How The Monkees’ Studio Engineer Created Train Sounds on ‘Last Train to Clarksville’

One of the most famous bubblegum pop songs of the 1960s is The Monkees‘ “Last Train to Clarksville.” Two major songwriters worked on that song. Subsequently, one of the songwriters explained how the Prefab Four’s studio engineer created train sounds for the track.

The Monkees' Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz near a poster
The Monkees’ Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz | James Jackson/Evening Standard/Getty Images

2 songwriters were behind many of The Monkees’ songs

Many of The Monkees’ songs were co-written by Boyce & Hart. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote songs like “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Valleri,” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” In his 2015 book Psychedelic Bubble Gum: Boyce & Hart, The Monkees, and Turning Mayhem Into Miracles, Hart said “Last Train to Clarksville” was made in a short amount of time.

“We had 45 minutes to record a final basic track of the bass, drums, guitars, keyboards, and sometimes percussion instruments,” Hart wrote. “As the producers, in our heads, Tommy and I already knew the way we wanted the record to sound.”

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Why part of The Monkees’ ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ sounds like a steam brake

Hart discussed studio engineer David Hassinger’s role in “Last Train to Clarksville.” “But in just two or three run-throughs, the engineer would have to quickly bring himself up to speed, becoming familiar with a song he’d never heard before and then make it all gel, balancing the level of each instrument with the others and hopefully adding some creativity of his own,” Hart said. 

“That’s exactly what Hassinger did on ‘Last Train to Clarksville,'” he added. “With one finger on the pot that controlled the microphone on the drummer’s high-hat cymbal, he raised the sound of it nearly to capacity for a split second on the ‘one-and’ beat of every other bar, creating a sharp percussive ‘shooop’ effect reminiscent of a train’s steam brake and adding something extra to what became The Monkees’ first hit record.”

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How ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ performed on the charts in the United States and the United Kingdom

“Last Train to Clarksville” became a huge hit for The Monkees. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 for a single week, staying on the chart for 15 weeks in total. The track appeared on The Monkees’ self-titled debut album. The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for 13 weeks, remaining on the chart for 102 weeks in total. None of the Prefab Four’s other albums lasted as long on the Billboard 200.

“Last Train to Clarksville” was a more modest hit in the United Kingdom. According to The Official Charts Company, the song reached No. 23 on the chart there, staying on the chart for seven weeks. Meanwhile, The Monkees was No. 1 for seven of its 37 weeks on the chart. The Monkees became a bigger hit in the U.K. than any of the group’s other albums.

“Last Train to Clarksville” is a classic rock song and it emulates its theme in interesting ways.

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