First Hit #1: April 7, 1973
The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia puts a lot of groundwork into three minutes. We’ve got corrupt law enforcement, cheating wives, angry sisters and murder. Each verse piles on a twist, the music itself gives a slightly eerie sound to the proceedings to keep tone, and it tells a fairly complete tale in not much time. It’s not perfect, there’s something suspicious about the actions of several characters that’s not quite fully explored – why the quick trial and execution, it seems like an odd thing to rush unmotivated, why didn’t the sister finish the job on the second hit like she did on the first (after all, the wife has one body that will never be found, so she’s clearly attempting to hide bodies at one point). Then again, it’s three and a half minutes, that you can sketch out several characters and their motivations in that time is impressive in and of itself, especially considering how twisty the narrative is. It’s a rare thing, a pop song that deserves to be expanded outward and further explored.
It should be noted that the video for Reba McEntire’s cover of the song actually does answer these questions – brother pleads guilty to protect sister, judge also porking wife – but it’s actually not a completely satisfactory explanation for the questions, particularly since the former contradicts some of the content: The sister declares that her brother didn’t know and she never had a chance to tell him within the song, but the video has them meet at the scene of the crime.