Friday Five: Goodnight, Irene

Ken Morton, Jr. | September 2nd, 2011

With Hurricane Irene all finished up from last week’s tear-up of the East Coast, it seemed only fitting to dedicate a Friday Five in her honor. When everything is all said and done, that little meteorological hussy is going to have caused billions of dollars of damage and lost revenues.

“Goodnight Irene” is a famous folk tune that was originally written by American blues musician Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter way back in 1932. With a famous line of “sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown,” it seems only appropriate that it be tied to a hurricane known for flooding.

Which cover is your favorite?

5. Johnny Cash- “Goodnight Irene”


4. Boxcar Willie- “Goodnight Irene”


3. Ernest Tubb & Red Foley- “Goodnight Irene”


2. Gene Autry- “Goodnight Irene”


1. Jim Reeves- “Goodnight Irene”

  1. Juli Thanki
    September 2, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Lyle Lovett & His Large Band played a show here in Virginia on Tuesday. They closed with a killer version of “Goodnight Irene,” which garnered a lot of cheers as many folks still didn’t have power. YouTube has a clip from one of the earlier performances:

  2. Barry Mazor
    September 2, 2011 at 9:10 am

    The hit pop version that made the song broadly famous was by the commercial folk Weavers, of course, But, just for the record, a hillbilly girl with a man guitar repeatedly sang the hit country version, the Tubb-Foley version, over my crib through my first months on earth. My mother always believed that had a permanent impact on me. Maybe so.

  3. luckyoldsun
    September 2, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Are you sure the Jim Reeves version isn’t a parody? It sounds like some wise guy heard the Leadbelly recording and said: “Here’s what it would sound like if Jim Reeves sang it.”

    Makes Pat Boone sound like Howlin’ Wolf.


  4. Jon
    September 2, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Why single out Reeves? His singing isn’t particularly far from Ledbetter’s, and no more so than any of the other singers here. I’m betting that Luckyoldsun’s never actually heard a Ledbetter performance of the song, and is simply serving up a stock (albeit historically inaccurate and culturally suspect) image of Leadbelly as primally authentic Negro for the sole purpose of taking a gratuitous swipe at a dead man.

    Here, by the way, are the Weavers doing the song, with a nice little homage to Leadbelly: .

  5. Barry Mazor
    September 2, 2011 at 11:02 am
  6. luckyoldsun
    September 2, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    “Why single out Reeves? His singing isn’t particularly far from Ledbetter’s, and no more so than any of the other singers here.”

    And Nashville isn’t particularly far from….Pluto–relatively speaking—if you’re standing on Alpha Centauri.

    I’m betting that that’s where the all-knowing one is vacationing.

  7. Rick
    September 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    I’ve never particularly cared for this song in any version. I do like the topic tie in to the recent hurricane though. Carry on.

  8. Jon
    September 2, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Hard to get excited about winning a bet when it’s such a no-brainer.

    Luckyoldsun: “Listen? What for? He was an old black dude, I don’t need to listen to him to know how he sounded.”

  9. Paul W Dennis
    September 3, 2011 at 1:17 am

    Hank Thompson did an answer song (of sorts)in “Wake Up, Irene”, a number one record for two weeks in 1954.

  10. Paul W Dennis
    September 3, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Leadbelly recorded the song on several occasions with some significant differences between the various recorded performance. Some of his recordings I like, others I don’t like

    I don’t believe one need EVER apologize for selecting the Jim Reeves version of any song – he was that good

  11. BLL
    September 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    I always liked the Weavers acoustic version of the song rather than the somewhat overblown Gordon Jenkins backed version they did for Decca, though I suss that was the producer’s choice. I love Ronnie Gilbert’s voice, and Pete, Fred and Lee’s harmonies are wonderful.

    I think people today forget that the artists back in the 50s/60s didn’t have a huge say in what they recorded like they do now; both Pasty Cline and Jim Reeves discographies reflect that fact.

  12. Leeann Ward
    September 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    My favorite is the one off the Nitty Gritty Dirtband’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken series with Willie Nelson and Tom Petty.

  13. Sam G.
    September 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Willie also recorded it with Irish legends The Chieftains a while back. He must really be a fan of the song.

  14. luckyoldsun
    September 3, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    “Hard to get excited about winning a bet when it’s such a no-brainer.”

    Still camped out on Alpha Centauri, the artist-formerly-known-as-the-all-knowing one is too clueless to know that Leadbelly’s recordings have been readily available on CD at dirt-cheap, no-copyright prices for many years–and nowadays, one can hear them by simply typing his name and clicking on you-tube.

    Oh, and Leadbelly’s singing was as close to Jim Reeves’ as the Benedictine Monks of St. Michaels’ Gregorian chants are to the Monkees.

  15. Jon
    September 3, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Actually, it’s the widespread availability of Leadbelly’s recordings – including “Goodnight Irene” – that makes your preference for racial stereotyping over actually listening to his singing all the more pathetic.

  16. luckyoldsun
    September 6, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I’ve heard Leadbelly and I’ve heard Jim Reeves and they’re as close to each other as monks to Monkees, or Ian Tyson to Mike Tyson.

    I’ve always thought that as much of a crank as you are, the saving grace is that you at least are an expert on popular music and the business. But insisting that Jim Reeves’ oh-so-perfectly- enunciated, slow-as-molasses rendition of “Good Night Irene” “isn’t particularly far from Ledbetter’s” raises doubts about that.

    Oh, and I find it amusing that the Great One has determined that my rather innocuous crack that Jim Reeves’ recording sounds like a parody (which it does) makes me a racist–and he just can’t seem to get away from that.

  17. Paul W Dennis
    September 6, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Playing the race card is a frequent ploy for leftists – I don’t actually know Jon’s politics but I can take a guess from his comments

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