Saturday, July 12, 2014

Celebrity Rock: The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia (1972)

Songwriter Bobby Russell had tried to pitch "The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia" to Liza Minelli, then Cher, but was turned down both times. Cher's then-husband, Sonny Bono, felt the tawdry tale of infidelity and murder in the South might offend the duo's fan base in that part of the country. No one's really sure why Liza turned it down, but then, perhaps, it was for the best, because Russell didn't have to look far to find the right artist for the job.

Russell was, at the time, married to comedienne-actress Vicki Lawrence (The Carol Burnett Show), who went in the studio herself to record "Night", and came out of it with a #1 hit. "Night" topped the Hot 100 and peaked at #6 on the Easy Listening (now Adult Contemporary) chart, and hit #1 in Canada as well.

I actually had a copy of the LP once upon a time, acquired at a flea market several years ago, and it also included covers of "Little Green Apples" & "Killing Me Softly (With His Song)". Small wonder that it went gold, and likely also platinum.

Anyway, Vicki appeared on Dick Clark's short-lived ABC series, Action, a follow-up to the late 60's series, Where the Action Is, to perform "Night" against a backdrop of teenagers playing and grooving on the beach.

"Night" inspired a 1981 film by the same name, but it's a different story than the one we're familiar with. Tanya Tucker sang the title song, which had new lyrics to go along with the movie's plot.

A decade later, Reba McIntire recorded a cover of the original "Night", and expanded on the original tale. The song plays in the background as Reba plays the narrator, now older, confessing to a newspaper reporter.

When Lawrence was hosting her self-titled daytime talk show, Reba was a guest, and the two performed a duet version. Some of the lyrics were messed up, but it's still fun.

One wonders if any of today's country belles (i.e. Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood) would take a crack at this.


magicdog said...

I used to hear this on classic country stations from time to time. I was shocked when I learned Vicki Lawrence was the original singer! Who would have thought "Mamma" had it in her?

I remember the 1981 film - but never got around to seeing it. Sounds like I wasn't missing much.

I would love to hear one of the current country queens (or princesses) give this tune a whirl.

hobbyfan said...

That's two votes in that direction. Considering that Vickie was in her early-to-mid-20's when she recorded "Lights", I'd say this would be something for either Carrie or T-Swizzle to try.