Bobby Russell was the Grammy-winning writer of crossover smashes "Little Green
Apples," "Honey" and "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." Russell's
best-known songs were lyric-heavy, with lines that seem artfully torn from
conversation. Two of those songs ruled the radio in 1968, the year Bobby
Goldsboro had a five-week pop #1 and three-week country #1 with "Honey." The
hit song inspired numerous cover versions, as did another Russell-penned 1968
hit, "Little Green Apples." Roger Miller took "Little Green Apples" to #6 on
the Billboard country chart, then Patti Page had a #11 easy-listening
hit with the song, and O. C. Smith reached #2 on pop and R&B charts with
"Little Green Apples."
Born in Nashville and raised in the days when the Tennessee capital was taking
steps towards becoming Music City, Russell's first successes came when pop
performers Jan & Dean, Brian Hyland and Gary Lewis & the Playboys recorded his
songs. Then came "Little Green Apples," which Roger Miller recorded as a
relaxed, simple country song with enough multi-genre appeal to cross over into
the pop and easy-listening charts. Patti Page's recording was similar to
Miller's, while O. C. Smith offered a soulful, crooning take that sold more
than a million copies. In 1969, "Little Green Apples" won Grammy Awards for
best overall song and top country song.
Next, "Honey" became the signature hit for Goldsboro, topping every available
Billboard chart with a song sung from the point of view of a man who
laments the death of his spouse. "Honey" spawned numerous covers, with Dean
Martin, Hank Snow and many others recording versions.
Russell had modest success as a solo recording artist, reaching the pop Top 40
with a whimsical look at domesticity called "1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero,"
and again with another glimpse of suburbia called "Saturday Morning Confusion."
But his next indelible hit would come in 1972 when his actress wife, Vicki
Lawrence, recorded "The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia," a pulsing tale
of Southern injustice. Lawrence sang the demo of the song in hopes of placing
it with another artist, but Cher and others turned it down. Lawrence went on to
record a studio-polished version, and it became another cross-format hit. In
the 1990s, Reba McEntire's version reached the Top 20 of the country charts.
Bobby Russell died in 1992 at age 51 of a heart attack.