Southern Nights

Album: Southern Nights (1977)
Charted: 28 1
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  • This was written and originally recorded by Allen Toussaint on his 1975 album Southern Nights. In our interview with Toussaint, he explained that it was the last song he recorded for the album, and it came in a flash. "While I was finishing the album Van Dyke Parks visited me in the studio," said Allen. "He was a wonderful guy, a genius of a guy. He said, 'Well, consider that you were going to die in two weeks. If you knew that, what would you think you would like to have done?' And after he said that, I wrote 'Southern Nights' as soon as he left."
  • Glen Campbell chose to record this song because it reminded him of his rural childhood in Arkansas, and his arrangement became a huge hit. Said Campbell, "My dad told me when I was a kid, 'You're having the best time of your life, and you don't even know it.' Sure enough, he was right. Now I really feel the need to go back home, float down the Missouri River, and fish for bass and crappies. It's real peaceful, and remote from things like telephones. My head is still there." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Nick - Wexford, PA
  • A very personal song for Toussaint, he wrote it about the idyllic evenings growing up in Louisiana when he would travel into the country an visit with the older folks. "They were people from our ancestors, and we loved them a lot," he said. "This song was written about them."
  • Of the hundreds of songs Toussaint has written, this is the one that he feels defines his extraordinary career. "I really felt highly, highly inspired and very spiritual doing that song," he told us. "It's the only one I felt that much about. Some others have been inspired highly, but not as high as that one."

    Some of Toussaint's other accomplishments include producing "Lady Marmalade" for Labelle and writing/producing Lee Dorsey's hits, including "Working in the Coal Mine."
  • Glen Campbell's version of this song added full instrumentation, but Toussaint's original has just two instruments: a Fender Rhodes electric piano, and an ashtray. Toussaint played the piano, and Tony Owens played the ashtray to make the tinking percussive sound. He kept it spare because he didn't think of it as a commercial recording, just a personal song he wanted to share.

    When Campbell recorded the song, Allen was surprised that somebody heard hit potential in the song. He told us: "I love Glen's version. I had never thought of it as an uptempo and mainstream song before. I first heard it on the radio and I was delighted. It was so good to hear it like that, because I just hadn't imagined that someone would listen closely enough to it to want to cover such a thing."
  • Jimmy Webb, who wrote Campbell's hits "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Wichita Lineman," told us how Campbell literally took his record and went off to record this song. Said Webb: "Glen was very, very good at arranging things for Top 40 radio. He came over to my house one time and spent some time there, and I remember I was playing an Allen Toussaint record. I liked this record, it had a real lowdown kind of delta feeling, great piano, syncopated piano chops and interesting songs on it. I was playing along, and he said, 'What was that song?' I said, 'Southern Nights.' And he said, 'Is that your record?' And I said, 'Yes.' And he said, 'Well, can I have it?' And I said, 'You mean you want my record?' (laughing) And he said, 'Yeah.' So I said, Yeah, you could have it. And he was gone, man. He had my record and it was like one of those animated cartoons, the roadrunner - *pooow* He was gone. And he worked out that (singing) 'do do do.' That record, I mean, within four weeks that record was on the air. He worked at a frightening pace once he got going."

    Webb adds that Campbell never did return the record, but he doesn't mind. Here's the full Jimmy Webb interview.
  • This wasn't the first song written and recorded by Allen Toussaint to become a huge hit for another artist. In 1963, Al Hirt recorded Toussaint's 1958 composition "Java," taking it to #4 in the US.
  • This is part of the Awesome Mix, Vol. 2 that Chris Pratt's character plays throughout the 2017 film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The song is one director James Gunn grew up listening to.

Comments: 3

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer:
    Influential New Orleans composer, producer, arranger and artist Allen Toussaint died November 9th, 2015 while on tour in Spain, he was 77...
    Allen wrote such classics as "Mother-In-Law" (#1-1961 for Ernie K-Doe, he also produced the recording), "Southern Nights" (#1-1977 as recorded by Glen Campbell), "Working In The Coal Mine" (#8-1966 by Lee Dorsey), "Java" (#4-1964 by Al Hirt) and "Whipped Cream" (#68 in 1965 for Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass but better known from its use on TV's "The Dating Game")...
    He produced artists like B.J. Thomas, Dr. John, the Meters and even "Lady Marmalade" from Labelle (#1-1975)...
    He worked with Paul McCartney on Wings' "Venus And Mars" album in 1975...
    Allen was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011, the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1998...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Kevin from Reading , PaI actually like some of Campbell's early easy listening hits from the 60s and early 70s, but his mid 70s output was really annoying. Hence, this song. '77 was a weird time, and middle-of-the-road pablum like this went over pretty well.
  • Mitch from Houston, TxOne of my favorites from Glen Campbell. Awesome guitar licks on the introduction and a cool bouncy beat. #1 on pop and country charts in 1977.
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