Back in the High Life Again 1986


Island Records

How about a music video? Hey, if it’s in, it’s a movie! All four minutes of it.

Seriously, Steve Winwood packs a fair amount of train and railroad-related action in those 240 seconds. It’s a quickie snapshot of operations on the old Southern Railway mainline through Manassas, Virginia.

Aside from the railroad bits, it’s an interesting story about how the song was written and the music composed.

At the time of filming, the Southern had merged (1982) with Norfolk & Western to form Norfolk & Southern Railway, still a big Class 1 railroad to this day.

Let’s see how the MTV crowd (back when they actually played music television) interpret trains into this video.


A Southern Railway local freight does some switching in Manassas, Virginia. Just barely in shot is a red, bay window caboose and an EMD Geep of some sort switching a gondola onto a siding.

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The video starts right off by panning down past a crossing signal to show Steve Winwood (or an amazingly similar-looking double — I haven’t decided yet) sitting next to the bay window of the Manassas depot.

Most old time stations would have a bay window where the operator/station agent/telegrapher would sit, as it gave him a good view down the tracks in either direction. I like the fingertip-exposing gloves he’s wearing, which sort of implies poverty or recent hard times.

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U-Boat! A GE U23B #3950 along with an EMD Geep (can’t make out the number) comes hustling towards the camera with a short train. I have included a clearer picture of #3950 for comparison (courtesy of RRPictureArchives.Net).

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Signals! The cameraman gets all artsy fartsy with a reflection of a crossing signal in a small puddle of water; close up of the station’s train order board and zooming in on the crossing lights.

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Extreme close up of #3950. To the point of being almost unrecognizable.

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Steve singing “High Life” in concert and his body double calling his old flame on a pay phone (remember those?) as a trainload of Southern gondolas pass by in the background.

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Steve remembers happier times dancing around with his best girl. Reality: he’s down on his luck and by the tracks framed by an old baggage cart.

The building in the background has kind of an interesting history. At one time, it was a candy factory, but is now a center for the arts.

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Amtrak!  EMD F40PHR #314 comes through town and therein lies a tale (additional picture of #314 courtesy of RRPictureArchives.Net).

This engine started out life as an EMD SDP40F #598, a six-axle passenger unit built for long-distance Amtrak trains in the early 1970s (#598 picture courtesy of  RRPictureArchives.Net).

The SDP40F seemed prone to derailment on curves to the point where it was eventually banned from use on some railroads (such as Burlington Northern). Its replacement was the venerable F40, originally intended for short distance trains, but pressed into service as Amtrak’s do-it-all locomotive. Some of the SDP40F’s were scrapped, others sold to Santa Fe Railway as freight units with the remainder scrapped. Parts from #598 were used to build the four-axle F40PHR #314 we see in the movie.

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From the Manassas station, we get a much clearer view of the candy factory/arts center and discover a third career for the building. A ghost sign facing the tracks reads “Manassas Feed & Milling” (better seen on Google Street View).

The picture by the lake is where the guy really DOES look like Steve Winwood. I wonder who the gal was? Can’t find anything about her on the inter-tubes.

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Our final railroad shot is a passenger train rolling away from the camera with a baggage car on the rear (these usually were carried up front by the locomotives).

Courtesy of is the October 26, 1986 Amtrak System Timetable which shows this is one of two trains: #19/20 The Crescent (New York to New Orleans) — or — #50/51 The Cardinal (New York to Chicago). At the time, both trains carried “heritage equipment” before Superliner and Viewliner equipment came on the scene.


If you’d like to watch the official music video and see the trains for yourself, the link is:
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Back in the High Life Again:

If you have ANY information about this movie you’d like to share, please contact me at:, or leave a comment.  Thanks and enjoy the blog!



3 thoughts on “Back in the High Life Again 1986

  1. Darren

    I lived in Manassas at the time they shot this. YES, that is indeed Winwood himself at the ole train station. I believe our local paper, the Journal Messenger wrote about it at the time. He was in town for a concert that night at nearby George Mason University in Fairfax (if I remember correctly) so that morning they shot some scenes in Manassas. My neighbor watched the filming, but I didn’t go. Many years later I did catch Winwood opening for Rod Stewart in Greenville, North Carolina. He stills has that same voice. Actually Rod was surprisingly in good voice as well live. Manassas has changed so much since then, but the station remains.



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