The Monkees original version of Last Train to Clarksville, written by Boyce and Hart is upbeat, kicky and fun. And it’s a really good song. The music and the lyrics – imploring a lover to meet you in Clarksville for one more meeting seem a little cheeky. Exploring information about it, I discovered the lyrics go much deeper. It was actually a bit of a protest song, in its own way. The key is in the line “and I don’t know if I’m ever coming home”: The lover is a soldier being sent off to Vietnam.
The lovely Cassandra Wilson turns this song on its ear and gives it a smoky seductive feel. How could anyone refuse her request? You get wrapped up in the deep warm silkiness of her voice, especially when she scats.
So, what can I say about the Flatt & Scruggs version? Um … it’s super super twangy. And banjo-y. And I think there might be an actual train whistle in there somewhere. Or maybe it’s just a harmonica. Although, originated by The Monkees I can see how this would seem to lend itself to a country interpretation. And I think it works well in this vein. But, personally, I just can’t hang with the twang.
George Benson. Great artist, immensely talented. Sorry to say, I really dislike his version. It’s so fast, it’s almost frenetic. You know it sort of sounds like background music you’d hear on a game show while waiting for the contestants to finish writing out their final answers.
Jerry Reed’s recording is a country version I can actually get into. It’s nowhere near as … twangy as Flatt & Scruggs (thank goodness). The tempo and the vocal is much smoother than The Monkees, while still maintaining a peppiness to it. There’s a richness to Reed’s voice that I quite like.
Pam Tillis is another country performer presenting the song. She tries to be a little saucy with it. It seems like she’s just using the song as a filler to make a quick change from one kinda cute hippie outfit to a decidedly uglier hippie outfit. The bulk of the song showcases her band – guitars, pianos, and violins. Oh sorry – it’s country so I guess that would be “fiddles”. I like her band more than I like her 57 seconds of actual singing. (Yes, I did time it)
The Shadows present an all-instrumental version. No lengthy vocals to drag it out, just a quick little musical interlude. It’s nice, but it doesn’t do anything for me.
Finding out The Knack did a cover was a nice little treat. It’s extremely faithful to the well-known Monkees version, and very well-done. They didn’t overdo it trying to be different and they didn’t detract from it. Except this version doesn’t seem like a pointless recreation; it sounds like a very appreciative homage to a great piece of music by an extremely underrated band.
Ludichrist (no, not the rapper, that would be Ludacris) seems to be some sort of thrashy, metal-ly type of artist reworking. It’s beyond up-tempo – it’s hyper tempo, so it might actually be more of a punk thing. It’s really loud. And doesn’t bring a sense of wistful romanticism that seems to be told by the song’s lyrics. It sounds like a mental patient making demands “TAKE THE LAST TRAIN TO CLARKSVILLE!!!”
Now, frankly, I have no idea who Fonda Rae is, but I thought I’d throw this one in anyway. This version is such an oddity to me: it’s got some semi-interesting drum work, some robotic-electronic sounding stuff and a little funky guitar in there, too. It doesn’t bring anything new to the song. Well, let me restate that – it brings a lot of new stuff to this song. Like instruments and tempos and … stuff that I haven’t heard used on it before, but that’s not really any sort of improvement or reinterpretation. It just seems kind of pointless, like they said “Okay we’ve got all this stuff in the studio, let’s just throw it in. Oh, and does anyone have a kitchen sink we can add, as well?”