Midnight Train to Georgia
"Midnight Train to Georgia" is a 1973 number-one hit single by Gladys Knight & the Pips, their second release after departing Motown Records for Buddah Records. Written by Jim Weatherly, and included on the Pips' 1973 LP Imagination, "Midnight Train to Georgia" won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus and has become Knight's signature song.
The song was originally written and performed by Jim Weatherly under the title "Midnight Plane to Houston," which he recorded on Jimmy Bowen's Amos Records. "It was based on a conversation I had with somebody... about taking a midnight plane to Houston," Weatherly recalls. "I wrote it as a kind of a country song. Then we sent the song to a guy named Sonny Limbo in Atlanta and he wanted to cut it with Cissy Houston... he asked if I minded if he changed the title to "Midnight Train to Georgia". And I said, 'I don't mind. Just don't change the rest of the song.'"
Weatherly, in a later interview with Gary James, stated that the phone conversation in question had been with Farrah Fawcett, and he used Fawcett and his friend Lee Majors, whom she had just started dating, "as kind of like characters." Weatherly, at a program in Nashville, said he had been the quarterback at the University of Mississippi, and the NFL didn't work out for him, so he was in Los Angeles trying to write songs. He was in a rec football league with Lee Majors and called Majors one night. Farrah Fawcett answered the phone and he asked what she was doing. She said she was "taking the midnight plane to Houston" to visit her family. He thought that was a catchy phrase for a song, and in writing the song, wondered why someone would leave L.A. on the midnight plane – which brought the idea of a "superstar, but he didn't get far".
Gospel/soul singer Cissy Houston recorded the song as "Midnite Train to Georgia" (spelled "Midnight ..." on the UK single) released in 1973. Her version can also be found on her albums Midnight Train to Georgia: The Janus Years (1995), and the reissue of her 1970 debut album, Presenting Cissy Houston originally released on Janus Records.
Weatherly's publisher forwarded the song to Gladys Knight and the Pips, who followed Houston's lead and kept the title "Midnight Train to Georgia." The single debuted on the Hot 100 at number 71 and became the group's first number-one hit eight weeks later when it jumped from number 5 to number 1 on October 27, 1973, replacing "Angie" by the Rolling Stones. It remained in the top position for two weeks. It was replaced by "Keep On Truckin' (Part 1)" by Eddie Kendricks. It also reached number one on the soul singles chart, their fifth on that chart. On the UK Singles Chart, it peaked at number ten on June 5, 1976.
In her autobiography, Between Each Line of Pain and Glory, Gladys Knight wrote that she hoped the song was a comfort to the many thousands who come each year from elsewhere to Los Angeles to realize the dream of being in motion pictures, television or music, but then fail to realize that dream and plunge into despair.
Appearance in other media
Garry Trudeau did a Sunday color Doonesbury comic strip featuring this song, though Georgia was changed to the ignominious "Cranston" in Rhode Island, and an unnamed song/dance group; it was published on July 28, 1974. It has been informally referred to as the "Beats Working" strip.
- Lead vocals by Gladys Knight
- Background vocals by Merald "Bubba" Knight, Eddie Patten, and William Guest
- Written by Jim Weatherly
- Produced and arranged by Tony Camillo
- Co-produced by Gladys Knight, Merald "Bubba" Knight, Eddie Patten, and William Guest
Initial track recorded at Venture Sound Studios, Hillsborough, New Jersey, 1973:
- Drums: Andrew Smith
- Bass: Bob Babbitt
- Guitar: Jeff Mironov (playing a 1955 Fender Stratocaster)
- Electric piano: Tony Camillo
Overdubs recorded at Venture Sound Studios:
- Acoustic piano: Barry Miles
- Hammond organ: Tony Camillo
- Percussion: Tony Camillo
- Violin: Norman Carr
- Cello: Jesse Levy
- Trumpet: Randy Brecker
- Saxophone: Michael Brecker
- Trombone: Meco Monardo
- Vocals were recorded at Artie Fields Studio in Detroit. Gladys Knight recorded her lead vocals in a single take. She later recorded a punch-in of a single line in New York City.
- Recorded and mixed by Ed Stasium