"Engine" is probably the most well-known NMH "non-album track". It's been released in various forums: first on the demo tapes Beauty (a "live" demo version) and Hype City, then as a b-side to the Holland, 1945 vinyl single. That version was recorded "live" in a London Underground station underneath Piccadilly Circus in May '98. While that recording was captured live, it wasn't to a real audience, although one person (probably just a chance commuter) is heard clapping over the sounds of an approaching train at the end. The same version can also be found on the Oh, Merge compilation CD. It's hard to say which is the "definitive" version of the song. A live version from '97 can be found on the Jittery Joe's CD. A bootleg live version recorded at Aquarius Records, San Francisco in 1996 is also a favorite with many fans. The first 3 lines of the song varied somewhat by performance over the years (see "lyrics" below).
While Jeff was often coy about explaining his songs on stage, "Engine" is one for which he often gave backstory. It's a children's song, he'd explain, that he wrote during a brief happy period that somehow squeezed itself into a lingering depression. "I was depressed and my life was completely crumbling around me. And then I wrote that song and got really happy for five minutes. And then I put it down on my answering machine so I wouldn't forget it. And then I got terribly depressed again. And my life began crumbling again. (laughs)"