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Encyclopedia > The MTA Song

"The MTA Song", often called "Charlie on the MTA", is a 1948 song written by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes, about a man named Charlie trapped on Boston's subway system, then known as the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). It was a hit in 1959 when it was recorded by The Kingston Trio, an American folk group. See also: 1947 in music, other events of 1948, 1949 in music and the list of years in music. // Aldeburgh Festival is founded by Benjamin Britten, Eric Crozier and Peter Pears. ... Nickname: Location in Massachusetts, USA Coordinates: , Country United States State Massachusetts County Suffolk County Settled 1630 Incorporated (city) 1822 Government  - Mayor Thomas M. Menino (D) Area  - City  89. ... The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is a body politic and corporate, and a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [2] formed in 1964 to finance and operate most bus, subway, commuter rail and ferry systems in the greater Boston, Massachusetts, USA area. ... See also: 1958 in music, other events of 1959, 1960 in music, 1950s in music and the list of years in music // Events 1959 (date unknown) Jimi Hendrix buys first electric guitar: a White Single pickup Supro Ozark 1560 S. January 5 The first sessions for Ella Fitzgeralds George... The Kingston Trios original lineup: Bob Shane, Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds The Kingston Trio is an American folk group. ...

The song is so well known in Boston that the subway system has named its electronic card-based fare collection system the "CharlieCard". The more permanent CharlieCard, which was distributed by Customer Service Agents starting December 4, 2006. ...



The song tells of Charlie, a man who gets aboard an MTA subway car and can't get off because he didn't bring enough money for the "exit fares" that were established to collect an increased fare without upgrading existing fare collection equipment. An exit fare is a method of collecting ridership fees, or fare, from a transportation system where the fee (or part of the fee) is collected from passengers upon reaching their destination. ...

When he got there the conductor told him:
"One more nickel."
Charlie could not get off of that train!

Perhaps to show it shouldn't be taken too seriously, the song goes on to say that Charlie's wife is able to hand him a sandwich every day "as the train comes rumbling through" — but for some reason can't hand him a nickel!

The song is probably best known for its catchy chorus:

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.

After the third line of the chorus, in the natural break in the phrasing, audiences familiar with the song often shout out "Poor Charlie!".[citation needed]

In the Kingston Trio recording, after the final chorus, the song's lead singer Nick Reynolds speaks the words: "Et tu, Charlie?" ("You too, Charlie?"), an echo of Julius Caesar's famous "Et tu, Brute?" ("You too, Brutus?") Gaius Julius Caesar [1] (Latin pronunciation ; English pronunciation ; July 12 or July 13, 100 BC or 102 BC – March 15, 44 BC), was a Roman military and political leader and one of the most influential men in world history. ... Et tu, Brute? were, according to legend, the last words of Julius Caesar. ...


The song, based on a much older tune called "The Ship That Never Returned" (or its railroad successor, "Wreck of the Old 97"), is said to have been composed in 1948 as part of the election campaign of Walter A. O'Brien, a Progressive Party candidate for Boston mayor. As the story goes, O'Brien was unable to afford radio advertisements, so he enlisted local folk singers to write and sing songs from a touring truck with a loudspeaker (he was later fined $10 for "disturbing the peace").[1] The Ship That Never Returned is an 1830 folk song about a ship that left a harbor and never came back. ... Danville, Virginia, 1903 The Old 97, a Southern Railway train en route from Monroe, Virginia to Spencer, North Carolina, derailed at Stillhouse Trestle near Danville, Virginia on September 27, 1903. ... Walter A. OBrien, Jr. ... The name Progressive Party has been assigned to a collection of parties in the United States over the past century or so. ... A mayor (from the Latin māior, meaning larger, greater) is the modern title of the highest ranking municipal officer. ... Disturbing Tha Peace (DTP) is a rap crew from Atlanta which is comprised of Ludacris, Shawnna, I-20, Tity Boi, Lil Fate, Jay Cee and St. ...

According to this story, one of his major campaign planks was to lower the price of riding the subway by removing the complicated fare structure involving exit fares - so complicated that at one point it required a nine-page explanatory booklet. In the Kingston Trio recording, the name "Walter A. O'Brien" was changed to "George O'Brien," apparently to avoid risking right-wing protests that had hit an earlier recording] during the Joseph McCarthy Hollywood blacklist era, when the song was seen as celebrating a progressive politician.[2] Joseph Raymond McCarthy (November 14, 1908 – May 2, 1957) was a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin between 1947 and 1957. ... Protestors opposing the jailing of the Hollywood Ten in 1950 (from the 1987 documentary Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist). ...

A different story holds that the name "George O'Brien" was taken from a campaign for business manager of the MTA carmen's union, which represented streetcar and trackless trolley operators. During the campaign, many MTA workers put up advertising material for their candidate and the seeming omni-presence of the name of George O'Brien, who won the election and served as business manager of Local 7 and later as its legal counsel, was the actual inspiration for the name in the song.[citation needed]


The song has Charlie boarding at Kendall Square and changing for Jamaica Plain. Jamaica Plain is a neighborhood in Boston, which was an area served by a streetcar line that terminated at Arborway (a reference to a road the passes the Arnold Arboretum), near present-day Forest Hills station. Service operated to Arborway until 1985, when the streetcar route was truncated to Heath Street at the northern edge of Jamaica Plain, today's Green Line "E" Branch. The "Charlie Card" depicts a fellow on a Green Line streetcar. Kendall Square is a neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts, located at the intersection of Main Street, Broadway, Wadsworth Street, and Third Street (known as Kendall Square). It may also refer to the broad business district that is west of Portland Street, east of Charles River, north of MIT and south of... A tram system, tramway, or street railway is a railway on which trams (streetcars, trolleys) run. ... The Arborway is one of the four parkways designed by Frederick Law Olmsted for Bostons Emerald Necklace park system: Fenway, Riverway, Jamaicaway, and Arborway. ... The Arnold Arboretum is one of the worlds finest research arboretums. ... Forest Hills Station is a station on the MBTA Orange Line, located in the southern part of Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts between the intersection of Washington Street and Hyde Park Avenue and the intersection of Center Street and South Street. ... The Heath Street stop along South Huntington Avenue is the western terminus of the MBTA Green Line E branch. ... The E Branch or Arborway Branch is a streetcar line in the Boston, Massachusetts area, operating as a branch of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Green Line. ... Two trains at Park Street. ...

If his wife visited him every day at the Scollay Square station (now called Government Center), he must have been on what is now the Green Line (rapid transit lines in Boston were not color-coded until 1965). His "change for Jamaica Plain" must therefore have been at the centrally placed Park Street. Government Center circa 2000 Government Center is a city square and plaza in Boston, Massachusetts, bounded by Cambridge, Court, Congress, and Sudbury Streets. ... Government Center Station of the MBTA, located at the intersection of Tremont, Court and Cambridge Streets in the Government Center neighborhood of Boston, is the main transfer point between the Green Line and the Blue Line. ... Park Street Station, Green Line platforms, December 2004 Park Street Station, Red Line platforms, January 2005 Park Street Station of the MBTA, located at the intersection Park Street and Tremont Street in Boston, is the main transfer point between the Green Line and the Red Line. ...

Popular culture

  • The Chad Mitchell Trio song "Super Skier," written by influential folk performer and songwriter Bob Gibson, used the tune and ends with a call to "get Charlie off the MTA."
  • The Boston-based punk rock band Dropkick Murphys made a variation of the song, "Skinhead on the MBTA", that featured a skinhead in the place of Charlie, on their 1998 album Do or Die. MBTA is the current name of the subway system (since 1964), known colloquially as "the T".
  • A Subway Named Mobius is a short story by A.J. Deutsch in which a mathematics professor makes a topological discovery after becoming 'lost' on the MBTA. A 1996 Argentinian movie, Moebius, has a very similar plot.
  • The computer scientist Henry Baker references the song in his paper CONS Should Not CONS Its Arguments, Part II: Cheney on the M.T.A., which describes a way of implementing Cheney's algorithm using C functions that, like Charlie, never return.
  • The song was sung on Malcolm in the Middle in the episode 'Long Drive' when Hal and his friends sing it at a dinner.
  • Frank Black sings "You can't get off your stop / Like old Charlie on the MTA" in his song "Living on Soul."
  • Old Charlie is is mentioned in the Jethro Tull Song "Locomotive Breath"

The Chad Mitchell Trio was a popular folk music group during the 1960s. ... Punk rock is an anti-establishment music movement beginning around 1976 (although precursors can be found several years earlier), exemplified and popularised by The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. ... Dropkick Murphys are a celtic punk band formed in Quincy, Massachusetts, USA.[1] First playing together in the basement of a friends barbershop, they blended Oi!, Irish music, and hardcore. ... Skinhead on the MBTA is a song by the Boston punk rock band Dropkick Murphys, to date the most modern adaptation of The MTA Song, recorded for their first full-length album Do or Die. ... Skinheads, named after their cropped or shaven heads, are members of a working-class subculture that originated in Britain in the 1960s. ... Armin Joseph Deutsch (A. J. Deutsch, 1918–1969), was an astronomer and a science fiction writer. ... A Möbius strip, an object with only one surface and one edge; such shapes are an object of study in topology. ... Henry Baker is the name of a computer scientist who has made contributions in such areas as Garbage collection and the Actor model. ... Cheneys algorithm, first described in a 1970 ACM paper by C.J. Cheney, is a method of garbage collection in computer software systems. ... C is a general-purpose, block structured, procedural, imperative computer programming language developed in 1972 by Dennis Ritchie at the Bell Telephone Laboratories for use with the Unix operating system. ... Malcolm in the Middle was a seven-time Emmy-winning,[1] one-time Grammy-winning[1] and seven-time Golden Globe-nominated[1] American sitcom created by Linwood Boomer for the Fox Network. ... Hal Wilkerson is a fictional character from Malcolm in the Middle. ... Frank Black (born Charles Michael Kittredge Thompson IV on April 6, 1965) is an American singer, songwriter and guitarist. ... Jethro Tull are a Grammy Award winning English rock band that formed in 1967-1968[1]. Their music is marked by the distinctive vocal style and lead flute work of front man Ian Anderson. ...


  1. ^ Charlie on the MTA lyrics and history. Retrieved July 26, 2007.
  2. ^ See letter from Kate O'Brien Hartig, daughter of Walter, to Rod MacDonald, Feb. 3, 2001. Retrieved July 26, 2007.

External links

  • Charlie on the MTA lyrics and history
  • Mp3 of the song

  Results from FactBites:
The MTA Song - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (529 words)
The MTA Song, often called Charlie on the MTA, is a song from the 1940s about a man trapped on Boston's subway system (then known as the MTA and now known officially as the MBTA and colloquially as the T).
The song is so well-known in Boston that the MBTA's "Easy Way" card-based fare collection system, which will replace the traditional token system in 2006, has been officially nicknamed the "CharlieCard" in homage to this song.
The song, based on a much older tune called The Ship that Never Returned (or its railroad successor, Wreck of the Old 97), was written in 1948 as part of the re-election campaign of Walter A. O'Brien, a Progressive Party candidate for mayor of Boston.
MTA - encyclopedia article about MTA. (2238 words)
The MTA Song The MTA Song, often called Charlie on the MTA, is a song from the 1940s about a man trapped on Boston's subway system (then known as the MTA and now known officially as the MBTA and colloquially as the T).
The MTA has the responsibility for developing and implementing a unified mass transportation policy for The City of New York and Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties, all of which together are the "Transportation District".
The coastal portion of the county is heavily urbanized, though there is a large expanse of lesser populated desert inland in the Santa Clarita Valley, and especially in the Antelope Valley which encompasses the northeastern parts of the county and adjacent eastern Kern County, lying just north of Los Angeles County.
  More results at FactBites »



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