Ride This Train by Johnny Cash opens with the chuttering and occasional whistle of a steam train. Johnny invites us to ‘ride this train up and down and across a strange and wonderful land’. This is the central idea of the album, one of the first concept albums ever.
Each song begins with a short introduction from Cash about a new place, accompanied by the same sounds from the train. We travel all over the USA – Kentucky, Oregon, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa. In each place Cash tells us a story. Some are of life in the town, some are of his own experiences.
Dorraine of Ponchartrain is a beautifully sad love song, about a woman caught in a storm after a fight with her fiancée. Old Doc Brown is another touching tale, this time of a doctor who literally gives his all to the people of the town.
The country setting plays a central role to the record. Many songs concentrate on the lives of workers – Loading Coal, Lumberjack – and the record explores themes of poverty, slavery and growing up. Cash was clearly writing from his own experiences of childhood, working in the cotton fields to help his family survive the Great Depression.