Girish Mahajan (Editor)

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia

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B-side  "Dime a Dance"
Format  7" single
Length  3:40
Released  February 1972
Genre  Country pop
Label  Bell

"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

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. 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, then pressed the label to release it as a single.

Release and reception

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. It scored number six on the Easy Listening chart, and it peaked at number 36 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart. 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. On the RPM Country Singles chart, it reached #25.

Musical structure

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.

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.

Tanya Tucker cover

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

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.

  • 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, 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 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).
  • References

    The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia Wikipedia