“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 theme of the song is how romantic love can conquer differences in background. The boyfriend of the song’s narrator is a failed musician who left his native Georgia to move to Los Angeles to become a “superstar, but he didn’t get far”. He decides to give up, and “go back to the life he once knew.” Even though she is settled and secure in herself, the narrator decides to move to Georgia with him:
“And I’ll be with him
On that midnight train to Georgia
I’d rather live in his world
Than live without him in mine.”
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 on 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 an interview with Gary James, stated that the phone conversation was with Farrah Fawcett and he used Fawcett and his friend Lee Majors, whom she had just started dating, “as kind of like characters.”
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 another week, thus attaining two weeks at number one. 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.
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 or music, but then fail to realize that dream and plunge into despair.
In 1999, “Midnight Train to Georgia” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It currently ranks #432 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.