I’m sure we’ve had a similar thread but maybe we have new DLers with fresh songs to share. I love learning the histories behind songs, whether old or new.
Mine is Midnight Special by Leadbelly, which was a big hit for Credence Clearwater Revival. This song resonates with me because I grew up in Sugar Land not far from the prison and the sugar factory and a train filled with sugar cane came through every night at 10 PM; if I heard the signal, I knew I was up too late. It’s not the same time as the Midnight Special, but it looms large in my memories.
John and Alan Lomax, in their book, Best Loved American Folk Songs, told a credible story identifying the Midnight Special as a train from Houston shining its light into a cell in the Sugar Land Prison. They also describe Ledbetter's version as "the Negro jailbird's ballad to match Hard Times Poor Boy. Like so many American folk songs, its hero is not a man but a train." The light of the train is seen as the light of salvation, the train which could take them away from the prison walls. It is highly reminiscent of the imagery of such gospel songs as "Let the Light from Your Lighthouse Shine on Me". Carl Sandburg had a different view. He believed the subject of the song would rather be run over by a train than spend more time in jail.
If you ever go to Houston,/ Boys, you better walk right,/ And you better not squabble/ And you better not fight./ Benson Crocker will arrest you,/ Jimmy Boone will take you down./ You can bet your bottom dollar/ That you're Sugarland bound./