Randy Newman – Burn On

• “Burn On” set to a picture of the housing album cover. Thanks to Drew Smith.

8.0 “Fantastic Crooner / Cabaret from the USA”

From his third album “Sail Away” (Reprise Records MS-2064) released in 1972.

A disturbing moment in time captured wonderfully in song by the cultured and satirical tones of Randy Newman, who lays the blame squarely on mankind.

On 22 June 1969, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, heavily polluted by oil, caught fire as a result of a spark from an overhead train – and not for the first time! At least 13 fires have been reported on the Cuyahoga River, the first occurring in 1868. The largest river fire in 1952 caused over $1 million in damage to boats, a bridge, and a riverfront office building.

After the 1969 episode Time Magazine wryly observed: “Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows” further noting that a person who meets their doom in the Cuyahoga “does not drown but decays”.

cuyahoga-river-fire-e1437775430609

Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952.

There’s a red moon rising
On the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

There’s a red moon rising
On the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

There’s an oil barge winding
Down the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

There’s an oil barge winding
Down the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

Cleveland, city of light, city of magic
Cleveland, city of light, you’re calling me
Cleveland, even now I can remember
‘Cause the Cuyahoga River
goes smokin’ through my dreams

Burn on, big river, burn on
Burn on, big river, burn on

Now the Lord can make you tumble
Lord can make you turn
The Lord can make you overflow
But the Lord can’t make you burn

Burn on, big river, burn on
Burn on, big river, burn on

The clean-up of the river had begun by the time of Newman’s song – a slow and laborious slog. In 1972 Congress finally passed the federal Clean Water Act. Five months after Randy’s song was issued, The Clean Water Act (CWA) became effective on October 18, 1972.

You can check out my favoured album reviews for 1972 here.

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