Mardi Gras music playlist: New Orleans songs

by February 19, 20092 comments

With New Orleans Mardi Gras coming up, I thought I would post a few New Orleans song suggestions for your listening and partying enhancement. Here, in no particular order, is a treasury of New Orleans and Louisiana music gems. Some are Mardi Gras music classics, others are just my personal picks. I have linked the individual titles to for easy purchase and downloading.
“Tipitina” by Professor Longhair — I first heard this on the soundtrack from the 1987 Dennis Quaid movie The Big Easy and it’s probably my favorite Mardi Gras song of all. I have no idea what “Fess” is singing, but he sure is having fun — as seen above, performing with the Meters.
“Meet De Boys On The Battlefront” by The Wild TchoupitoulasThe Wild Tchoupitoulas, seen above performing with the Neville Brothers in a clip from the 1978 Les Blank documentary Always for Pleasure, were a a group of actual Mardi Gras Indians who, with the help of The Meters, recorded an album which launched the career of “Big Chief Jolly” (George Landry)’s nephews — the Neville Brothers.

“King of the Zulus” by Louis Armstrong — The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club is a Mardi Gras Carnival Krewe that wears blackface and grass skirts and throws hand-painted coconuts to the Mardi Gras crowds. New Orleans’ foremost musical legend Louis Armstrong recorded this song back in 1926 to honor the tradition. He himself was named “King of the Zulus” for Mardi Gras 1949. This 1957 recording is from the album Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography.

“Mardi Gras Day” by Kermit Ruffins with the Rebirth Brass Band — This is actually a Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) song, but the Kermit Ruffins version with the big bass drum and the trombones instantly transports you right down to the French Quarter.

“Iko Iko” by Dr. John — Speaking of Dr. John, here’s his rollicking take on the New Orleans classic popularized by the Dixie Cups in 1965. Wikipedia has some interesting details on the song’s origin and meaning, and this video lets you watch his hands as he plays.

“The Second Line” by Stop, Inc. — I have found virtually no information about this song or the artists, and yet it is one of the essential Mardi Gras tunes. “Second line,” of course, is the New Orleans brass band parade/dance tradition.

“They All Ask’d For You” by Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. — A catchy little inquiry from your friends at the zoo, courtesy of Zydeco music‘s crown prince Rockin’ Dopsie. Down a few hurricane cocktails and you’ll be singing the refrain in no time. (The video clip above uses the original version of the song, recorded by The Meters on their 1975 album Fire On The Bayou.)

“Tu Le Ton Son Ton (Every Now and Then)” by Clifton ChenierClifton Chenier was known to play a little zydeco music too. Even I have been known to start dancing to this one.

“Crescent City” by Lucinda Williams — A warm, fiddle-accented reminiscence of New Orleans from the Lake Charles native’s 1988 album, with a wish to return “tous les temps en temps” (from time to time) to “the town where the good times stay.”

“Tasso / One-Step de McGee” by Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet — Mardi Gras is not just a city celebration; Cajun people in the country also know how to laissez les bon temps roulet (“let the good times roll”), and here’s just a sample of that from one of their greatest musicians, Michael Doucet.

“La danse de Mardi Gras” by Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys — A Cajun music Mardi Gras favorite. Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys have been nominated for two Grammy Awards so far, and are still going strong with a website promising a new album coming this summer. The video shows them cooking at a Cajun dance party in Lafayette, Louisiana last month.

“Under A Stormy Sky” by Daniel Lanois — Speaking of Cajun music (and therefore Acadians), I have to include at least one song from the 1989 album Acadie by Daniel Lanois, the famous producer of albums such as U2’s The Joshua Tree. Okay, so it’s technically not music for Mardi Gras, and it’s French-Canadian and not Louisianan, but the people and the music have the same DNA.

“Beau’s Mardi Gras” by Beau Jocque & The Zydeco Hi-Rollers — Although his career was fairly short, and only began after a work-related accident, accordionist Beau Jocque is still revered in his native Kinder, Louisiana for his powerful dance-hall zydeco music.

“Feels Like Rain” by Buddy Guy — Like sneaking away from the noisy party to share the sticky heat of an impending hurricane with that special someone, this powerful John Hiatt song is even better with added goosebumps from Buddy Guy’s guitar. Here we see Buddy jamming with John Mayer.

“Walkin’ To New Orleans” by Fats DominoBobby Charles wrote this song for New Orleans native Fats Domino in just 15 minutes and it hit #6 on the 1960 pop chart.

“Fire On The Bayou” by The Meters — This signature song and title track from the 1975 album by The Meters was recorded at the same time the masters of New Orleans funk were opening for the Rolling Stones.

“Mardi Gras Mambo” by The Meters — That same Meters album also sported a remake of the Mardi Gras classic that Meters founder Art Neville recorded for Chicago’s Chess Records in 1954 with the Hawketts, but I don’t see the original at Amazon.

“Carnival Time” by Al Johnson — Singer and piano player Al “Carnival Time” Johnson is especially known for one particular 1960 Mardi Gras classic. Can you guess what it is? Above, complete with irritating full-screen logo, is Al in his 2007 Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame induction performance.
“Indian Red” by The Wild Tchoupitoulas — The sacred anthem of the Mardi Gras Indians is performed in the video above by the uptown Congo Nation, but it was also recorded by The Wild Tchoupitoulas for their classic album.

“Big Chief (Complete Version)” by Professor Longhair — No Mardi Gras playlist could be complete without the Earl King song “Big Chief.” It was a hit for Professor Longhair in 1964.

“Fire Water” by The Wild Magnolias — The Wild Magnolias have had a succession of Big Chiefs going back to the 1950s, and they generally like funk and fire water.

“Hurricane Season” by Trombone ShortyTroy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews grew up in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood and was a bandleader by age four. This rousing call-and-response number from his Backatown album got a great reception on the HBO series Treme, which was set and shot in New Orleans. It will likely rock your Mardi Gras party too.
Treme: The Complete Series
“Treme Song” by John Boutté — Speaking of Treme, the show’s theme song, by New Orleans jazz singer John Boutté, has become a Mardi Gras staple itself. This is the full version, from John’s 2008 Jambalaya album.

“Go To The Mardi Gras” by Professor Longhair — We might as well add a third Professor Longhair tune here now, too. This one is the best-loved Ron Records version from 1959. On Treme, this is the song the Bernette family (John Goodman, Melissa Leo, and India Ennenga) traditionally plays each year as they open their front door to go the the Mardi Gras.

“Mardi Gras In New Orleans” by Olympia Brass Band — Shall we make it four? Tell you what: Instead of the classic Professor Longhair original, excellent though it is, I’m going with this cover by the Olympia Brass Band for its street parade atmosphere, and because it is eight long minutes of pure Mardi Gras fun.

“Do Whatcha Wanna” by Rebirth Brass Band — In the Fat Tuesday spirit of indulgence, here is another eight minutes of New Orleans brass band lubrication from the Rebirth Brass Band‘s album of the same name dated 1991, right before Kermit Ruffins parted. The video clip shows the RBB rocking the French Quarter last April.

“Street Parade” by Earl King — New Orleans native Earl King was a disciple of (and briefly a stand-in for) Guitar Slim. King enjoyed decades of success both as a performer and a composer (he wrote Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief”). This tune, the title track of an album he recorded in 1972 with Allen Toussaint and the Meters, captures the jovial atmosphere of a New Orleans celebration.

“When The Saints Go Marching In (Live In Dublin)” by Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band — I relish this version of “Saints” because of the way Bruce slows it way down and let each word ring. This is after-party music, perhaps for the beginning of Ash Wednesday when the sinners go shuffling home. One of the pinnacle performances of Springsteen’s career was his 2006 concert at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in his debut with the Sessions Band, eight months after Hurricane Katrina. The love between Bruce and New Orleans reached a crescendo that day, and this Dublin recording captures the same band with a little more polish later that same year.

Anyway, that’s my list of Mardi Gras / New Orleans music so far. I’ll try to add more here as I think of them. What am I missing?

This post is tagged: featured, music, New Orleans.

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  1. Burke Ingraffia

    The Meters’ version of “They All Ask’d For You” is the original. They wrote it.

    • Mark Czerniec

      Thanks very much, Burke. The post above has been corrected.


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