Certain Songs #500: Gladys Knight & The Pips – “Midnight Train to Georgia”

Gladys Knight Midnight Album: Imagination
Year: 1973

Has there ever been anything like this song? With the Pips providing counterpoint, commentary, observations and the greatest train noise in the history of popular music, “Midnight Train to Georgia” is an absolute tour de force of heartbreaking soul.

On top of that, not only did it hit the top of the charts in 1973 and won a Grammy, it’s aged tremendously well, to boot.

Sure, on one level, it’s the story of a woman uprooting her life to follow a man who has already failed at his life’s dream, and you wonder what kind of life they’re going to have in Georgia, and worry to boot.

But the way Gladys sings it, you can tell that this woman isn’t uprooting her life so much as choosing to make a new life with the man she loves, and the choice is hers and hers alone:

I’ll be with him
(I know you will)
On that midnight train to Georgia
(Leaving on a midnight train to Georgia)
(Woo! woo!)
I’d rather live in his world
(Live in his world)
Than live without him in mine
(Her world is his, his and hers alone)

If is was just the pause and build before the Pips executed that joyous and lovely Woo! Woo!, “Midnight Train to Georgia” would have earned it’s stripes, but it’s also the sheer romantic precision they sing

is his
his and hers alone

It’s utterly sublime, and the back half of the song, which features Gladys boarding the train with the Pips cheering her on and then insisting “I’ve got to go” over and over and over as the train
slowly leaves the station is one of the great fades in popular music history.

"Beats workin." Doonesbury on Gladys Knight and The Pips

And of course, this Doonesbury comic, which I’ve loved for over 40 years, because it seemed to capture the joy of being one of the Pips, even as it made fun or them.

“Midnight Train To Georgia” performed live in 1973.

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