City of New Orleans:
Folk song written by Steve Goodman, the first recording was made, Steve Goodman, for the Buddah label, was recorded on March 23, 1970, and released in 1971. The song would be included on the album, Steve Goodman (Buddah 1971).
The most successful version is the one that Willie Nelson recorded, for the Columbia label, it was recorded in October 1983 and released in July 1984. The song reached number one on November 3, 1984. The song was included in album, City of New Orleans (Columbia 1984). The album also reached number one on the U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums.
Story behind the song:
Goodman wrote the handwriting in a sketchbook after his wife fell asleep on the Illinois central train, where they went to visit his wife’s grandmother. Goodman wrote about what he saw looking through the windows of the train and playing cards in the club car. Everything in the song really happened on the trip.
After returning home, Goodman heard that the train was scheduled to be retired due to lack of passengers. He was encouraged to use this song to save the train, so he challenged the lyrics and released it on his first album in 1971.
Steve Goodman released his version as a single in 1972, but it was the cover of Arlo Guthrie that same year that popularized the song and drew attention to the railroads that were fading throughout Middle America. Many of the people who lived in rural areas depended on them to travel.
Steve Goodman died on September 20, 1984, at the age of 36 after a long battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. That same year, Willie Nelson covered this song and turned it into the main song of his album. Nelson’s version was a No. 1 hit in the country and won the Grammy Award for Best Country Song, which is a category of songwriting and, therefore, an honor posthumously awarded to Goodman.
John Denver 1972 (RCA)
Arlo Gunthrie 1972 (Reprise Records)
Sammi Smith 1973 (Mega Records)
Justin Tubb 1974 (Hiltop Records)
Jerry Reed 1975 (RCA Victor)
Lee Conway 1981 (Rebel Australia)
Willie Nelson 1984 (Columbia)
…. and many more …
Willie Nelson – City Of New Orleans lyrics
Riding 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 graveyards full of old black men
And graveyards full of 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
Dealing cards with an old man in the club car
Penny a point, ain’t no one keeping score
Pass that paper bag that holds the bottle
And feel the wheels rumbling beneath 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, rocking to that gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel
Night time on the City of New Orleans
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee
Half way home we’ll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness rolling down to the sea
But 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