“M.T.A.”, often called “The MTA Song”, is a 1949 song by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes….and was informally known as “Charlie on the MTA”….as the song’s lyrics tell an absurd tale of a man named Charlie trapped on Boston’s subway system….which was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). The song was originally recorded as a mayoral campaign song for Progressive Party candidate Walter A. O’Brien…..while a version of the song with the candidate’s name changed became a 1959 hit when recorded and released by The Kingston Trio, an American folk singing group.
The song has become so entrenched in Boston lore that the Boston-area transit authority named its electronic card-based fare collection system the “CharlieCard” as a tribute to this song. The transit organization, now called the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), held a dedication ceremony for the card system in 2004….which featured a performance of the song by the Kingston Trio, attended by then-governor Mitt Romney.
The group’s first album, Capitol T996 The Kingston Trio, was recorded over a three-day period in February 1958….and released in June that year….after their manager Sonny Gilmore had made two important supervisory decisions as producer of the album….first, to add the same kind of “bottom” to the Trio’s sound that he had heard in live performance and consequently recruiting Purple Onion house bassist Buzz Wheeler to play on the album….and second to record the group’s songs without the secondary orchestral accompaniment that was nearly universal at the time. The song selections on the first album reflected the repertoire that the musicians had been working on for two years….which had been re-imagined traditional songs inspired by The Weavers like “Santy Anno” and “Bay of Mexico”…and calypso-flavored tunes such as “Banua” and “Sloop John B” that were reminiscent of the popular Harry Belafonte recordings of the time….and a mix of both foreign language and contemporary songwriter numbers, including Terry Gilkyson’s “Fast Freight” and “Scotch and Soda”….whose authorship remains unknown as of 2018.