I don't know precisely what it is about the first 15 seconds of this timeless classic by Gladys Knight & the Pips, but those seconds will forever whisk me back to the summer of 1973, when this song was just an integral part of the musical landscape of my life.
Actually originally recorded by Cissy Houston, who had a minor hit on the R&B charts earlier the same year, it went mainstream big time, becoming Gladys Knight & the Pips' first #1 hit for Buddah Records after their contract expired with Motown. Considered by many to be as close to perfect as a ballad gets, Knight's smooth soulful delivery and the seductive call-and-response of the suave Pips made for a class act if there ever was one.
Part of its appeal, I think, is how it parlays a realistic backdrop and an idealistic sensibility - without sugarcoating it - into one neat little package. Mississippi songwriter Jim Weatherly told a very simple but unforgettable story of one woman's devotion to and compassion for her man.
I've always thought some songs are blessed with precision lyrics that make them irresistible; this is one of those. When Gladys sings: I'm going to be with him / On that midnight train to Georgia / I'd rather live in his world / Than live without him in mine ... there is no escaping the shivers. How many of us have had those feelings about someone? For better or worse, I know I have.