This story of a woman exacting the ultimate revenge on a violent husband was written by Dennis Linde, who is best known for writing the 1972 Elvis Presley hit, "Burning Love
." Linde had written several songs that included a character by the name of "Earl," most notably, "The Queen Of My Double Wide Trailer" by Sammy Kershaw and this track was an effort to kill off the "Earl" character. Linde also played acoustic guitar on the Dixie Chicks recording of the tune.
The murder ballad was originally discovered by the country music band Sons of the Desert and they began to perform it in concert planning to record it on their second album for Epic Records. At the same time, the Dixie Chicks (who were signed to another Sony division Monument Records), claimed "Goodbye Earl" as their own. Their version was recorded on their 1999 album Fly, and released as a single the following year peaking at #19 on the Hot 100. Sons of the Desert then entered a dispute with Sony over the song resulting in the band's departure from the label.
According to the liner notes, the "iffy harmony" vocals on the song were performed by the "Do-Wrongs" comprising the song's two co-producers: Blake Chancey and Paul Worley plus Dixie Chicks multi-instrumentalist Emily Robison's then husband, singer-songwriter Charlie Robison.
The song stirred some controversy for its take on spousal abuse and was banned by several (male) radio programmers.
The music video for the song was directed by Evan Bernard. It starred comedy actress Jane Krakowski long before her successful run on 30 Rock, as the victim of domestic abuse and NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues actor Dennis Franz as Earl. Other familiar faces included lead singer Natalie Maines' actor husband Adrian Pasdar as a police officer, and Dumb and Dumber actress Lauren Holly as Mary Ann.
The clip won both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association Video of the Year Awards in 2000.
The record label wasn't bothered by the song's lighthearted take on murder; they were more concerned about the track "Sin Wagon," which has the girls engaging in "mattress dancing." Lead singer Natalie Maines told Entertainment Weekly: "They're scared to death about that song, and they won't talk about it in interviews. And our manager jokes, 'You can't say mattress dancing, but they love the song about premeditated first degree murder! This is okay?' So it's funny to us that mattress dancing is out and murder is in!"
Taylor Swift is a professed Dixie Chicks fan. During her Los Angeles stop on her 1989 World Tour, she revealed "Goodbye Earl" used to be he "go-to talent show song." The singer then invited Natalie Maines onstage to sing it with her.