In The Heat Of The Night

Album: In The Heat Of The Night Soundtrack (1967)
Charted: 33
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Songfacts®:

  • This is the title theme to the 1967 film In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, an African American detective who endures racial prejudice while trying to solve a murder in a small Southern town. Quincy Jones, who scored the film, invited husband-and-wife songwriting duo Alan and Marilyn Bergman to write the bluesy theme.

    "The song had a function," Alan Bergman explained at ASCAP's "I Create Music" Expo in 2007. "You hear it under the opening titles as a train comes into town. The director, Norman Jewison, said, 'I want you to write me a song that sets the stage - where we are and what the feeling is in that Southern town. He chose Quincy Jones and Ray Charles to do that, to help enhance that feeling of where you're going and what's going to happen."
  • Billy Preston, a prolific session musician who toured with Little Richard and later performed with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, played organ on the track. He had just joined Ray Charles' band that year.
  • The lyric "I've got trouble wall to wall" foreshadows Tibbs' predicament as he steps off the train in Mississippi. Watching how Jewison matched the tune with the action of the film was a thrilling moment for Marilyn Bergman. She explained: "One of the most exciting moments in the whole process is when you have finally written a song and now the director puts it against the images. Now, you've certainly seen the film, and you know where the song is to begin and you know where it is to end to the split second. But you don't know until it's put together precisely what word lands on what image. Sometimes it's accidentally wonderful and sometimes not."
  • The line "Stars with evil eyes stare from the skies all mean and bright" was originally written as mean and white. "We were asked to change it," Marilyn explained. "Reluctantly we did, to 'mean and bright.' It wasn't quite the same. That wouldn't happen today. It broke our hearts for awhile."
  • The Bergmans, who previously wrote "Nice 'N' Easy" for Frank Sinatra, went on to write several Oscar-nominated songs and won two in the Best Original Song category: "The Windmills Of Your Mind" for The Thomas Crown Affair and the title theme to The Way We Were.
  • In the Heat of the Night won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967.
  • The film spawned a popular TV series starring Howard Rollins as Tibbs and Carroll O'Connor as Chief Gillespie. It ran from 1988 to 1995, with Bill Champlin of the band Chicago singing the title theme. "That was my first big blues record, and it was a TV theme!" Champlin explained in a 2011 interview with Something Else. "They gave me 150 bucks for an audition, and in a way it's one of my biggest hits. But I have an eclectic following, so it's better to mix it up. If I were to do nothing but blues, I might lose them, and I could have a hard time finding a new audience who's just interested in blues music."

    But if one of the series' stars had his way, Champlin might have been replaced. "During the fifth year of the show, Carroll O'Connor called the producer and said: 'I want to get rid of the black guy singing the theme. I'm really good friends with Robert Goulet,'" Champlin (who is white) laughed. "Me or Robert Goulet? That's the story of my life."

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