"Goodnight, Irene" or "Irene, Goodnight," is a 19th century song written and published as "Goodnight, Irene" in 1886 by Gussie Lord Davis an African American songwriter. The song (by then much altered) was first recorded in 1932 by American musician Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter who claimed he had learned the song from his uncle.
The lyrics tell of the singer's troubled past with his love, Irene, and express his sadness and frustration. Several verses make explicit reference to contemplated suicide, most famously in the line "sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown," which was the inspiration for the 1964 Ken Kesey novel Sometimes a Great Notion.
In 1950, US folk group The Weavers recorded a version which became a US #1. Although generally faithful, the Weavers chose to omit some of Leadbelly's more controversial lyrics, leading Time magazine to label it a "dehydrated" and "prettied up" version of the original.
Due to the recording's popularity, however, The Weavers' lyrics are the ones generally used today.
Subsequent to 1950, the song was recorded by numerous artists across several genres. In 2002, Lead Belly's 1936 Library of Congress recording received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.
The song has also come to fame as being the terrace song for Bristol Rovers FC who play in the English Football League 1.
In 1950, one year after Leadbelly's death, the American folk band The Weavers recorded a version of "Goodnight, Irene". The single first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on June 30, 1950 and lasted 25 weeks on the chart, peaking at #1.
The Weavers' enormous success inspired many other artists to release their own versions of the song, many of which were themselves commercially successful.
Frank Sinatra's cover, released only a month after The Weavers', lasted nine weeks on the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on July 10, peaking at #12. Later that same year, Ernest Tubb & Red Foley had a #1 country music record with the song , and both Dennis Day and Jo Stafford released versions which made the Best Seller chart, peaking at #22 and #26 respectively.
On the Cash Box chart, where all available versions were combined in the standings, the song reached a peak position of #1 on September 2, 1950, and lasted at #1 for 10 weeks.
The song was basis for the 1950 parody called "Please Say Goodnight to the Guy, Irene" by Ziggy Talent. It also inspired the 1954 "answer" record "Wake Up, Irene" by Hank Thompson, a top ten hit on Billboard's country chart
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