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 February 1972
Format 7" single
Genre Country pop
Length 3:40
Label Bell
Writer(s) Bobby Russell
Producer(s) Snuff Garrett
Certification Gold (RIAA)
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 Vicki Lawrence, an American singer, actress, and comedian. 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 single, as well, reaching number 12 on Hot Country Songs. Comedy group The Credibility Gap recorded a parody version, "The Night That The Lights Stayed On In Pittsburgh".

History and original recording[edit]

Although Bobby Russell wrote both the lyrics and 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.[1] 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,[2] then pressed the label to release it as a single.

Release and reception[edit]

Released as a single in June 1972, the song would ultimately 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 U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, it scored number six on the Easy Listening chart,[3] and it peaked at number 36 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart.[4] 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.[5]

In Canada, the single version scored number one, as well, topping the RPM 100 national singles chart on May 5 of the same year.[6] On the RPM Country Singles chart, it reached #25.[7]

Lyrical explanation[edit]

After two weeks out of town at a place called Candletop, an unnamed man (identified later as the singer's brother) returns home, stopping at Webb's Bar. At the bar he encounters Andy Wolloe, his best friend. Andy confronts the man with bad news: his wife is not at home and has been unfaithful in his absence, having affairs with both Andy and another man, "that Amos boy, Seth." (Amos does not factor into the rest of the song.)

Fearing his now-former friend's fury, Andy, described as a loner, heads for home. Shortly after, "Brother" also returns to his home; with his wife still absent, he grabs "the only thing Papa had left him, and that was a gun" and makes his way toward Andy's house. When he arrives, he sees two things: a set of footprints that could not have possibly been Andy's because they were too small, and Andy's dead body "in a puddle of blood." A shocked "Brother" fires his gun into the air to catch the attention of the Georgia State Patrol, only to realize too late that a scene with his former best friend dead, an audible gunshot, and him holding a gun (along with having a motive for the killing) made him look like the prime suspect—the arresting officer immediately assumes his guilt. The resulting show trial is swift, and Brother only has a "backwoods southern lawyer" to aid in his defense; the judge (who is friendly with the sheriff) finds Brother guilty, and Brother is hanged before the judge heads home to eat dinner.

In the closing verse, the singer reveals that she is the executed man's little sister, and that not only did she shoot and kill Andy (and thus the footprints her brother saw at Andy's house were hers), but she also killed the unfaithful wife and disposed of the body in a place it would "never be found."

The lyrics contain an anachronism, Georgia abolished hanging as a form of execution by 1931, which predates the formation of the Georgia State Patrol by six years

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; i.e., a C minor scale with the sixth tone raised by a semitone. 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. (This is true of the Reba McEntire version; Lawrence's original is a whole step lower, alternating between B Dorian and F major.)[8]

Verse two uses the same structure as verse one, with an additional two lines. The first additional lines also modulates 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.[8]

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 Night 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 4:17
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 reached number 12 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. While still a commercially successful release, this broke a string of 24 consecutive top 10 country singles by McEntire.

The song also had a successful music video, 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.

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, 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, 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."
  • 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.
  • In 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.

Chart performance[edit]

Reba McEntire version[edit]

Chart (1992) Peak
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[13] 7
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[14] 12

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1992) Position
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[15] 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. ^ Hartman, Kent (2012). The Wrecking Crew. St. Martin’s Griffin. pp. 261–263. ISBN 978-1-250-03046-7. 
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–2001. Record Research. p. 142. 
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944–2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 196. 
  5. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1973
  6. ^ Library and Archives Canada.
  7. ^ Library and Archives Canada.
  8. ^ a b For My Broken Heart: Piano, Vocal, Guitar. Hal Leonard Corporation. 1992. pp. 25–€“31. ISBN 0-7935-1295-6.  C1 control character in |pages= at position 4 (help)
  9. ^ "Vicki Lawrence – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for Vicki Lawrence.
  10. ^ "Vicki Lawrence – Chart history" Billboard Adult Contemporary for Vicki Lawrence.
  11. ^ "Vicki Lawrence – Chart history" Billboard Hot Country Songs for Vicki Lawrence.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Top RPM Country Tracks: Issue 2017." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. August 1, 1992. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  14. ^ "Reba McEntire – Chart history" Billboard Hot Country Songs for Reba McEntire.
  15. ^ "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