3 Things You Didn’t Know About “Midnight Train to Georgia”

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Midnight Train to Georgia album cover

By Randal C. Hill 

For superstar Gladys Knight, recording “Midnight Train to Georgia” was probably like singing poignant lines from a diary. She once said, “I was going through the exact same thing that I was [singing] about when recording, which is probably why it sounds so personal.”  

It all came about when Mississippi-born singer-songwriter Jim Weatherly moved to Los Angeles to try his luck in the recording industry. One evening in 1970, he phoned Lee Majors, an actor friend who had just started dating model Farrah Fawcett. “Lee and I were in a flag football league together,” Weatherly recalled. “Farrah answered the phone. She said Lee wasn’t home and that she was packing to take a midnight plane to Houston to visit her folks. I thought, ‘What a great idea for a song’.” 

After Jim hung up the phone, he grabbed his guitar and created “Midnight Plane to Houston” in 45 minutes.

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It was shown to gospel icon Cissy Houston—Whitney’s mother. “I loved it right away,” Houston said. “But I wanted to change the title. My people are from Georgia, and they didn’t take planes to Houston (or anywhere else). They took trains. We recorded ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ in Memphis in 1972, but my label didn’t do much to promote it.” 

Weatherly’s song was then passed on to Gladys Knight, another Georgia native. Knight said, “I listened to Cissy’s version and I loved it, but I wanted to do something moody—horns, keyboards and other instruments to create texture and spark something in me.” Knight then recorded her signature song, which told of a man relinquishing his dreams of Hollywood stardom to return home, with the love of his life choosing to follow him: 

L. A. proved too much for the man // He’s leaving the life he’s come to know 

He said he’s going back to find what’s left of his world // The world he left behind not so long ago 

He’s leaving on that midnight train to Georgia 

“While recording that single, I was thinking about my own situation,” Knight admitted later when discussing her chart-topping, Grammy-winning smash hit on Buddha Records. “My husband at the time was unhappy that we didn’t have a more traditional marriage because I was often on the road or recording. Ultimately, it all proved too much for him, like the song said.” 

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