Bright Lights, Big City (song)

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"Bright Lights, Big City"
Single by Jimmy Reed
from the album Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall
B-side"I'm Mr. Luck"
ReleasedAugust 1961 (1961-08)
Format7" 45 rpm record
RecordedChicago, 1961
Songwriter(s)Jimmy Reed
Jimmy Reed singles chronology
"Big Boss Man"
"Bright Lights, Big City"
"Baby, What's Wrong"

"Bright Lights, Big City" is a classic blues song[1] which was written and first recorded by American bluesman Jimmy Reed[2] in 1961. Besides being "an integral part of the standard blues repertoire",[3] "Bright Lights, Big City" has appealed to a variety of artists, including country and rock musicians, who have recorded their interpretations of the song.

Original song[edit]

Called a "textbook Jimmy and Mama Reed duet",[4] "Bright Lights, Big City" was a collaborative writing effort between Reed and his wife, Mary "Mama" Reed. It is a cautionary tale about urban life, with the narrator lamenting the loss of his wife or girlfriend to the nightlife and enticement of an unnamed city:

Bright lights big city, gone to my baby's head
I'd tried to tell the woman, but she don't believe a word I said ...[2]
It's all right pretty baby, gonna need my help some day
You're gonna wish you had a listen, to some of those things I said

The song has a traditional twelve-bar blues form in Reed's signature "steady-rolling style".[5] It was recorded in Chicago in 1961 with Jimmy Reed (vocal and harmonica), Mama Reed (vocal), Jimmy Reed, Jr. (guitar), Lefty Bates (guitar), Earl Phillips (drums), and an unidentified bassist. The song was one of Reed's most popular songs and reached number three in the Billboard R&B chart as well as number fifty-eight in the pop Hot 100.[6] "Bright Lights, Big City" was included on the album Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall and appears on many Reed compilations.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1961) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs[7] 3
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[7] 58

Sonny James version[edit]

"Bright Lights, Big City"
Single by Sonny James
from the album The Sensational Sonny James
B-side"True Love Lasts Forever"
Released1971 (1971)
Format7" 45 rpm record
LabelCapitol (3114)
Songwriter(s)Jimmy Reed
Sonny James singles chronology
"Empty Arms"
"Bright Lights, Big City"
"Here Comes Honey Again"

American country music singer Sonny James recorded "Bright Lights, Big City" in 1971. An early review included: "Jimmy Reed's blues number serves as strong material for the Southern Gentleman both vocally and for some exceptional guitar work".[8] The song was James' fifteenth number-one hit in a row in the country chart as well as reaching number ninety-one in the pop chart.[9] The song is included on James' 1971 album The Sensational Sonny James and several of his compilation albums.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1971) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles[10] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[10] 91
Canadian RPM Country Tracks[11] 4

Recognition and legacy[edit]

Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City" is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll".[12] A variety of artists have performed and/or recorded the song, some examples including:[13] The Animals, Bob Dylan, The Black Crowes, Half Japanese, Them, Johnny Winter, Neil Young, Van Halen, Reeves Gabrels and Gary Clark, Jr.


  1. ^ Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). "Bright Lights, Big City". Encyclopedia of the Blues. University of Arkansas Press. p. 290. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
  2. ^ a b Jimmy Reed interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  3. ^ Koda, Cub (1996). Erlewine, Michael, ed. All Music Guide to the Blues. Miller Freeman Books. p. 221. ISBN 0-87930-424-3.
  4. ^ Koda, Cub (2000). The Very Best of Jimmy Reed (CD notes). Jimmy Reed. Rhino Records. R2 79802.
  5. ^ Shadwick, Keith (2001). "Jimmy Reed". The Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues. Oceana. p. 379. ISBN 978-0-681-08644-9.
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 488.
  7. ^ a b "Jimmy Reed - Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  8. ^ "Top 20 Country". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 83 (22): 66. May 29, 1971. ISSN 0006-2510.
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944–2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 172.
  10. ^ a b "Sonny James – Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  11. ^ "RPM Country Tracks for August 21, 1971". RPM. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  12. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". Exhibit Highlights. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 1995. Archived from the original on 2007-05-02. Retrieved June 4, 2013.
  13. ^ "Bright Lights, Big City – Song Search Results". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved June 4, 2013.