The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia by Vicki Lawrence (Bell, 1973)

I wonder what Vicki Lawrence was thinking in April 1973 about her life. Only six years before, she was a fan of the actress Carol Burnett and had a striking resemblance to her. Now here she was starring with Carol on a hit variety show, married to a successful songwriter, Bobby Russell, and had a #1 record. And all because her mom persuaded her to send Carol a fan letter and invite her to a beauty pageant she was in.

But after luck & timing occur, you must have the talent to keep it up. Vicki had plenty of that as well as drive and confidence. It made her want to record a demo of a throwaway song her husband wrote but didn’t much care for. Vicki recorded it on her own, so Russell could shop it around. Supposedly it was offered to Sonny Bono for Cher, but he turned it down, saying it was too offensive towards Southern people. But then he had Cher record Half Breed, so he could offend Native Americans instead. Nice move, Bono. Anyway, Vicki had recorded and released a few singles before without much fanfare, so she decided to go ahead and give this one a shot. The 45 went through the roof and hit #1 for 2 weeks, as well as crossing over to the Country charts. But that would be it for Vicki. A one-hit wonder she’ll remain.

The song itself is creepy as hell, its spookiness owing from Artie Butler’s arrangement and lyrics as well from the way Vicki sings those cryptic lyrics. And they lyrics may be cryptic because Russell never finished them or revised them which is why he didn’t think much of it anyway. Then Vicki records it, has a hit and Russell is pissed off. ‘You ruined my song, I wasn’t done..[sob, sob, sob]…I want a divorce”. and he got one, one year later.

Basically the story is: some guy, who we learn is the singer’s brother, comes home from a trip and finds out that his wife is banging everyone in town, including a Andy, a friend of his. Here’s how the news is broken to him: ‘Your wife is cheating on you with some guy named Seth. Hey, hey, calm down. I screwed her too’. I’m not sure why the guy doesn’t kick ass right there. I mean, they were in a bar. Maybe the guy gets mad like Napoleon Dynamite and just runs away with his arms at his side.

So Andy leaves to go to his house and the brother goes home to his house to get a gun and then go to Andy’s house to kill him. Does this make any sense so far? Also when he realizes his wife isn’t home, he thinks she’s left town. Why? She’s getting some from every willing Georgian that will abide. Why wouldn’t she be out cheating..again? Noticing a pair of tiny footprints coming & going [a plot point, we’ll revisit] he gets to Andy’s house and finds him dead. So Andy, who is mentioned as a dude with not many friends (guess his wife likes loners) is dead before he gets shot dead my the brother? And what is his reaction – fire shots in the air to get a sheriff’s attention. “Hey sheriff I found this guy dead who’s been screwing my wife. Don’t let this gun in my hand fool you. I didn’t kill him.” Is Russell alluding to the fact that Southerners are complete idiots, because none of this guy’s thought process makes any sense?

Ah but it gets even better and more convoluted. The sheriff decrees that the brother is guilty, skirts around the entire legal process and gets a judge to quickly sentence him to death, so he can get home and have supper. OK so while I’m sure shenanigans like this happened a lot, we’re going to pretend that the aforementioned details happened in the song. So why are we being told not to ‘trust some backwoods Southern lawyer’? When is the law or legal services mentioned or even offered to this guy? Maybe if he had a lawyer he’d still be alive to go kill someone else. I’d put my trust in anyone who was gonna keep me hanging from a noose, especially if the judge has ‘bloodstains on his hands’. Nice visual.

Which brings up another element to the story. We naturally assume because Vicki is singing a country pop song that the characters are white. Imagine for a second that they’re black. Quick to call guilty, unfair trial, lynching, deep South…just something to think about.

Anyway back to the song where we learn that the singer made those tiny footprints and she is the one who not only killed Andy but her cheating sister-in-law with a gun I assume she purchased rather than had willed to her by her papa. Somehow her brother gets picked up by the sheriff, sentenced by a judge and hung, before ‘little sister’ can let anyone know it was her. Oh really? So it was the swift hand of justice (or injustice in this case) that kept you from confession? I hate to get all Law & Order up in here, but the time line makes no sense.

Brother meets Andy in bar after being out of town for 2 weeks, finds out his wife is a whore. Andy goes home. Brother goes to his own house. Brother gets gun, goes to Andy’s house and he’s dead. So somewhere in the middle, his little sister goes to Andy’s house, kills home and comes back home before Brother goes back out. Remember he saw tracks he saw from Andy’s house AND back were little sister’s. Then he sees Andy dead, flags down and gets arrested by a sheriff, sentenced and killed himself…all in one night. Because as you will remember this all happened on the NIGHT the light went out in Georgia, not the week or month. Also this all happened before suppertime which is why the judge was hurrying home. So let’s say this happened on the first day of Winter. It get dark around 5pm. Let’s say the judge eats supper late , maybe 8pm. That’s a lot to cram in during a 3 hour span. Do you see what I’m saying?

Back to little sister, what was her motivation to kill those two anyway? And when did Brother’s slut wife get killed and disappear before anyone noticed? I wonder if little sister was seeing Andy. That was never alluding to, but could be a reason. All I know is that everyone in that family has got a hot temper. And to be fair, maybe brother’s wife is sleeping around because she’s lonely and feels neglected. After all he’s up in Candletop for 2 weeks, comes back in town and the first thing he does is have a drink at Webb’s rather than go home and see his ‘young bride’.

I could go on & on about what happened or didn’t happen, what makes sense and what doesn’t. That’s the appeal of this song. You can talk about for hours (if someone lets you) and people did back in 1973. They talked about it so much that it inspired a crappy movie of the same name in 1981 with Dennis Quaid & Kristy McNichol. I do find it interesting that this song was preceded at #1 by Killing Me Softly With His Song by succeeded by Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree. Guess lots of people were killing and hanging things off of trees in 1973.

But I think there’s one thing we can agree on: there has never been a statewide blackout in Georgia. Cause if there was, there would be a lot of judges with bloodstains on their hands. And there would be a show called Law & Order: Atlanta.