To Where from Here? The Final Vision of the Migration Narrative
In 1973 Gladys Knight and the Pips answered the question "To Where from Here?" with the anthem of black countermigration, "Midnight Train to Georgia." The song, written by James Weatherly and released by Motown, was on Billboard's rhythm and blues charts for eighteen weeks. On August 5, 1973, the song peaked at number one, a position it held for four weeks. It also reached number one on the pop charts. Like the trains of earlier spirituals and blues, the midnight train to Georgia is also bound to "a different place in time," but unlike its precursors, this train is headed South. It is not the first to do so; southbound blues songs were recorded in the early twenties. But "Midnight Train to Georgia" is the first post-Civil Rights Movement song to accompany the growing number of blacks and to document possible reasons for their return to the South:
(Parentheses indicate the Pips's background vocals, which alternate from call to response throughout.)
L.A. proved too much for the man
(Too much for the man. He couldn't make it)
So he's leaving life, he's come to know.
(He said he's going)
He said he's going back to find.
(Going back to find)
What's left of his world,
A world he left behind
Not so long ago.
On that Midnight Train to Georgia.
(Leaving on the Midnight train)
Said he's going back to a simpler place in time.
(Guess you're gonna be right by his side)
I'll be with him
(I know you will)