Chattanooga Choo Choo

Published August 20, 1941

Recorded 1941

Genre Big band, swing

Writer(s) Mack Gordon
Composer(s) Harry Warren

“Chattanooga Choo Choo” is a 1941 song written by Mack Gordon and composed by Harry Warren. It was originally recorded as a big-band/swing tune by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra and featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade.

The song was an extended production number in the 20th Century Fox film Sun Valley Serenade. The Glenn Miller recording, RCA Bluebird B-11230-B, became the #1 song across the United States on December 7, 1941, and remained at #1 for nine weeks on the Billboard Best Sellers chart.
The flip side of the single was “I Know Why (And So Do You)”, which was the A side.

The song opens up with the band, sounding like a train rolling out of the station, complete with the trumpets and trombones imitating a train whistle, before the instrumental portion comes in playing two parts of the main melody. This is followed by the vocal introduction of four lines before the main part of the song is heard.

The main song opens with a dialog between a passenger and a shoeshine boy:

“Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo?”
“Track 29!”
“Boy, you can give me a shine.”
After the entire song is sung, the band plays two parts of the main melody as an instrumental, with the instruments imitating the “WHOO WHOO” of the train as the song ends.

The 78-rpm was recorded on May 7, 1941, for RCA Victor’s Bluebird label and became the first to be certified a gold disc on February 10, 1942, for 1,200,000 sales. The transcription of this award ceremony can be heard on the first of three volumes of RCA’s “Legendary Performer” compilations 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.

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 traveling from New York City to Chattanooga. The inspiration for the song, however, was a small, wood-burning steam locomotive of the 2-6-0 type which belonged to the Cincinnati Southern Railway, 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[who?] have incorrectly asserted that it referred to Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway’s Dixie Flyer or the Southern Railway’s Crescent Limited. The most notable reason why the song isn’t about any particular train is because of the line, “nothing could be finer|than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina.” The rails, especially the passenger routes of the early 1900s, ran north and south on either the east or west sides of the Appalachians. Any route from Pennsylvania Station to Chattanooga through Carolina would be disjointed at best.

The composition was nominated for an Academy Award in 1941 for Best Song from a movie. The song achieved its success that year even though it could not be heard on network radio for much of 1941 due to the ASCAP boycott.

In 1996, the 1941 recording of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.


The personnel on the May 7, 1941, original recording by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra in Hollywood on RCA Bluebird were Paula Kelly, the Modernaires (vocals), Billy May, John Best, Ray Anthony, R.D. McMickle (trumpet), Glenn Miller, Jim Priddy, Paul Tanner, Frank D’Annolfo (trombone), Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz (clarinet, alto saxophone), Tex Beneke, Al Klink (tenor saxphone), Ernie Caceres (baritone saxophone), Chummy MacGregor (piano), Jack Lathrop (guitar), Trigger Alpert (bass), and Maurice Purtill (drums).

Other notable performances include:

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra recorded a cover version of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” for Conqueror Records in 1941.
Carmen Miranda recorded a cover on July 25, 1942, and sang it in the movie Springtime in the Rockies.
Bill Haley & His Comets released a cover of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” as a 45 single on Essex Records in 1954.
Pianist Floyd Cramer recorded a single version on RCA Records in 1962.
UK instrumental group the Shadows recorded a version of the song for their album Dance with the Shadows which reached number two in the UK album charts in 1964.
The American musical group Harpers Bizarre released a cover version of the song, which reached No. 45 on the U.S. pop chart and spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Easy Listening chart in 1968.[7]
An instrumental version of the theme was released 1975 in Germany under the name “Maddox”, produced by Dicky Tarrach.[8]
In 1978, the studio group Tuxedo Junction recorded a disco version that hit the American Top 40; it peaked at No. 32 Pop and No. 18 on the Easy Listening chart.[9]
Haruomi Hosono released a half-Portuguese, half-Japanese cover of the song as the opening track on his 1975 album Tropical Dandy.
In the 1970s, the tune was used in the UK on an advertisement for Toffee Crisp candy bars, starting with “Pardon me, boy, is that a Toffee Crisp you chew chew,” and ending with the punch line “Chew chew Toffee crisp, and you’ll go far.”
A cover by Steve Lucky & the Rhumba Bums was featured in the 2005 film Be Cool.
The song’s intro was sampled by That Handsome Devil in their song “Damn Door” for their 2008 debut album A City Dressed in Dynamite.
Barry Manilow recorded a version on the Singin’ With the Big Bands album, 1994.
The arrangement which became the first gold record of all time was done by Jerry Gray.
A modern interpretation of the song was recorded by Herb Alpert for his In the Mood album of 2014.