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Willie Nelson performs "City of New Orleans"

"City of New Orleans" is a folk song written by Steve Goodman (and first recorded for Goodman's self-titled 1971 album), describing a train ride from Chicago to New Orleans on the Illinois Central Railroad's City of New Orleans in bittersweet and nostalgic terms.

 

Goodman got the idea while traveling on the Illinois Central line for a visit to his wife's family. The song has been recorded by numerous artists both in the US and Europe, including two major hit versions: first by Arlo Guthrie in 1972, and later by Willie Nelson in 1984.

 

An article in the September 2017 issue of Trains magazine chronicles the writing and recording of the song and includes a biographical sketch of Steve Goodman.

 

Steve Goodman won a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Country Song at the 27th Grammy Awards in 1985 for Willie Nelson's version, which was included on Nelson's 1984 album City of New Orleans. It reached #1 on both the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in the United States and the RPM Country Tracks chart in Canada.

Willie Nelson - City of New Orleans lyrics

 

Ridin' on the City of New Orleans Illinois Central Monday morning rail

Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders

Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail

All along the southbound odyssey the train pulls out of Kankakee

And rolls along past houses farms and fields

Passing trains that have no name and freight yards full of old black men

And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles

 

Good morning, America. How are you?

Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son

I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans

And I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

 

Dealin' cards with the old men in the club car

Penny a point, ain't no one keepin' score

Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle

And feel the wheels rumbling 'neath the floor

And the sons of Pullman porters and the sons of engineers

Ride their fathers' magic carpet made of steel

Mothers with their babes asleep rockin' to the gentle beat

And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel

 

Good morning, America. How are you?

Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son

I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans

And I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

 

Night time on the City of New Orleans changing cars in Memphis Tennessee

Halfway home we'll be there by morning

Through the Mississippi darkness rolling down to the sea

And all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream

And the steel rails still ain't heard the news

The conductor sings his songs again the passengers will please refrain

This train has got the disappearing railroad blues

 

Good morning, America. How are you?

Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son

I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans

I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done



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