The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia

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"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"
Released1972
Format7" single
GenreCountry pop
Length3:40
LabelBell
Writer(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)
 
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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"
Released1972
Format7" single
GenreCountry pop
Length3:40
LabelBell
Writer(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 written by songwriter Bobby Russell and performed during 1972 by his then-wife Vicki Lawrence. Reba McEntire later covered it during 1991.

Recorded during late October 1972 in United/Western Studios on Sunset in Hollywood and released less than two weeks later during November 1972, the song concerns mainly the older brother of the narrator, convicted falsely of and executed for a murder, which, as revealed by the final verse, the narrator herself committed to avenge her brother's honor.

Lyrical story[edit]

A young woman tells the story of her older brother, who returns home after a two-week trip from a place called Candletop. The brother meets his best friend, Andy Wolloe, at Webb's Bar, and Andy informs the brother that his young wife has been affiliating with another man in town, Seth Amos. Andy then reveals that he, too, has "been with" his friend's wife. The brother is angered, which scares Andy, who leaves and walks home. The brother goes home; his wife is absent and he assumes she left town, gets his gun, and walks through a wooded area to Andy's home. When the brother arrives at Andy's house, he finds tracks outside ("tracks that were too small for Andy to make") and discovers that someone has already killed Andy. The brother, in a moment of panic, shoots his gun in the air to summon police nearby. When a sheriff approaches the scene, he seizes the gun and immediately accuses the brother of murder. A judge convicts the brother after a brief and apparently unfair trial, and the brother is hung that same night, effectively lynching him. The phrase "the night the lights went out in Georgia" refers to the idea that the "light" of justice was extinguished that night as an innocent person was killed by law.

In the final verse, the singer then reveals that she was the one who killed Andy and that she had also previously killed her promiscuous sister-in-law and disposed of her body ("one body that'll never be found"), and that her brother was lynched before there was a chance for her to tell anyone the truth.

The song relates that the judge is just as corrupt as the sheriff ("...the judge in the town's got bloodstains on his hands"), as well as heartless, when rendering the guilty verdict: slapped the sheriff on the back with a smile, said "Supper's waiting at home and I gotta get to it" (The 1991 music video for the Reba McEntire version suggests that the judge was also having sex with the wife and wouldn't listen to the truth to protect himself).

The song is in the key of C minor, with an approximate tempo of 86 beats per minute and a main chord pattern of Cm-B/C-Cm-F/C-Cm-Gm7-Cm on the verses. In the chorus, the song modulates to G major, using a pattern of Am-D-G-Em three times followed by Am-D-Gm. The vocals range from G3 to D5.[1]

Reception[edit]

Originally, Bobby Russell did not want to even record a demonstration for the song because he didn't like it. Vicki Lawrence, his wife at the time, discussed the history of the song on her talk show during the 1990s when Reba McEntire was a guest on her show. According to Lawrence, she believed it was destined to be successful and recorded the demo herself. The publisher didn't quite know how to pitch the song. The first thought was to offer the song to Liza Minnelli. However, the song was first offered to Cher, but her then-husband and manager Sonny Bono reportedly refused it (he was said to be concerned that the song might offend Cher's southern fans).[2]

Without a singer to record the song, Vicki Lawrence went into a studio and recorded it herself. It became a number-one success for Lawrence (who was then a regular actress for The Carol Burnett Show) on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, and scored number six on the Easy Listening chart.[3] "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" also maximized at number thirty-six on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart.[4] The song was number one for two weeks on the Hot 100, succeeded by Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree". In Canada the single version scored number one as well, topping the RPM 100 national singles chart on May 5 of the same year.[5] On the RPM Country Singles chart, it reached #25 the next June 23.[6]

Tanya Tucker cover[edit]

During 1981, Tanya Tucker recorded a different version (on an album of the same name) used later as the basis for the 1981 movie The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. Her altered lyrics were used as the basis for the plot line of the movie, which is not the same as the story of the original song.

Reba McEntire cover[edit]

"The Nights 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
Length4:11
LabelMCA
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)

During 1991, the song was sung as a cover version by Reba McEntire on her album For My Broken Heart. It scored #12 on Billboard magazine's Hot Country Songs chart; the song also had a successful music video, wherein the older brother of the story is given the name "Raymond"; 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 an affair with the victim, and was worried that a long, involved trial would cause this fact to become known.

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 was the night the lights went out in Georgia!"

During 2011 a book was released titled "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia," authored by Jeremy GT Reuschling and is based casually on the song and video by Reba McEntire.

Chart performance[edit]

Vicki Lawrence version[edit]

Chart (1972-1973)Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot 1001
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks6
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks36
Canadian RPM Top Singles1
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary2
Canadian RPM Country Tracks25

Reba McEntire version[edit]

Chart (1992)Peak
position
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[7]7
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[8]12

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1992)Position
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[9]73

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia". MusicNotes.com. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  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. ^ Library and Archives Canada. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/rpm/028020-119.01-e.php?brws_s=1&file_num=nlc008388.4812&type=1&interval=24&PHPSESSID=021sd7foarphlu4vp8jgv84nr0
  6. ^ Library and Archives Canada. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/rpm/028020-119.01-e.php?brws_s=1&file_num=nlc008388.4837&type=1&interval=24&PHPSESSID=021sd7foarphlu4vp8jgv84nr0
  7. ^ "RPM Country Tracks." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. August 1, 1992. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  8. ^ "Reba McEntire Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Hot Country Songs for Reba McEntire.
  9. ^ "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