Tox Tunes #85: Goodnight, Irene (Jerry Lee Lewis and Van Morrison)

August 17, 2014, 7:02 pm

Goodnight, Irene” was introduced by the folksinger and blues musician Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter, 1888-1949) and became a big hit for The Weavers in 1950. This fascinating song tells a somewhat murky story about unrequited passion and suicidal fantasies. The Weavers, however, left out the reference to opiates in Lead Belly’s original lyrics:

I love Irene
I swear I do
I love her ’til the sea runs dry
If Irene turns her back on me
I’m gonna take morphine and die.

Jerry Lee Lewis and Van Morrison keep this verse in their version.

Lead Belly’s original also implies love for a girl who is possibly underage, and also — at least to my interpretation — hints of murder. It limns a story that is much more coherent:

And here is The Weavers’ hit version from 1950. It is a much tamer, much less dangerous song. And I’ve never forgiven them for those awful strings:


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