It has long been evident that we need a new national anthem. The Star-Spangled Banner is tough to memorize and tougher to sing, and it celebrates a war we didn’t even win!

My candidate for a quintessentially American song, one that acknowledges pain as well as pride in our history, is City of New Orleans. Composed by the late Steve Goodman, who also wrote A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request, this bittersweet folk song grew out of a train ride from Chicago to New Orleans that Goodman and his wife took to visit his wife’s family.

What makes it a candidate for national anthem? The effect it has on listeners. Contributing to YouTube, a blogger named AZHappy, writes, “This song is so lovely it makes me weep. This is such a unique country. It’s defined by the landscape and by its people. Get out of your houses and go see it! Take the train. Drive your car. Ride your bike. Breathe it. Smell it. Just get out there and find out what Steve Goodman wrote about.

“Lord, I hope somebody, right now, is writing a song this sweet.”

There have been times when I brought up the Arlo Guthrie video of him singing the song on, and found myself tearing, choking and sobbing. It’s not just the wonderful music, the beautiful language (“Through the Mississippi darkness/Rolling down to the sea”) or the powerful metaphors (“This train’s got the disappearin’ railroad blues”).

City of New Orleans is a song about passenger rail transportation, something those of us of a certain age recall with fondness. It’s also about loss, something those of us of a certain age have experienced too much of. Finally, It’s a love song, an anthem to ordinary people: “ . . . the sons of Pullman porters/And the sons of engineers, Freight yards full of old black men, Mothers with their babes asleep,/Are rockin’ to the gentle beat/And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.”

City of New Orleans already has a grip on the American psyche. After Goodman performed it for Arlo Guthrie in a Chicago Bar, Guthrie agreed to record it and turned it into a hit single from his 1972 album Hobo’s Lullaby. The song has been covered by Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, John Denver, Willie Nelson, Jerry Reed and Hank Snow among others, and versions have appeared in French, German and Finnish. The ABC-TV morning show Good Morning America adopted its name and original theme from the chorus.

I dare you: listen to the Guthrie recording or sing the song yourself, and tell me you aren’t affected. It’s national anthem material.