
They stay at the carnival
But they’ll never win you back
Will I see you tonight
On a downtown train
Where every night its just the same
You leave me lonely
Will I see you tonight
On a downtown train
All of my dreams just fall like rain
All upon a downtown train

Here’s Seger’s version–how do you compare his to Rod’s? What do you think of the song? Are you a fan of either guy? Of Waits?


32 comments on “All my dreams on a downtown train
  1. Joan Stommen says:

    Love this, Carol! I never knew there was a riff/swiping between these two greats! Bob’s my fave version because I always have his mimic playing at home or in my car! His newest release ” Detroit Made” was previously written and recorded by Wait as well, I
    believe. Thanks for a great waker-upper this morning!

  2. I had no idea about this riff. Love this Carol! 🙂

  3. Rod Stewart did the same thing with Crazy Horse’s “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It”. Still, I had a stubborn fondness for Rod Stewart until he morphed into a lounge singer and starting scraping his way through perfectly good torch songs.

  4. Wow. That’s an interesting detail about Stewart and Segar that gives this song even more complexity. Thanks for the backstory.

  5. Janie Emaus says:

    I love this song and both of Bob and Rod. I never knew this story about the song.

  6. Kim Tackett says:

    Ah, I have a soft spot for Tom Waits. I learned about him in college, and he still takes me back to (hungover) Sunday mornings, no matter what he’s singing.

  7. I love Bob Seger. His voice sends me back to college and a boy I “loved” and we’d drive in his car and blast Bob. Sigh. Many moons ago – you know – the one that punched a hole in the night.

    It’s all fair game when it comes to good songs, and we’re the beneficiaries of the artists’ vision of the music and lyrics.

  8. Roz Warren says:

    I got all caught up in the Glee-ripped-off-Jonathan-Coulton’s-version-of-Baby-Got-Back-flap awhile back. So I’m not going to wade into this one. I guess Bob Seger learned an important lesson about who his real friends are (and aren’t.)

  9. I think you put it perfectly @carolcassera “Bob Seger just rocks”.

  10. Oh no but WAIT!! Tom Waits just rocks. and so does Rod…All so special and unique in their own divine ways! Thanks for proving for us that there is no competition and the we are all so unique, there is room for everyone’s version.

  11. Donna says:

    Rod and Bob are favs of mine, I love the gravel voices…and I guess life is all about borrowing from others, right? No, they call it inspiration…he inspired me. I will be singing downtown train all day…thank you! Good way to start the day!!

  12. Jackie says:

    I seriously LOVE Tom Waits, but I have to admit that I prefer Bob Seger’s version of this song to both the original and the Rod Stewart version. (I’m not a big “Rod” fan — with the possible exception of “Maggie May”. One of my favorite songs is “Jersey Girl”. Bruce rocks it. No question about that. Still. there’s something far more haunting and “real” about the Tom Waits’ version. So much sparer. Love it 🙂

  13. Ellen Dolgen says:

    This riff was news to me! I am not a big Rod fan….so Bob wins!

  14. Just because Bob Seger is one of the prominent voices of my youth – I have to go with him 🙂

  15. Diane says:

    I LOVE Bob Seger!!!

  16. Like Bob Dylan, I love Tom Waits songs when other people sing them! I think San Diego Serenade is my favorite Waits song ever. Shame on Rod so I’m going with Bob Seger.

  17. I love Tom Waits and Bob Seger, Rod Stewart? Not so much. And this tidbit about Stewart doesn’t warm me to him. At all. Agree, great writing and a great song. I love your image too.

  18. Nancy Hill says:

    Wais, most definitely Waits. The other two both have a somewhat creepty although entirely different from each other sort of misogyny about them long after they should have known better. Waits is weird but he is real and a great writer.

  19. In my mind there is no comparison between Bob Seger and Rod Stewart. Seger is an artist and Stewart is just a singer.

  20. WendysHat says:

    Great connection! I had no idea. It’s a nice song too.

  21. Well, Rod Stewart is definitely the least “authentic” of the 3 of them so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that story. “Downtown Train” is a great song.

  22. Ruth Curran says:

    I love Tom Waits’ artistry – talent to 10th power but his performance of Downtown Train is just weird feeling (I just looked it up to make sure I remember that correctly and yep, bizarre). And yes, I did belt it out with Bob Seger. Bubs the dog is now looking at me like I have lost my mind!

  23. Myke Todd says:

    Rod Stewart was up for the role of the pinball wizard in the movie, by the same name. Elton John talked him out of doing it, saying it would be a bad career move. As soon as Rod Stewart turned them down, Elton called and offered his services, and ended up playing the part. His recording of “Pinball Wizard” was a big hit… What goes around, comes around, as the saying goes.

  24. Ines Roe says:

    Great song. Love the voice. I had no idea about the story. I get goose pimply just hearing the voice. The story is very interesting – just goes to show how little we know about the back story of things – makes it even more interesting.

  25. Had no idea about this. Love that song!

  26. I Love Bob Seger. Have ever since I was a kid hearing him singing “Still the Same.” For some reason it was always on the radio for an entire year of my life. I’d never heard that story about Rod Stewart and it makes me want to send him hate mail. I mean, seriously. Who does that? Karma can be a bitch, Rod! I hope he’s already paid the price.

    I do love music trivia like that, though. Like learning that “Main Street’ in the Bob Seger song was really Ann Street in him hometown of Ann Arbor, MI.

  27. Risa says:

    Ah, you’re innocent when you dream…
    This kind of thing happens all the time in the music biz, right? Just ask Allen Toussaint about all the covers of his stuff.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing the story and this version of the TW song. My daughter-in-law walked down the aisle to an instrumental version of “San Diego Serenade,” a lovely waltz, actually.

  28. Never heard Wait’s version and I love Bob Seger from my days as a Michigander. As a lover of music that creates fantasy images and intense feelings of love and lust, however, Rod’s version is on a much higher plane than Seger’s. Stewart’s energy captures the intense dreaming of a young man who views an attractive woman (we do this ladies) and who fantasizes about being their romantic partner. I don’t buy into any misogynistic interpretation of the lyrics … as feminists feel obligated to voice…. they simply don’t understand or accept what it’s like to be a heterosexual young male with testosterone revving up his natural desire to love and be loved. It is a fantastic feeling ladies. Please don’t be condescending.

  29. Darby Kern says:

    Of course, I love Seger’s version, but I may be too used to Stewarts. Well, no. That’s not true either. I just discovered Everything But The Girl’s gorgeous cover and it has become my favorite, by far. They’re all great, but I feel it in EBTG’s version like none since Tom Waits. Check it out. I bet you will enjoy it.

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