The midnight special meaning is a traditional folk song that was first recorded by Huddie Ledbetter (known as Lead Belly) while he was incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. It is believed that he wrote the song about the train called “The Midnight Special” because every night, from their prison cell, he and his fellow inmates would hear and see the light of a passing train as it passed them by at around midnight. Over time, they developed a sort of superstition that the train’s light was a symbol of hope and salvation for them in the darkness of their incarceration.
The song itself tells a story of the prison inmates and their longing for freedom, as well as their desire to escape from prison. The chorus of the song asks for the train to shine its light on them, indicating that they want to be saved from their dark and miserable situation. This theme is a common one in many African American folk songs, which typically use metaphors and suggestive images to convey their messages.
The song was popularized by the group Creedence Clearwater Revival and it is one of only two railroad songs to ever reach the top 10 of the US country charts, peaking at number 16 in 1959. It has also been covered by other musicians such as Johnny Rivers and Paul Evans, who each released a version that charted in the US top 20.