Chattanooga Choo Choo
"Chattanooga Choo Choo" is a big-band/swing song which was featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade, which stared Sonja Henie, Glenn Miller and his orchestra, The Modernaires, Milton Berle and Joan Davis. It was performed in the film as an extended production number, featuring vocals by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, and the Modernaires followed by a production number showcasing Dorothy Dandridge and an acrobatic dance sequence by The Nicholas Brothers. This was the #1 song across the United States on December 7, 1941, and The Glenn Miller recording, RCA Bluebird B-11230-B, was #1 for nine weeks on the Billboard Best Sellers chart.
The 78-rpm commercial version of the song was recorded on May 7th, 1941 for RCA Victor's Bluebird label and became the first to be certified a gold disc on February 10, 1942, for sales of 1,200,000. The transcription of this award ceremony can be heard on the first of three volumes of RCA's "Legendary Performer" compilations on Glenn released by RCA in the 1970s. In the early 1990s a two-channel recording of a portion of the Sun Valley Serenade soundtrack was discovered, allowing reconstruction of a true-stereo version of the film performance.
In 1996, the 1941 recording of "Chattanooga Choo Choo" by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra on Bluebird, B-11230-B, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The song was written by the team of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren while traveling on the Southern Railway's "Birmingham Special" train. The song tells the story of travelling from New York City to Chattanooga. However, the inspiration for the song was a small, wood-burning steam locomotive of the 2-6-0 type which belonged to the Cincinnati Southern Railroad, which is now part of the Norfolk Southern Railway system. That train is now a museum artifact. From 1880, most trains bound for America's South passed through the southeastern Tennessee city of Chattanooga, often on to the super-hub of Atlanta. The Chattanooga Choo Choo did not refer to any particular train, though some have incorrectly asserted that it referred to Louisville and Nashville's Dixie Flyer or the Southern Railway's Crescent Limited.
Pardon me, boy
Is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?
Boy, you can gimme a shine
I can afford
To board a Chattanooga Choo Choo
I've got my fare
And just a trifle to spare
You leave the Pennsylvania Station 'bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you're in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner
Nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham an' eggs in Carolina
When you hear the whistle blowin' eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in
Gotta keep it rollin'
Woo, woo, Chattanooga there you are
There's gonna be
A certain party at the station
Satin and lace
I used to call "funny face"
She's gonna cry
Until I tell her that I'll never roam
So Chattanooga Choo Choo
Won't you choo-choo me home?
Chattanooga Choo Choo
Won't you choo-choo me home?
Today, trains have pride of place in Chattanooga's former Terminal Station. Once owned and operated by the Southern Railway, the station was saved from demolition after the withdrawal of passenger rail service in the early 1970s, and it is now part of a 30-acre (12-hectare) resort complex, including the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel, Currently a Holiday Inn, but in 2009 joining the Historic Hotels of America, and numerous historical railway exhibits. Hotel guests can stay in half of a restored passenger railway car. Dining at the complex includes the Gardens restaurant in the Terminal Station itself, The Station House (which is housed in a former baggage storage) and the "Dinner in the Diner" which is the complex's fine dining venue, housed in a restored 1941 Class A dining car. The city's other historic station, Union Station, parts of which predated the Civil War, was demolished in 1973; its site is now an office building housing the corporate offices of the Krystal restaurant chain. In addition to the railroad exhibits at "the Choo Choo", there are further exhibits at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, which is in the suburb of East Chattanooga.
- The reputation given to the city by the song also lent itself to making Chattanooga the home of the National Model Railroad Association. In addition, the athletic mascot of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is a rather menacing-looking anthropomorphized mockingbird named Scrappy, who is dressed as a railroad engineman and is sometimes depicted at the throttle of a steam locomotive.
- The Dixie Flyer originally was a named train that did pass through and stop in Chattanooga on its run from Chicago to Miami. That railroad, until 1957 was the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad (NC&StL). The NC&StL was merged into L&N in 1957. Now it is part of CSX.
- The Southern Crescent did not go through Chattanooga, but there were at least three other Southern Railway trains that ran through Chattanooga direct to Washington and on to New York without changing trains. There was a change of locomotives between Bristol, Tennessee, and Lynchburg, Virginia; Norfolk and Western Railway operated the train on that portion, turning it back over to the Southern at Lynchburg. The named trains on this route were the Pelican, Birmingham Special and Tennessean.
- Cab Calloway and His Orchestra recorded a cover version of "Chattanooga Choo Choo" on the Conqueror record label in 1941 as Conqueror 9914.
- Bill Haley and the Comets released a cover of "Chattanooga Choo Choo" as an Essex 45 single in 1954 as Essex 348.
- In 1967, the American musical group Harpers Bizarre released a cover version of the song "Chattanooga Choo Choo", which reached #45 on the U.S. pop chart while spending two weeks at #1 on the Easy Listening chart (which would later be renamed the Adult Contemporary chart).
- In the 1970s the tune was used in the UK on an advert for Toffee Crisp candy bars, starting with "Pardon me, boy, is that a Toffee Crisp you chew chew," and ending with the final punch line "Chew chew Toffee crisp, the big value bar."
- The song was parodied in the Mel Brooks horror comedy Young Frankenstein:
- "Gene Wilder - 'Pardon me, boy. Is this the Transylvania Station?'
Young Boy - 'Ja! Ja! Track 29! Oh, can I give you a shine?'
Gene Wilder - 'Uh... No, thanks.'"
The tune was adopted twice for German songs. Both songs deal with trains, and both songs start with (different) translations of "pardon me". The first was created and performed in 1947 by the German pop singer Bully Buhlan (Zug nach Kotzschenbroda). The second, created by the German rock musician Udo Lindenberg in 1983 became very popular because of its political implications. The ironical text of this song Sonderzug nach Pankow ("Special Train To Pankow") appealed personally to GDR's Chairman of the Council of State Erich Honecker. Therefore, the song was widely propagated (though forbidden) in East Germany, it is now considered an early contribution towards the fall of the Berlin Wall.