Thursday, January 13, 2011

Margaret Whiting & The Freedom Train

In honor of the passing this week of singer Margaret Whiting, aged 84, here's a completely kitschy piece of post-WWII vaguely progressive patriotica entitled "The Freedom Train." It's credited to Peggy Lee, but it's got equal parts Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer, the brilliant songwriter who was the guardian of Whiting's early career. The band is Benny Goodman's, and it was recorded in 1947. The lyrics were cowritten by Lee and Irving Berlin.

Take the lyrics for what they're worth. It's interesting to listen to them the day after President Obama's Tucson speech here in 2011:

"This song is a train song
It's a song about a train
Not the Atcheson-Topeka
Not the Chattanooga Choo-choo
Nor the one that leaves at midnight
For the state of Alabam

This song is a train song where the engineer is Uncle Sam
Hear comes the freedom train, You better hurry down
Just like Paul Revere it's coming into your home town

Inside the Freedom Train you'll find a precious [friend]
Those words of liberty, the documents that made us great
You can shout your anger from a steeple
You can shoot the system full of holes
You can always question we the people
You can get your answer at the polls
That's how it's always been and how it will remain
As long as all of us keep riding on the Freedom Train

Johnny Mercer, Peggy Lee, Benny Goodman, Margaret Whiting
The Pipers and the Western Band
Sitting on the observation, spreading freedom through the land

You can write the president a letter
You can even tell him to his face
If you think that you can do it better
Get the votes and you can take his place

If you hate the laws that you're obeying
You can shout your anger to the crowd
We may disagree with what you're saying
But we'll fight to let you say it loud
That's how it's always been
That's the way it's gonna remain
As long as all of us keep riding on the Freedom Train
Riding, riding
Riding, riding
Keep on riding that Freedom Train"

(Lyrics transcribed by me)

I don't know a lot of Margaret Whiting's work, but she was the wholesome voice of jazz-era pop music: hear her sing and it's impossible not to instantly like her. While her mass stardom had long faded, she was one of those legends of the American songbook whom showtune queens always loved. Oddly enough her legend deepened with her marriage in the 1990s to the hunky and well-endowed gay porn star Jack Wrangler, who passed on just a couple years ago. Here's a woman who could literally say she did it all.


  1. Right Annie? I've known this song for years but when I got the idea to re-listen to it yesterday I thought wow.