The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia

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For the 1981 movie with the same title, see The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia (film).
"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"
Released 1972
Format 7" single
Genre Country pop
Length 3:40
Label Bell
Writer(s) Bobby Russell
Producer(s) Snuff Garrett
Vicki Lawrence singles chronology
"No, No"
"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"
"He Did with Me"

"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" is a Southern Gothic song, written in 1972 by songwriter Bobby Russell and sung by American singer Vicki Lawrence.

History and Original Recording[edit]

Although Bobby Russell wrote both the lyrics and music for the song, he was reluctant to even record a demonstration because he "didn't like it." According to Lawrence, she believed it was destined to be successful and recorded the demo herself. The publishers and the record label didn't quite know how to pitch the song, as it was not really a country or a pop song. The first thought was to offer the song to actress/singer Liza Minnelli, but eventually was offered to singer Cher, but her then-husband and manager Sonny Bono reportedly refused it, as he was said to be concerned that the song might offend Cher's southern fans.[1]

Without a singer to record the song, Lawrence went into a studio and recorded it professionally herself, then pressed the label to release it as a single.

Release and reception[edit]

Upon its early June 1972 release, it became an immediate number-one success for Lawrence, who at the time was a regular performer on the ensemble variety comedy television showThe Carol Burnett Show. On the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, and scored number six on the Easy Listening chart,[2] and it peaked at number thirty-six on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart.[3] It was number one for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, and finally topped by Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree". In Canada the single version scored number one as well, topping the RPM 100 national singles chart on May 5 of the same year.[4] On the RPM Country Singles chart, it reached #25.[5]

Lyrical explanation[edit]

(The song has been a point of contention and conversation among those who have heard the song for years because of the ambiguity of the song's lyrics itself. The following is nothing more than a literal description of the song itself.)

A young woman tells the story of a man who returns home after a two-week trip from a place known only as "Candletop," and he meets his best friend Andy Wolloe at Webb's Bar. Andy informs him that his young wife has been seeing another man in town named Seth Amos, or "she's been seeing that Amos boy Seth." Andy then reveals that he too has "been with" his friend's wife.

Andy gets scared and leaves the bar for home because "Andy didn't have many friends and he just lost him one." "Brother" thinks his wife is out of town so in anger he goes home and gets the gun his father left him and walks through the woods to Andy's house. When the brother arrives there, he comes upon some footsteps in the ground, "tracks that were too small for Andy to make," and discovers by peering though the back porch door that someone had already killed him in his kitchen and left him for dead in a puddle of blood. The Georgia Patrol "was making their rounds" and he fires a shot from his gun in the air to summon them, but a "big-bellied sheriff" quickly grabs "Brother" and said to him "'why'd you do it?'", immediately accusing him of murder. A judge finds "Brother" guilty after a quick and "make-believe" trial, and the judge says he's hungry and has to get home to "eat supper".

In an epilogue in the final verses, the singer reveals that they "hung my Brother" before she could confess to two things: the tracks too small for him to make were hers and that she had killed Andy, and that "his cheatin' wife had never left town," also confessing to killing her as well, and that will be "one body that'll never be found," because "Little Sister don't miss when she aims her gun."

Possible explanation[edit]

The phrase "the night the lights went out in Georgia" might refer to the "light" of right or justice was extinguished that night as an innocent person was killed by those appointed to enforce the law, as one of the choruses says "the judge in the town's got bloodstains on his hands."

The title may also refer to the death of the sister's brother, who not only lost his wife to infidelity but also lost a friend who he saw later murdered and was convicted and hanged for a crime he did not commit. There are no real socially redeemable characters in the song and although popular, there are mostly negative connotations throughout the whole song as there is no real happy ending.

Another possible explanation of the title and lyric "the nights the night the lights went out" might refer to the electric chair as throughout the 1960s and 70s hanging was not used as a method of capital punishment in Georgia.

Tanya Tucker cover[edit]

In 1981, country singer Tanya Tucker recorded a version (on an album of the same name) with differing lyrics and an altered timeline. These altered lyrics were based on the plot line of the 1981 movie The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.

Reba McEntire cover[edit]

"The Nights the Lights Went Out in Georgia"
Single by Reba McEntire
from the album For My Broken Heart
B-side "All Dressed Up"
Released April 1992
Format 7" single
Recorded 1991
Genre Country
Length 4:11
Label MCA
Producer(s) Tony Brown, Reba McEntire
Reba McEntire singles chronology
"Is There Life Out There"
"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"
"The Greatest Man I Never Knew"

During 1991, the song was sung as a cover version by Reba McEntire on her album For My Broken Heart. It scored #12 on Billboard magazine's Hot Country Songs chart.

The song also had a successful 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 sex with the wife and was worried that a long, involved trial would cause this fact to become known

Cultural references[edit]

  • For a 1986 Designing Women episode, the character Julia Sugarbaker has one of her famous tirades, defending her beauty queen sister Suzanne against catty remarks made by a young woman, concluding with "And that was the night the lights went out in Georgia!"
  • It is a prime example of a twist ending in a song, and in the 1992 film Reservoir Dogs, one of the mobsters in the film named Nice Guy Eddie says "...this is the first time I ever realized that the girl singin' the song is the one who shot Andy."
  • During 2011 a book was released titled "The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia," written by Jeremy G.T. Reuschling and is casually based on the McEntire version of both the song and the music video.
  • The opening motif is sampled in "The Time is Now", which is currently used as American professional wrestler John Cena's entrance music; specifically, the song samples Pete Schofield and The Canadians' rendition.

Chart performance[edit]

Vicki Lawrence version[edit]

Chart (1972–1973) Peak
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[edit]

Chart (1992) Peak
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[6] 7
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[7] 12

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1992) Position
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[8] 73

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–2001. Record Research. p. 142. 
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944–2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 196. 
  4. ^ Library and Archives Canada.
  5. ^ Library and Archives Canada.
  6. ^ "RPM Country Tracks." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. August 1, 1992. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  7. ^ "Reba McEntire Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Hot Country Songs for Reba McEntire.
  8. ^ "RPM Top 100 Country Tracks of 1992". RPM. December 19, 1992. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
Preceded by
"Killing Me Softly with His Song" by Roberta Flack
US Billboard Hot 100 number-one single (Vicki Lawrence version)
April 7, 1973 (two weeks)
Succeeded by
"Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando
Preceded by
"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)
Succeeded by
"The First Cut Is The Deepest" by Keith Hampshire