Song Sources: “26th Street Underpass”

This is part of a series I’m doing on the tracks on the new EP, Baltimericana. To read the other parts of this series, simply click on the tag “Song Sources” above.

apartment 2

Gets so hot in the summer …

My first apartment in Baltimore was a third-story walkup on 25th Street between St. Paul and Charles St. I lived there for a couple years, most of the first year by myself and then for about a year with Lexa after her lease ran out while we saved up for the house.

It was a cool apartment that was reasonably cheap, with a giant living room and a view of all of downtown. I really liked it and I miss living there. But it had some real, uhh, peculiarities. There was no air conditioning, except the single unit we ran in really bad weather in the bedroom. I thought the heat in the winter was really low, but later found out that it simply wasn’t working (it got fixed a couple times). In the summer, to deal with the heat, most of the time I would open the doors and windows and get a breeze — well, actually a genuine wind — blowing through the whole apartment. That worked until Lexa moved in, because then the cat would run downstairs. Oh well. At least the kitty dealt with the mice.

The other thing was the train that goes underground at 26th Street. You could hear it quite clearly at all hours.

Anyway, this song is about that apartment.

Joe’s production choice for this song was to just have me sit in his living room, plug the 1956 Gibson into his 1973 silverface deluxe, and play the song. He set his iPhone up on the windowsill and that’s what you hear. I did four takes, and the final is the same take for all the verses, but I used the guitar solo from one of the other takes simply because it had a weird sound (the rattling you hear) from something outside. Joe also had me play the song a few different ways before hitting on this style. Originally it was a little more frenetic and more generically bluesy. The final result feels and sounds better for this song.

I think that in kind of the same way that I miss the apartment, I miss being satisfied with just playing a guitar and singing and not worrying about what the recording sounded like, or whether there was enough stuff going on, or teaching someone else their parts, or whether I’m sticking to 12 bars properly, or whether I sang that verse exactly the same way as the one before it. I don’t even care that the lyrics are stupid-simple. This says exactly what I wanted to say about an old home and nothing else.

Here are the chords and lyrics for anyone who’s interested in playing along.

D                         Bm                       G                                                              D
At night I lie awake; there’s a train whistle blowing outside my door
G                                                      G6                                                             D
At night I lie awake; there’s a train whistle blowing outside my door
A7                                    G                            F#m7                   Em7                      D
I try to shut out the sound, but that train’s running underneath my floor

Turn around:

|D       | A7   D   | Riff

D                    A                 G               F#m  Em         |D            | A7   D   |

Little bird on the fence, at 26th singing a lonesome song
Little bird on the fence, at 26th singing a lonesome song
When that train rumbles by, well, that little bird’ll pick up and move along

It gets so hot in the summer, I think I’ll invite the wind to come on by
It gets so hot in the summer, I think I’ll invite the wind to come on by
If the wind can’t stop by, well, the breeze from that train’ll suit me fine

(repeat first verse)

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