“New River Train”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1924 (recording, Henry Whitter)
Keywords: love nonballad infidelity floatingverses
Found in: US(SE)

Description

"(Honey Babe/Darling), you can't love one (x2), You can't love one and still have any fun, Honey Babe, you can't..." Similarly, "You can't love two and still be true..." "You can't love three and still have me..." Etc.

Notes

"Honey Babe" and "New River Train" are two versions of the same set of verses, the difference being that the latter has a chorus about the "New River Train" ("Riding on that new river train (x2), Same old train that brought me here Is soon gonna carry me away").

It's not clear which is the original form, but I'm guessing the former. - RBW

Well, [you] may be wrong here; the "New River Train" version dates back to at least 1924 (Whitter's recording). And Fields Ward says he learned it c. 1895. - PJS

In any case, "New River Train" is now the more familiar version (see the recording list), so I eventually adopted that title.

Cohen has notes about the origin of the name "New River Train"; there apparently was no line with that name, but several railroads had track in the New River area and would presumably have been given that name informally. What's more, the earliest recordings he cites (Whitter's and Harrell's) are by residents of that part of Virginia. Vernon Dalhart's recording was similar to and likely based on Harrell's, and that no doubt helped put the song in popular consciousness.

Cohen does report, however, that few versions other than Ernest Stoneman's have much real railroad content. That is the main reason why I thought (and still sort of think) the versions without the New River Train chorus likely to be original. - RBW

Cross references

Recordings

References

  1. Cohen-LSRail, pp. 466-471, "New River Train" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BrownIII 103, "Darling, You Can't Love but One" (1 text)
  3. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 124-125, "Honey Babe" (1 text, without the chorus, filed under Child #76 along with a "Pretty Little Foot" fragment and a version of "I Truly Undertand That You Love Some Other Man")
  4. Abrahams/Foss, p. 73, "Darlin' You Can't Have One" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 158-159, "Darlin'" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. PSeeger-AFB, p. 74, "New River Train" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Silber-FSWB, p. 143, "New River Train" (1 text)
  8. Roud #4568
  9. BI, AF073