When Reba McEntire had a chance to start recording songs she always wanted, she made choices that some people thought were risky. And one of those choices was a song about a double murder which Vicki Lawrence originally sang.
‘The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia’ is a song about a double homicide
McEntire’s hit “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” is a song about deception and murder. It tells the story of a husband who finds out his wife has been unfaithful to him with one of his close friends, among others. As that man later approaches the home of his friend for a confrontation, he finds that someone has killed him.
The authorities approach, and he looks guilty, so a judgment is made. In the end, the song’s narrator, the husband’s sister, confesses to the murder — and another. “And his cheating wife had never left town / That’s one body that’ll never be found,” she admits.
In the chorus, she sings, “That’s the night that the lights went out in Georgia / That’s the night that they hung an innocent man / Don’t trust your soul to no backwoods southern lawyer / ‘Cause the judge in the town has bloodstains on his hands.”
The subject matter is dark, but several artists recorded the song after Lawrence. Still, the “Fancy” singer managed to make it her kind of special.
Reba McEntire covered ‘The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia’ after Vicki Lawrence recorded it
McEntire told Bobby Bones how her cover of “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” came to be. It started in 1971 when Lawrence, who later played Thelma “Mama” Harper on Mama’s Family, first recorded the song. Her husband at the time, Bobby Russell, wrote it and pitched it to different artists like Liza Minelli and Cher.
Some stars were hesitant to take it because they thought they might upset fans. Some southern people might be offended by the language, and other listeners might be disturbed by a song about murder.
No one else grabbed it. So, Lawrence recorded the song and it ended up being her one and only Billboard hit. And McEntire loved it so much that she decided to put her Oklahoma twang on it 20 years later on her album For My Broken Heart.
Notably, both artists found success with the song — Lawrence in 1972 and McEntire in 1992.
Is ‘The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia’ based on a true story?
Many fans wonder if the song’s story is true since it’s so involved and the characters seem real. But the tune wasn’t based on one factual set of events, though it did inspire a movie starring Dennis Quaid and Mark Hamill.
However, the plot of that film was only loosely based on the song and didn’t follow the story. For instance, the sister in the movie falls in love with a police officer.