The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia
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|"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"|
|Single by Vicki Lawrence|
|from the album The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia|
|B-side||"Dime a Dance"|
|Vicki Lawrence singles chronology|
Recorded in late October 1972 in United/Western Studios on Sunset in Hollywood and released less than two weeks later in November 1972, the song centers on the older brother of the narrator, falsely convicted of and executed for a murder, which, as revealed in the final verse, the narrator herself has committed.
A young woman tells the story of her older brother, who returns home after a two-week trip from a place called "Candletop". The brother meets his best friend, Andy Wolloe, at Webb's Bar ("Andy Wolloe said hello, and he said, 'Hi, what's doing, Wo?'"), and Andy informs the brother that his young wife (who is later described as "cheatin'") has been seeing another man in town, Seth Amos. Andy then reveals that he, too, has been sleeping with his friend's wife. The brother is understandably upset, which scares Andy, who leaves and walks home. The brother assumes his wife has left town, gets his gun, and heads out to the back woods to sneak up on Andy and confront him. When the brother arrives at Andy's house, he finds tracks outside ("tracks that were too small for Andy to make") and discovers that someone has already killed Andy. The brother, in a moment of panic ("he started to shake"), fires his gun in the air to summon a passing sheriff. When the sheriff approaches the scene, the brother is immediately accused of murder. A "backwoods Southern lawyer" doesn't keep the sheriff and a judge from convicting the brother in a kangaroo court ("the judge said 'guilty' in a make-believe trial / slapped the sheriff on the back with a smile"), and hanging him that same night, effectively lynching him. The phrase "the night the lights went out in Georgia" refers to the idea that the "light" of justice went out that night as an innocent man was killed by the law.
In the final verse, the singer then reveals that she was the one who killed Andy and that she had also previously killed her promiscuous sister-in-law and disposed of her body ("one body that'll never be found"), and that her brother was lynched before there was a chance to tell anyone the truth.
Beyond simply the typical police corruption, the song relates that the judge is just as corrupt as the sheriff ("...the judge in the town's got bloodstains on his hands"), as well as heartless, when rendering the guilty verdict: slapped the sheriff on the back with a smile, said "Supper's waiting at home and I gotta get to it" (The 1991 music video for the Reba McEntire version suggests that the judge was also sleeping with the wife and wouldn't listen to the truth to protect himself).
The song is in the key of C minor, with an approximate tempo of 86 beats per minute and a main chord pattern of Cm-B♭/C-Cm-F/C-Cm-Gm7-Cm on the verses. In the chorus, the song modulates to G major, using a pattern of Am-D-G-Em three times followed by Am-D-Gm. The vocals range from G3 to D5.
Originally, Bobby Russell did not want to even record a demo for the song because he didn't like it. Vicki Lawrence, his wife at the time, revealed the history of the song on her talk show in the 1990s when Reba McEntire was a guest on her show. According to Lawrence, she believed it was destined to be a hit and recorded the demo herself. The publisher didn't quite know where to pitch the song. The first thought was to pitch the song to Liza Minnelli. However, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" was first offered to Cher, but her then-husband and manager Sonny Bono reportedly turned it down (he was said to be concerned that the song might offend Cher's southern fans).
Without an artist to record the song, Vicki Lawrence went into the studio to record the song for release. The song became a number-one hit for Lawrence (who was then a regular on The Carol Burnett Show) on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, and reached number six on the Easy Listening chart. "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" also peaked at number thirty-six on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart. The song was number one for two weeks, on the Hot 100 and was succeeded by Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree". In Canada the single hit number one as well, topping the RPM 100 national singles chart on May 5 of the same year. On the RPM Country Singles chart, it reached #25 the following June 23.
Tanya Tucker cover
In 1981, Tanya Tucker recorded a different version (on an album of the same name) used later as the basis for the 1981 film The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. Her altered lyrics were used as the basis for the plot line of the movie, which is not the same as the story of the original song.
Reba McEntire cover
|"The Nights the Lights Went Out in Georgia"|
|Single by Reba McEntire|
|from the album For My Broken Heart|
|B-side||"All Dressed Up"|
|Producer||Tony Brown, Reba McEntire|
|Reba McEntire singles chronology|
In 1991, the song was covered by Reba McEntire on her For My Broken Heart album. It hit #12 on Billboard magazine's Hot Country Songs chart; the song also had a hit music video, wherein the older brother of the story is given the name "Raymond"; the video for McEntire's version also contained spoken dialogue that expanded on several of the song's plot points, by suggesting that the judge knew that the narrator's brother did not commit the crime, but was nonetheless anxious to convict him, since he, himself (the judge) had also been having an affair with the victim, and was worried that a long, involved trial would cause this fact to become known.
In a 1986 Designing Women episode, Julia launches into one of her famous tirades, defending her beauty queen sister Suzanne against the catty remarks made by a shallow young woman, concluding with "And that was the night the lights went out in Georgia!"
The song is discussed in the breakfast scene of the 1992 film Reservoir Dogs.
Vicki Lawrence version
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||1|
|U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks||6|
|U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks||36|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||1|
|Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary||2|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||25|
Reba McEntire version
|Canada Country Tracks (RPM)||7|
|US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)||12|
|Canada Country Tracks (RPM)||73|
- "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia". MusicNotes.com. Retrieved 19 November 2011.
- Bronson, Fred (1988). "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia". The Billboard book of number one hits. New York: Billboard Publications. ISBN 0-8230-7545-1. OCLC 17918476. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
- Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 142.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 196.
- Library and Archives Canada. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/rpm/028020-119.01-e.php?brws_s=1&file_num=nlc008388.4812&type=1&interval=24&PHPSESSID=021sd7foarphlu4vp8jgv84nr0
- Library and Archives Canada. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/rpm/028020-119.01-e.php?brws_s=1&file_num=nlc008388.4837&type=1&interval=24&PHPSESSID=021sd7foarphlu4vp8jgv84nr0
- "RPM Country Tracks. RPM. August 1, 1992. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
- "Reba McEntire Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Hot Country Songs for Reba McEntire.
- "RPM Top 100 Country Tracks of 1992". RPM. December 19, 1992. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
"Killing Me Softly with His Song" by Roberta Flack
|US Billboard Hot 100 number-one single (Vicki Lawrence version)
April 7, 1973 (two weeks)
"Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando
"Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando
|Canadian RPM 100 number-one single (Vicki Lawrence version)
May 5, 1973 (one week)
"The First Cut Is The Deepest" by Keith Hampshire