And she was a huge success. Remember the song The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia? It went gold 48 years ago this month. Carol Burnett presented Lawrence with a gold record designation on her variety show in March 1973.
The song was quasi country and pop. Lawrence, who still was working on The Carol Burnett Show, released the song in November 1972.
And the song certainly wasn’t a happy one. Rather, it was dark. A man identified only as “Brother” learns his wife is having an affair with two men, including his friend, Andy. Brother goes home to confront his wife, only to see Andy dead on the floor and his wife nowhere in sight. Police arrest Brother.
He’s sentenced to death by hanging. After Brother is executed, the song’s narrator is outed as Little Sister. And she killed Andy and her sister-in-law. She buried the sister-in-law’s body where no one could find it.
And Lawrence sings: “Don’t trust your soul to no backwoods Southern lawyer, ’cause the judge in the town’s got blood stains on his hands.”
Listen to the song and stick with us on the other side. We’ll give you some more details, including what country stars covered the song after Lawrence recorded it.
In 1972, when Lawrence released the song, she was a 23-year-old in the middle of her stint with The Carol Burnett Show. She and Burnett were the only cast members who were in every episode during the show’s run from 1967 through 1978.
Lawrence also fancied herself as a recording artist. She had just married country songwriter Bobby Russell. He wrote The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. And he didn’t particularly like the song. It was offered to Cher, but her husband, Sonny Bono, declined it.
So Lawrence recorded a demo and decided to release it herself. It zoomed to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
By 1981, three years after The Carol Burnett Show ended, Lawrence’s song inspired a movie by the same name. However, the plot was changed significantly. The movie starred Dennis Quaid, Mark Hamill and Kristi McNichol. Tanya Tucker recorded a cover of the song for the movie’s soundtrack.
Then, a decade later country queen Reba McEntire recorded the cover. She tweaked the lyrics and her music video gave us some answers. For one, the judge probably also was having an affair with Brother’s wife. He worried that a long trial would reveal his indiscretion.
The judge also knew Brother was innocent. The little sister, played by McEntire in the video, did kill Andy and Brother’s wife. But there was more to the story. It seems that Brother’s wife slept with Little Sister’s fiancee. So much drama.
Reba’s version hit No. 12 on the country charts. Until then, she enjoyed an incredible string of 24 straight singles hitting the top 10.
Vicki Lawrence, after The Carol Burnett Show ended, starred in her own series. That was Mama’s Family. The show was based on a character Lawrence played on the Burnett show.
She released three albums in the 1970s, but never came close to the success of The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. So call Vicki Lawrence a one-hit wonder, albeit one who did terrific comedy.