I recently attended a fundraising event for a local performing arts organization. This fancy dinner and short performance was themed “All Aboard” or something rail-transit related, which should have clued me in on what I was getting into. Sure enough, when the performance part of the program began, the song that makes everyone in the Noog cringe came over the PA: “Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”
Really?! A performing arts organization couldn’t get more creative than tapping the go-to local theme song that put us on the map only because a popular orchestra conductor who likely had never been here before in his life decided to record it more than 70 years ago? That’s just lazy to say the least.
Fact is, while those beyond a 100-mile radius of our city limits only know Chattanooga from the song, those who live here have been there, heard that—a million times. Enough already. Time to let it go. So, I’m proposing that we renounce “Chattanooga Choo Choo” as our city’s theme song, forever.
We can keep the hotel and convention center, Track 29 (the tracks, the train and the music venue) and any other money-making venture that takes advantage of the song’s popularity to generate brand awareness. However, I propose that we otherwise pretend the song never happened. “Oh, you’re from Chattanooga! I love that song, ‘Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?’” “Excuse me? What are you talking about?” “You know, Track 29, won’t ya give me a shine’.” “I’m sorry, you must have me mistaken for someone else.”
I realize that other cities, and even states, have been popularized in song. “New York, New York,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “My Old Kentucky Home” and “Sweet Home Alabama” come to mind. But I doubt there’s one Carolina citizen, North or South, who doesn’t get violently ill every time they hear “Nothing could be finer than to be in Car-o-lina in the moor-or-or-nin’.’” At least that’s not our song.
All of the aforementioned songs have likely been used at one time or another by some convention and visitor’s bureau to drive people towards associated hotel rooms and tourist traps, and rightfully so. It’s the no-brainer connection that separates those places from the myriad of other hot spots in which your gun could be hosted instead. But I think Chattanooga is better than that.
As one of the most progressive and livable mid-sized cities in America, we have a lot more to offer than a photo opp on South Market Street. Not too many days go by without a news story reporting a recent local development as being “one of the few ________’s in the country.” From gigabyte Internet speeds and clean energy to Volkswagens, Chattanooga is leaps and bounds ahead of the coal trains and smokestacks that were around when Glen Miller struck up the band back in ’41. So let’s ditch that terribly catchy song like a bad habit and pick a new theme song.
My choice? How about ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky?” It’s one of the most upbeat, positive pop songs ever recorded. It’s currently considered retro-hip and its Beatle-esque melody is infectious without all of the costly legalities that a “Hey Jude” might present. And the lyrics: “Hey there, Mr. Blue. We’re so pleased to be with you. Look around see what you do. Everybody smiles at you.” Pure pop poetry. So please, editors of this fine publication, let’s put it up to a vote. Or, let’s have a contest to pick the next local theme song. Anything, except more of the same.
Chuck Crowder is a local writer and man about town. His opinions are his own.