City of New Orleans is a folk song written by Steve Goodman, describing a train ride from Chicago to New Orleans via the Illinois Central Railroad in bittersweet and nostalgic terms. Goodman got the idea while traveling on the eponymous train for a visit to his wife's family. He performed the song for Arlo Guthrie in the Quiet Knight, a bar in Chicago, and Guthrie agreed to add it to his repertoire. The song was a hit for Guthrie on his 1972 album Hobo's Lullaby, and is now more closely associated with him, although Goodman performed it until his death in 1984. The song has also been covered by Willie Nelson, John Denver, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Hank Snow, and others.
Willie Nelson version
Steve Goodman won a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1984 for Willie Nelson's version, which was included on his 1984 album of the same name. It reached #1 on both the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in the United States[and the RPM Country Tracks chart in Canada.
The City of New Orleans - Lyrics
Ridin' on the City of New Orleans
Illinois Central, Monday mornin' rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail
All along the south-bound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
And rolls along past houses, farms and fields
Passin' trains that have no names
And freight yards full of old black men
And the grave-yards 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
Feel the wheels grumblin' 'neath the floor
And the sons of Pullman porters, and the sons of engineers
Ride their father's 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
Night time on the City of New Orleans
Changin' cars in Memphis, Tennessee
Halfway home, we'll be there by mornin'
Thru the Mississippi darkness rollin' 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 disappearin' railroad blues.