Songs that became Movies

The following article is for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the subject. 

Books become movies all the time.  A few of my favorites are The Last Picture Show, Butterfield 8, Rosemary’s Baby, The Beach, and Into the Wild.

Less known are some of the songs that have been made into movies.  Some of them, like The Night the Lights went out in Georgia (orginal version), have inspired me to be a better mystery writer.  Others, like Ode to Billy Joe, made me the writer I am.  Then, you have Coal Miner’s Daughter, which encourages me to never quit.

The rest…well…they’re a trip down memory lane.  They’re a long gone night at the drive-in with my parents, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins.  The adults would kick us kids out of the car, and drink margaritas all night long while movies played on the big screen.

What follows is a tour of sorts through my childhood, but, also, examples of what does and doesn’t translate into a good story.

[I know I usually embed the You Tube videos, but this post had so many, I decided to link to them to so the page wouldn’t be so slow to load.]

The Song:

The song was written by Bobby Russell and performed in 1972 by his then-wife Vicki Lawrence.   It’s Southern Gothic mystery about a murder for which the first-person narrator’s brother was hanged, even though he didn’t do it. At the end of the song, the narrator reveals she was the murderer.

This version of “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” was covered by country singer Reba McEntire in the 1990s, and has a video in which the events described in the song are enacted.

Click here to see Reba McEntire’s video on You Tube.  (It’s worth it to sit through the commercial.)

Now, here’s where the story gets confusing.  In 1973, Tanya Tucker recorded a song with the same title, the same melody, but different lyrics.  Supposedly, Tucker’s version is the song which became the basis for the movie.

Click here for Tanya Tucker’s version of the song.

The Movie:

The movie was filmed in 1981 and starred Kristi McNichol, Dennis Quaid, and Mark Hammill.  The movie’s plot is about a brother (Quaid) and sister (McNichol) who are en-route to Nashville where the sister believes she can make her rekindle her brother’s faded stardom.  The brother derails their progress with his womanizing and boozing.

Click here to watch the trailer for The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. 

The song:

Convoy is a 1975 novelty song written by C.W. McCall and Chip Davis and recorded by C.W. McCall.  It spent six weeks on the country charts and one week on the pop charts and inspired both a movie and the CB radio craze of the 1970s.

The song is a simulated CB exchange using CB slang between Rubberduck, Pigpen, and Sodbuster.  It chronicles a ficticious trucker rebellion that drove from coast-to-coast without stopping.  C.W. McCall re-recorded the song with spicier lyrics for the 1978 movie.

Here’s the you tube video for the song.

I didn’t really look hard for the “R rated” version of the song that was released in conjunction with the movie. I’m sure it’s out there, though.

The movie:

The movie, which was filmed in 1978, starred Kris Kristofferson (who was hot), Ali McGraw (who was also hot), and Ernest Borgnine (who was not hot).

The movie expands on the plot of song, making the rebellion about a conflict between truckers and cops—or something along those lines.  The bright spot of the film is seeing Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw looking so young and beautiful.

Click here to view the You Tube trailer of Convoy. 

The song:

The song was written and recorded by the gorgeous Bobbie Gentry in 1967.   “Ode to Billy Joe” is in Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  And it is one of the greatest songs of all time.

The song is a first person narrative of a creepy Southern Gothic which is driven by a suicide.  The narrator finds out about the suicide at lunch after a hard morning’s chores on her family’s farm.  As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that the narrator had some relationship with the boy who committed suicide.

The Tallahatchie Bridge, which is mentioned in the song, collapsed in 1972.

Click here to listen to Ode to Billy Joe on You Tube.

The book and the movie:

In 1976, Herman Raucher adapted the song into a novel and screenplay for Warner Bros.  It starred Starred Glynnis O’Connor and Robby Bensen (who I thought was cute).

It is rumored that, while Ms. Gentry wrote the song about an actual event, she had no idea why the person had killed himself.  For that reason, Mr. Raucher was free to do what writers do:  Make up Something.  I won’t tell you the plot twist, just in case you’re interested in watching the movie.  Parts of the film were filmed on location in Mississippi.

I couldn’t find a trailer of Ode to Billy Joe.  However, the entire movie is on You Tube.  Click here to watch part 1.

The song:

Tom T. Hall wrote the song and Jeanne C. Riley made it a major hit back in 1968.  Riley was the first female ever to top both the country charts and the pop charts at the same time with the same song.

The song is about a girl who brings home a note from school, which accuses her widowed mother of scandalous behavior.  Hilarity ensues when the widowed mother goes up to the school,  barges in on the PTA meeting, and airs everybody’s dirty laundry.

Of interest: Riley eventually became a gospel singer and renounced the song.  She has not performed it since.

Click here to listen to the song on You Tube.

The Movie:  Both the movie and the TV series starred Barbara Eden as Stella Jones.  The movie follows the plot of the song and ends with Barbara Eden/Stella Jones becoming president of the PTA.

I had no luck finding the movie trailer; however, here is an interview with Barbara Eden about starring in the movie and TV show.

The TV series:  Ran from 1981-1982.  It started out picking up where Stella Jones (Barbara Eden) was elected as president of the PTA.  Eventually that aspect was dropped, and the show was retitled Harper Valley.

Here’s a clip of the TV series.  This is actually part one of three, so apparently, you can watch this entire episode on You Tube.

The song:

David Allen Coe wrote this song.  It appears in his 1978 album, Family Album.  Johnny Paycheck’s cover of “Take this Job and Shove It” was extremely popular.  The song is about a bitter man who has worked hard for very little money or regognition.

Here’s the David Allan Coe version.

Here’s the Johnny Paycheck version. 

Aaaannd here’s a version by the Dead Kennedys. (This is, by far, my favorite.)

The movie:

The movie starred Robert Hays, Barbara Hershey, and David Keith.  It was one of the first movies to feature monster trucks.  The plot follows a guy, played by Robert Hays, turning around a failing business.

Trailer # 1

Trailer # 2

My husband, who went to see this movie, said you went to see the bigfoot truck, not the movie.  I’ll take his word for it.

I wanted to end this little tour on an up note.  The last song-to-movie is the best of the bunch.

The song:

The song was written and recored by Loretta Lynn in 1969.  It is an autobiographical account of her growing up in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky in extreme poverty.  The theme of the song is that, although her family lived in great poverty, they loved one another.

The book:

The song served as title for Loretta Lynn’s 1976 autobiography, which she co-wrote with George Vecsey.  Loretta Lynn, who was married at 13, had four children by the time she was 19, and who was a grandmother by the age of 29, is an inspiring figure.  I mean, she overcame a lot of hardship.  The book is easy to read, and I highly recommend it.

The Movie:

The movie was filmed in 1980 and starred Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn and Tommy Lee Jones as Mooney Lynn.  Even if you don’t like country music, the movie is intense and interesting.  Sissy Spacek won an academy award for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn, and the film won quite a few other honors.

Here’s a movie trailer.

The thing I love about this movie is it encourages me to chase my dreams and to never think they’re too farfetched.


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