Mardi Gras music playlist: New Orleans songs
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 Amazon.com for easy purchase and downloading.
“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.
“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.
“Tu Le Ton Son Ton (Every Now and Then)” by Clifton Chenier — Clifton Chenier was known to play a little zydeco music too. Even I have been known to start dancing to this one.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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?