Track of the Day: ‘Manhattan, Kansas’ by Donna Fargo

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader writes:

I discovered your Tracks of the Day about a month ago and am really enjoying it. I have a pair of “songs about a place.” Kind of. I guess the pair of songs “Manhattan, Kansas” (the idyllic college town I grew up in) aren’t so much about the place, but they start there to sing about abandoned mothers. The two songs present an interesting contrast.

Glenn Campbell sang in 1972 about a young girl, abandoned by her baby’s father, leaving Manhattan in shame and washing dishes in Denver to support the baby. His “Manhattan, Kansas” made it to near the top of the country charts. (His version has been covered by Loretta Lynn and Jeannie C. Riley and others [including Donna Fargo, whose version is the most popular among them on YouTube].)

Susan Werner’s “Manhattan, Kansas” (not a cover!) is less well known, but it’s by a wonderful, talented, funny, and whip-smart folk artist based in Chicago. The song is about a girl similarly abandoned and who handles the pregnancy differently and sings about a long sidewalk and  “… deputies on either side of me, people crying, praying rosaries.”

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