The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia

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"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"
Ntlwoig.jpg
Single by Vicki Lawrence
from the album The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia
B-side"Dime a Dance"
Released27 November 1972[1]
Format7" single
Recorded1972
GenreCountry pop
Length3:40
LabelBell
Songwriter(s)Bobby Russell
Producer(s)Snuff Garrett
Vicki Lawrence singles chronology
"No, No"
(1970)
"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"
(1972)
"He Did With Me"
(1973)

"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" is a Southern Gothic song, of the murder ballad type, written and composed in 1972 by songwriter Bobby Russell and sung by Vicki Lawrence, an American pop music singer, actress, author, and comedienne. Lawrence's version, from her 1973 Bell Records album of the same name, was a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 after its release. In addition to several other renditions, the song was again a hit in 1991 when Reba McEntire recorded it for her album For My Broken Heart. McEntire's version was a chart single as well, reaching number 12 on Hot Country Songs.

Synopsis[edit]

Returning home from a two-week trip to a place called Candletop, a man, identified only as "Brother," stops for a drink at Webb's Bar before going home to his wife. While at the bar, he encounters his friend Andy, who informs him that while he was gone his wife has been having an affair with another man, "that Amos boy, Seth"; Andy then admits that he himself had been with her as well. Brother leaves the bar angry, and a frightened Andy makes his way home.

Assuming his wife had left town, Brother goes home to find the gun his father had left him and quietly makes his way through the woods to Andy's house. On the way there he notices a set of footprints leading up to and back from the house, but they are too small to have been made by Andy. Arriving at the back door, Brother panics when he finds Andy lying dead on the floor from a gunshot. To get the attention of the sheriff, Brother fires a shot in the air, but he himself is arrested for Andy's murder. In a show trial, the judge wastes little time declaring Brother guilty and sentences him to death by hanging, which is carried out in short order.

The story wraps up as the narrator reveals herself as "Little Sister" and confesses that it was she who had left the footprints that Brother had seen on his way to Andy's house, and that she had not only killed Andy with her own gun, but Brother's adulterous wife as well, disposing of the latter's body where Little Sister is certain no one will ever find it.

In the song's chorus, the Little Sister blames the local criminal justice system for her Brother's death, warning the listener, "Don't trust your soul to no backwoods Southern lawyer, 'cause the judge in the town's got blood stains on his hands."[2]

History and original recording[edit]

Although Bobby Russell both wrote the lyrics and composed the music for the song, he was reluctant to record even a demonstration because he "didn't like it." According to Lawrence, who was married to Russell at the time, she believed it was destined to be successful and recorded the demo herself. The publishers and the record label did not 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 it 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.[3] Without a singer to record the song, Lawrence went into a studio and recorded it professionally herself, with the instrumental backing of L.A. session musicians from the Wrecking Crew,[4] then pressed the label to release it as a single.

Release and reception[edit]

Released as a single in June of 1972, the song would ultimately, and surprisingly, become a number-one success for Lawrence, topping the Hot 100 chart in early 1973. Lawrence was, at the time, a regular performer on the ensemble variety comedy television show The Carol Burnett Show; on the final episode of the sixth season (March 24, 1973), Burnett surprised Lawrence by presenting her with an RIAA gold record for over a million copies sold. The song also scored number six on the Easy Listening chart,[5] and it peaked at number 36 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart.[6] It was number one for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, and was finally topped by Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree." Billboard ranked it as the No. 11 song for 1973.

In Canada, the single version scored number one, as well, topping the RPM 100 national singles chart on May 5 of the same year.[7] On the RPM Country Singles chart, it reached #25.[8]

Musical structure[edit]

The lyrics use an AABCCB rhyming pattern on the verses, and ABCB on the chorus. The song's verses are in C Dorian. Verse one consists of four lines, each using the chord pattern Cm-B/C-Cm-F/C-Cm-Gm7-Cm. At the chorus, the song modulates to the key of G major, with a chord pattern of Am-D7-G-Em used three times before ending on Am-D7-Gm.[9]

Verse two uses the same structure as verse one, with an additional two lines. The first additional lines also modulate to G major with a chord pattern of Am-D7-G-Em-Am-D-Gm, before returning to C Dorian for another repetition of the original chord pattern. After the second chorus, the third verse consists of only two lines before the chorus is sung a third time. The song then ends with a four-measure riff played in the key of G minor. The overall vocal range is G3-D5.[9]

Cover versions[edit]

"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"
Single by Reba McEntire
from the album For My Broken Heart
B-side"All Dressed Up"
ReleasedApril 1992
Format7" single
Recorded1991
GenreCountry
Length4:17
LabelMCA
Songwriter(s)Bobby Russell
Producer(s)Tony Brown, Reba McEntire
Reba McEntire singles chronology
"Is There Life Out There"
(1992)
"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"
(1992)
"The Greatest Man I Never Knew"
(1992)

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]

During 1991, the song was sung as a cover version by Reba McEntire on her album For My Broken Heart. It reached number 12 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. While still a commercially successful release, it broke a string of 24 consecutive top 10 country singles by McEntire.

The song also had a successful music video, directed by Jack Cole, wherein the older brother of the story is given the name "Raymond Brody;" 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 (played by Playboy centerfold/pin up model Barbara Moore) and was worried that a long, involved trial would cause this fact to become known. It also establishes that the little sister (played by McEntire, and portrayed both as a young woman in flashbacks and as a 60-year-old woman using heavy makeup) caught Andy in the act with her brother's wife and that the unfaithful woman also had an affair with the sister's own fiancé.

During a promotional tour for the song, Lawrence and McEntire performed the song as a duet on Lawrence's talk show Vicki! using the McEntire backing track.

In popular culture[edit]

  • For a 1986 Designing Women episode, main character Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) has one of her famous tirades, defending her beauty queen sister Suzanne against catty remarks made by a young woman, concluding with "And that, just so you will know, and your children will someday know, 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, the mobster named Nice Guy Eddie (played by Chris Penn) says, "...this is the first time I ever realized that the girl singin' the song is the one who shot Andy."
  • The opening motif is sampled in "The Time Is Now," which the American professional wrestler John Cena currently uses as his entrance music; specifically, the song samples Pete Schofield's and The Canadians's rendition.
  • In 2011, a book titled The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia was published. The book, written by Jeremy G. T. Reuschling, was casually based on the McEntire version of the song and the music video.
  • Melinda Schneider and Beccy Cole covered the song on their album Great Women of Country (2014).
  • Comedy group The Credibility Gap recorded a parody version, "The Night That The Lights Stayed On In Pittsburgh."

Chart performance[edit]

Reba McEntire version[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.45cat.com/record/45303us
  2. ^ Vicki Lawrence - The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia at MetroLyrics
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Hartman, Kent (2012). The Wrecking Crew. St. Martin’s Griffin. pp. 261–263. ISBN 978-1-250-03046-7.
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–2001. Record Research. p. 142.
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944–2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 196.
  7. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 2016-10-07.
  8. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 2016-10-07.
  9. ^ a b For My Broken Heart: Piano, Vocal, Guitar. Hal Leonard Corporation. 1992. pp. 25–31. ISBN 0-7935-1295-6.
  10. ^ "Vicki Lawrence Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  11. ^ "Vicki Lawrence Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  12. ^ "Vicki Lawrence Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  13. ^ Canada, Library and Archives (February 8, 2017). "Image : RPM Weekly".
  14. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1973/Top 100 Songs of 1973". Musicoutfitters.com. Retrieved 2016-10-07.
  15. ^ "Top RPM Country Tracks: Issue 2017." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. August 1, 1992. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  16. ^ "Reba McEntire Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  17. ^ "RPM Top 100 Country Tracks of 1992". RPM. December 19, 1992. Retrieved August 15, 2013.

External links[edit]