Welcome to the latest Fan Club Newsletter. Thank you again to everyone buying the records and keeping in touch! Many of you are intrigued by the original yellow sleeve and so this week we’ll take a closer look at the artwork and go ‘behind the music’ to look at the songwriting and recording!
The original picture on the front was artfully crayoned by James, who described it as ‘its a girl…. and she’s on the train!’ The drawing indeed shows a girl stamped on the side of a train as only kids would see, arms and legs extending from her neck, bow and long hair, and her face is also the window!
Instantly, the idea of the song was formed. In hindsight, the process reminds me of the way John Lennon describes Julian Lennons ‘Lucy In The Sky’ picture as the inspiration behind that famous song!
James picture somehow connected a memory of the scene with Patti Boyd on the train in 'A Hard Days Night' where Lennon and The Beatles sing ‘I Should Have Known Better’ in the baggage carriage,
and recalled The Railway Children, since Sally Thomsett, who had appeared in the movie, was now a regular on TV in a sit-com ‘Man About The House!’.
Those girl/train images reminded me of a middle eight ‘looking through my window outside’, which was already part of another song called Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Squire had rehearsed in January 1980, during what was to become the last ever rehearsal of the Anthony, Kevin and Enzo line up.
At the time, we were looking for new songs, but the band was also looking for up tempo numbers to play live, and you can hear the tension between this slower ‘acoustic ballad’ and the pent up frustration in the performance trying to make a slow song fast! So the song was quickly abandoned before it was learnt properly, and seemingly lost to time.
This orphan couplet, ‘looking through my window outside’ connected perfectly into Girl On A Train, retaining the same meaning but in a more obvious context. Instead of alluding to a deep inner feeling - too abstract, the idea of a stranger on a train that James’ picture of the girl on a train suggested, is easily understood and the image is universal, not only as object but as reflected counterpart. So the new song was written and completed - ready to record!
The recording session on 27th June 1982 at Chestnut studios produced a ‘perfect pop’ masterpiece! Analysis of the music reveals how well it works with the lyric.
The song starts like a train coming down the track, and you know you’re in for a great ride! The reverb turned up full and turned down as the song emerges signifies the train appearing in the distance getting closer and raising anticipation! The drums clattering, like metal wheels over the points, together with the jaunty bass line played on 8th notes leaping up and down the octave express speed and a fun ride, like bouncing up and down on a springy seat. Hand claps and sung ‘choo-choos’ reinforce the train sound metaphors!
Meanwhile, inside the train, and the lyric, the chromatic melody stepping note by note, descending from a 6th exemplifies the frustration and sense of yearning, and of not plucking up courage to make eye contact with the stranger opposite.
The ‘middle eight’ provides distraction, a glimpse of a reflection in the window - maybe I can catch your eye there? which mirrors the inner dialogue. The simple melody doubles on guitar, and the the solo represents the two people finally entwined in harmony, before the final verse asks the searching question and opens up hope for another chance tomorrow! The poignant D minor pauses on ‘makes you sad’, momentarily stopping time, to ponder the emotion, before repeating the refrain four times!
Of course, you don’t go into the studio with those ideas, you concentrate on your part, play the song, and only later reflect on why one song works and why another doesn’t. Jon’s bass line was a surprise, always reminded not to get too busy, but this one worked! Kevin’s drum roll ‘pick-ups’ fitted perfectly with the forward motion imagery of the train rattling over the tracks. The studio engineer, Tim’s idea to start the song with reverb was a last minute mix ‘trick’ that he heard in his head and suggested as an interesting way to start the song. The dual guitar solo was made up on the spot. All these musical ingredients came together in the moment, along with a great performance, and created a fun record that underscores the lyric with music that amplifies the meaning.
Many songs were written on the train between Guildford and Waterloo, the main escape route from mundane suburbia to the vibrant London city, where you could lose yourself for a day and explore the back streets and your imagination. The recurring theme of trains and journeys is revisited many times in Squire’s repertoire.
You can hear the original idea of Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! from that final rehearsal at Alaska studios, under the arches at Waterloo (another train coincidence) here! The bass is way too loud creating distortion, but you can make out the ‘middle eight' that made its way into Girl On A Train!
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All the best from Squire