Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Willie Nelson, “City of New Orleans”

“City of New Orleans”

Willie Nelson

Written by Steve Goodman

Radio & Records

#1 (3 weeks)

September 28 – October 12, 1984


#1 (1 week)

November 3, 1984

It was written by Steve Goodman in the sixties and Arlo Guthrie had a big pop hit with it in the seventies.  Then Willie Nelson made it a country smash in the eighties.

Goodman wrote the song as he rode a train cross country, inspired by the sights he saw out of the window.  Nelson’s definitive reading of the classic composition makes it an early Americana standard in the most literal sense, though the strength of its melody must also be noted. which has led to many international versions of the song with newly written lyrics.

Willie Nelson is one of the few men left who can ask, “Good morning, America. How are ya?” and get an enthusiastic answer from every American, regardless of their backgrounds and beliefs.  He sang this song at the peak of his popularity, when he could be found on half the radio stations in every market.  

Radio may not play him anymore, but he remains a unifying figure with as wide an appeal as ever.  This year alone, he’ll go into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while promoting the first bluegrass album of his career.  America is everything, everywhere, all at once, as “City of New Orleans” captures so beautifully.  And it doesn’t get much more American than Willie Nelson.

“City of New Orleans” gets an A

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. …willie nelson was already 50 years old at the time he hit number one with this classic train song but his voice was as fresh and elastic as that of a much younger man. remarkable. he managed to elevate that ole train to almost shinkansen level. well, nearly.

  2. Tom, I had to look up shikansan to get your reference!

    This song did play with a brightness and rhythm all its own at the time.

    Like Haggard with the previous number one, Nelson was a still-chart-relevant legend releasing meaningful music in the ’80s.

    Maybe only Nelson could have taken a train song to the top that decade. He was channeling a unique mojo at the time, riding his own inspirational magic carpet of song.

    Thankfully, this song and Nelson’s performance are timeless.

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