The Devil Went Down to Georgia

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"The Devil Went Down to Georgia"
Single by Charlie Daniels
from the album Million Mile Reflections
B-side "Rainbow Ride"
Released May 21, 1979
Genre Bluegrass, country, country rock
Length 3:34
Label Epic
Writer(s) Charlie Daniels
Tom Crain
"Taz" DiGregorio
Fred Edwards
Charles Hayward
James W. Marshall
Producer(s) John Boylan
Certification Platinum
Charlie Daniels singles chronology
"Trudy"
(1978)
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia"
(1979)
"Mississippi"
(1979)

"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" is a song written and performed by the Charlie Daniels Band and released on their 1979[1] album Million Mile Reflections.

The song is written in the key of D minor. Vassar Clements originally wrote the basic melody an octave lower, in a tune called "Lonesome Fiddle Blues" released on Clements' self-titled 1975 album on which Charlie Daniels played guitar. The Charlie Daniels Band moved it up an octave and put words to it. The song's verses are closer to being spoken rather than sung (i.e., recitation), and tell the story of a boy named Johnny, in a variant on the classic deal with the Devil. The performances of Satan and Johnny are played as instrumental bridges. The song was the band's biggest hit, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100.[2] It is featured in the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy, whose choreographer, Patsy Swayze, claims that she set the song's tempo. "How fast can you dance it?" Daniels asked. "How fast can you play it?" Swayze replied.

Content[edit]

The song is an uptempo bluegrass song about the Devil's failed attempt to "steal" a young man's soul through a fiddle-playing contest that involved enticing the young man's participation using a worldly prize. The song begins with a disappointed Devil arriving in Georgia, having stolen far fewer souls than expected, when he comes upon a fiddle-playing young man named Johnny. At that moment, Johnny happens to be playing his fiddle impressively "hot." Out of desperation, the Devil, who as it turns out also plays the fiddle, offers Johnny the wager which involves challenging the young man to a fiddle-playing contest. The Devil offers to give Johnny a golden fiddle if the young man plays better than he does; otherwise, the Devil will gain Johnny's soul. Although Johnny believes taking the Devil's bet might be a sin, he wagers his soul without fear, confidently boasting he is "the best that's ever been."

The Devil plays his fiddle first, to a contemporary, rock music theme with the backing of demon musicians. When the Devil's performance ends, Johnny compliments him and takes his own turn, making reference to four songs. Two are traditional songs of Appalachia -- "Fire on the Mountain" and "Granny Does Your Dog Bite?" (the latter traditionally known as "Granny Will Your Dog Bite?"). The third is an unnamed square dance melody that includes the patter, "Chicken in the bread pan pickin' out dough." The last is a traditional American southern folk song "The House of the Rising Sun." The four songs are not performed but are only mentioned by reference. The Devil is impressed, admits defeat, and lays a golden fiddle at Johnny's feet. Johnny repeats his claim to be the best player ever and dares the Devil to a rematch in the future.

Johnny's final boast, as originally recorded for the Million Mile Reflections album, goes "I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I'm the best that's ever been." To accommodate radio airplay (both Country and Top 40 formats), the 45 RPM single release overdubbed that portion of the lyric as "'Cause I told you once, you son of a gun, I'm the best that's ever been." (The uncensored album version appears on the soundtrack of the movie Urban Cowboy,[3] and it is this version that has been used on numerous music compilations since then.) Thus, Johnny maintains his virtue, keeping his soul from the Devil by displaying his musical virtuosity in performing traditional songs of America's South.

Musical references[edit]

The ballad's story is a derivative of the traditional deal with the Devil motif. Charlie Daniels has stated in interviews, "I don't know where it came from, but it just did. Well, I think I might know where it came from, it may have come from an old poem called 'The Mountain Whippoorwill' that Stephen Vincent Benét wrote many, many years ago (1925), that I had in high school. Either that or Jersey."[4]

Parodies and covers[edit]

Screenshot of Michelle Lambert's video in 2015
  • Pop singer and electric violinist Michelle Lambert recorded a version of the song in 2015, and released a music video. In her rendition "Johnny" is replaced by "Michelle".[7]
  • A capella group Home Free recorded a version of the song in collaboration with Taylor Davis and Charlie Daniels playing fiddle, released in September 2015. The narration is performed by Home Free bass singer Tim Foust.[8]

Chart performance[edit]

The original version of the song spent fourteen weeks on the Hot Country Singles charts in 1979, peaking at number 1 and holding the position for one week. It spent two weeks at a peak of number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.[9] The single was certified Platinum by the RIAA for sales of over two million copies in the United States.

Since it became available as download in the digital era, it has sold 2.231 million digital copies in the US as of April 2016.[10]

In June 1998, Epic Records re-released the song to country radio, but accidentally sent out the version in which the line "son of a bitch" was uncensored. This error was quickly corrected, and the song re-entered the country charts at number 62 for the chart dated June 20, 1998.[3] It spent seven weeks on the chart and peaked at number 60.[9]

Chart (1979) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report) 12
Canada Country Tracks (RPM) 1
Canada Top Singles (RPM) 5
Ireland (IRMA)[11] 14
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40) 25
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[12] 13
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company) 14
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 3
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 30
Chart (1998) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks 60

Sequel [edit]

A sequel to the song, titled "The Devil Comes Back to Georgia", was recorded by Daniels and fiddle player Mark O'Connor in 1993, featuring guest performances by Travis Tritt (as the devil), Marty Stuart (as Johnny) and Johnny Cash as the narrator. In the sequel, the now-adult Johnny is married and has a child. Hoping to take advantage of Johnny's sinful pride, the Devil challenges him to a rematch. The Devil snatches the Golden Fiddle from Johnny, and demands that he practice with his old fiddle to play against him.

The ending does not state the victor outright, though the music video suggests Johnny won, as does the line "Johnny's still the best that's ever been". In addition, Daniels objected to the Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock version of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" (which replaced the violin parts with guitar parts, both played by Steve Ouimette and Ed DeGenaro) on the grounds that the devil often wins the contest, which he referred to as "violating the very essence of the song".[13]

The song can be found on Mark O'Connor's album, Heroes.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Million Mile Reflections." Allmusic.
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel: "The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits", p. 92, ISBN 0-8230-7518-4
  3. ^ a b Jessen, Wade (20 June 1998). "Country Corner". Billboard 110 (25): 34. 
  4. ^ "www.songfacts.com/int/2007/05/charlie-daniels.html". 
  5. ^ https://www.discogs.com/Levellers-One-Way/release/1123598
  6. ^ Primus' discography on LesClaypool.com (consulted on 04/03/2014)
  7. ^ "The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Michelle Lambert (Official Video)". 25 July 2015. 
  8. ^ "The Devil Went Down To Georgia". 19 September 2015. 
  9. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 114. ISBN 0-89820-177-2. 
  10. ^ Bjorke, Matt (April 4, 2016). "The Top 30 Digital Country Singles: April 4, 2016". Roughstock. 
  11. ^ "Irish Singles Chart – Search for song". Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Charts.org.nz – {{{artist}}} – The Devil Went Down to Georgia". Top 40 Singles.
  13. ^ "2008 Soapbox Archives". 
Preceded by
"Coca-Cola Cowboy"
by Mel Tillis
Billboard Hot Country Singles
number-one single

August 25, 1979
Succeeded by
"Heartbreak Hotel"
by Willie Nelson and Leon Russell
Preceded by
"Suspicions"
by Eddie Rabbitt
RPM Country Tracks
number-one single

September 8-September 15, 1979
Succeeded by
"'Til I Can Make It on My Own"
by Kenny Rogers and Dottie West