The music that Louisianians have shared with the world, as well as the songs written about our state, celebrate the many genres that make up the broad spectrum of “Louisiana music.” We have a strong argument that Louisiana is the birthplace of all American music. The earliest Americans on the eastern seaboard, Pilgrims and Puritans, brought Anglo hymns to the New World, but it was the European influence in Louisiana, especially New Orleans, that gave America rhythm. Jazz, zydeco, Cajun, lala and swamp pop are unquestionably Louisiana products, not to mention the fact that the very first opera house in America opened in New Orleans in 1796. The earliest strains of gospel can be traced to the extensive African population in the largest slave trade market in the New World. Later musical genres like rock n’ roll, rockabilly, country, rhythm and blues, funk, rap and hip hop all have roots that reach into the streets of New Orleans, the bayous of south Louisiana and the piney woods that stretch across Louisiana from east to west and north to south.
With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to stir up a little Louisiana Music Madness in order to pick the greatest song in Louisiana music history.
I know that the Final Fours of 2012 and 2013 are behind us. Nevertheless, I want Louisianians to get out their brackets and think about the greatest song in Louisiana music history. It’s a daunting challenge, sure to engender debate, disagreement and absolutely, unequivocally no right answer … but it also reveals the depth, passion and sheer volume of Louisiana songs and artists known, enjoyed and loved around the world. Some are Grammy winners; some are perennial favorites; some are obvious choices — but they are all authentically Louisiana!
My bracket is called the GUMBO bracket and the guidelines are simple. The song must be by a native Louisianian or include Louisiana, or one of its locations or qualities, in the lyrics. Either the song or the artist must have gained significant notoriety beyond the borders of our state. Only one song per artist can make the field. Obviously, many of our iconic stars have multiple songs from which to choose. I picked my personal favorites or ones that mention Louisiana. I attempted to include a wide-range of genres. Since only sixty-four songs can make the field (there are no “play ins”), many great contenders are missing. My hope is that folks across the state and in cyberspace will make their own lists. As I said, there are no right or wrong answers.
The Gumbo bracket includes four regions: (1) the ROUX region, which is music from or about New Orleans; (2) the SPICE region which includes zydeco, Cajun, swamp pop and blues; (3) the RICE region which is country and rockabilly; and (4) the LAGNIAPPE region which is everything else Louisiana.
In the Roux bracket, here are the results:
- Iko Iko by the Dixie Cups was written by James Crawford and initially performed by his band Sugar Boy and the Cane Cutters; it advances over Java, written by Allen Toussaint which became one of Al Hirt’s signature trumpet sounds.
- Mother In-Law by Ernie K-Doe, Number One on the Billboard charts in 1961, loses to They All Ask’d For You, the iconic Audubon Zoo song performed by the Meters.
- The clarinet version of Way Down Yonder in New Orleans by Pete Fountain, written back in 1922, edges Jelly Roll Blues, one of the original New Orleans jazz tunes by Jelly Roll Morton.
- Mac Rebennack better known as Dr. John the Night Tripper, advances with Right Place Wrong Time over Jump Jive An’ Wail the signature sound of the King of Swing, New Orleans’ own Louis Prima.
- Aaron Neville’s Tell It Like It Is, Number One on the Rhythm and Blues Charts in 1966, falls off the bracket because Carnival Time by Al Johnson is just too iconic of a Mardi Gras song to be eliminated early.
- Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans beautifully performed by Harry Connick, Jr., made famous by Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday advances over The Golden Band from Tigerland version of Tiger Rag which was introduced to the world in 1917 by New Orleans’ own Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
- When The Saints Go Marching In was originally a gospel song. It was made famous by Satchmo, whose version advances over Go To the Mardi Gras by Bogalusa native Henry Roeland Byrd, better known as Professor Longhair.
- In the dual of soul legends, Fats Domino takes out the Queen of New Orleans Soul, Irma Thomas. One of Fat’s record-setting thirty-five Top Forty hits, Walking to New Orleans, races past Irma’s first hit, You Can Have My Husband But Please Don’t Mess With My Man.
Advancing to the next round are They All Axed for You, Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans, and When the Saints Go Marching In.
Moving on to the Elite Eight are: Way Down Yonder in New Orleans and When the Saints Go Marching In.
The ROUX Regional Winner is the joyful sound of Satchmo’ s When the Saints Go Marching In, a little gospel, a little jazz, and a little football.
The results in the SPICE bracket:
- The unofficial Cajun national anthem Jolie Blonde as originally recorded by Harry Choate eliminates Amos Moses by Jerry Reed.
- Cookie and the Cupcakes with the swamp pop favorite Matilda advances over Susie Q by Dale Hawkins, which also featured James Burton, renowned guitarist from Dubberly, Louisiana who recorded with Elvis, Johnny Cash and Ricky Nelson among others.
- In the battle of genders, Louisiana Man by Doug Kershaw advances over Mr. Big Stuff which was a Number One soul hit and Number Two Billboard hit for Jean Knight from New Orleans.
- Barefootin’ by Robert Parker gets the boot from Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, the 1958 hit which Rolling Stone magazine named the Number One Guitar Song of all time.
- Dale and Grace’s Number One hit Leavin’ It All Up To You gets left by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “B” side of Proud Mary, Born On The Bayou.
- Clifton Chenier, the King of Zydeco, advances with his signature song Zydeco Et Pas Sales over Percy Sledge’s When A Man Loves A Woman, which was Number One on both the Billboard and R&B charts in 1966.
- For fourteen straight weeks, Hank Williams, Sr. sat on top the country charts with Jambalaya, which ousts Lloyd Price’s Stagger Lee which came in at Number 46 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Five Hundred Greatest Songs in rock ‘n’ roll history.
- Rockin’ Sydney’s My Toot Toot edges past Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues by Lettsworth native Buddy Guy.
Making it to the Sweet Sixteen are: Jolie Blonde, Louisiana Man, Zydeco Sant Pas Sales, and Jambalaya.
Advancing to the Elite Eight are: Jolie Blonde and Jambalaya.
And headed to the Final Four is Jambalaya, written and performed by Hank, Sr. about the culinary delicacies and his sweet Yvonne of South Louisiana; ironically he and the song gained national fame as he performed, not on the bayou, but at the Municipal Auditoriumin Shreveport as part of The Louisiana Hayride.
The results in the RICE bracket:
- In The Jail House by West Monroe native Webb Pierce was Number One on the country charts for 21weeks in 1955 but how could it possibly advance against a song entitled “Callin’ Baton Rouge”, particularly when sung by country legend Garth Brooks.
- Something Like That by Tim McGraw from Start, Louisiana puts a barbeque stain on Boot Scootin’ Boogie which was a Number One Billboard country hit for Shreveport native Kix Brooks and his partner Ronnie Dunn.
- Bocephus like his daddy Hank Williams, Sr. is a legend but his Born To Boogie gets engulfed by Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls Of Fire, one of the top songs of 1957.
- Serepta native Trace Adkins’ Honky Tonk Badonkadonk takes a “back seat” to Arlo Guthrie’s City of New Orleans.
- Mickey Gilley had 17 Number One hits, including The Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time, but it gets beat by the Number One song in 1959, Johnny Horton’s Battle of New Orleans.
- Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn had a Number One country song in 1973 with Louisiana Woman Mississippi Man but it wasn’t enough to eclipse Governor Jimmie Davis and the Louisiana state song You Are My Sunshine.
- Domingo Samudio of Leesville, better known as Sam of Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs gave the world Wooly Booly, but it takes second fiddle to Louisiana Saturday Night by Mel McDaniel.
- Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Down At The Twist And Shout which features Lafayette’s BeauSoleil, edges out Jerry Jeff Walker’s Mr. Bojangles.
Headed to the Sweet Sixteen are: Something Like That, Great Balls of Fire, You Are My Sunshine, and Louisiana Saturday Night.
The Elite Eight includes: Great Balls of Fire and You Are My Sunshine.
And the RICE Regional winner is You Are My Sunshine, the second most recognized song in the world, after Happy Birthday, performed by Louisiana’s two-time singing governor, Jimmie Davis.
In the LAGNIAPPE bracket, there’s a little bit of everything:
- Oops made Britney Spears a pop music diva, but it’s not enough to overcome a whole bunch of New Orleans Ladies by Louisiana’s Leroux.
- Good by Better Than Ezra was good but not as tasty as a mess of Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White of Goodwill, a suburb of Oak Grove.
- Alexandria native Jay Chevalier, who traveled around with Governor Earl K. Long, wrote Lost In Louisiana in 1959 but it can’t get past John Fred and the Playboy Band’s Judy In Disguise eliminated by which was Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968.
- The legendary Vince Vance wrote and recorded the iconic holiday song, All I Want For Christmas Is You, but this seasonal favorite is eliminated by Rockin’ Pneumonia written and originally recorded by Huey “Piano” Smith of New Orleans but made famous by Johnny Ramistella, better known as Johnny Rivers who left Baton Rouge High School for fame in New York City.
- Janice Joplin wasbusted flat in Baton Rouge with Me and Bobby McGee, one of only two songs in American music history to reach Number One after the performer’s death (the other was Sittin on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding), but she is drowned out by Louisiana 1927, Randy Newman’s iconic song about the Great Flood.
- Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter wrote and performed Rock Island Line, Midnight Special, Good Night Irene and the bracket entry Cotton Fields which advances over Ike and Tina’s version of Proud Mary.
- Jimmy Clanton gained fame in the 50’s with Venus In Blue Jeansbut it falls to Huey P. Long’s theme song, Every Man A King.
- Everybody knows about the infamous House of the Rising Sun by The Animals which Rolling Stone ranks as the 122nd greatest song in rock ‘n’ roll history; it bounces King Creole by Elvis Presley who got his start at the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The Sweet Sixteen includes: New Orleans Ladies, Rockin’ Pneumonia, Louisiana 1927, and Every Man a King.
Advancing to the Elite Eight are New Orleans Ladies and Louisiana 1927.
And headed to the Final Four is Louisiana 1927 by Randy Newman, a song that gained a new identity and renown after Hurricane Katrina.
The semi-final matchups resulted in You Are My Sunshine and When The Saints Go Marching In squaring off in the finals. And, according to Facebook voters, You Are My Sunshine was named the greatest song in Louisiana history.
But, anyone can make their own bracket and come up with a different conclusion. Only one thing is for sure: very few states could populate a bracket with sixty-four songs about their state or by well-known artists from their state. It’s why Louisiana music and Louisiana performers are unique, special and beloved around the world.