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I didn’t set out to be the Bayou Brief’s listicle guy but the response to my Set In Louisiana: Top 40 Movies list has been so favorable that I decided to give it another shot. This list is based on three mix CDS that I created not long after returning home from Katrina Exile. I called them Louisiana Tunes. Each CD began with a version of Louisiana 1927 (Randy Newman, Aaron Neville, and Marcia Ball) and concluded with Feels Like Rain (John Hiatt, Aaron Neville, and Buddy Guy.)
This incarnation of Louisiana Tunes is based on that series, but I did a bit of crowd sourcing on Facebook. It paid off. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions: some made the list, others did not. I did, however, ignore a suggestion from my publisher. Sorry, Lamar, hip hop ain’t my thing so A-Town B Ballin‘ did not make the cut. (Editor’s Note: The follow-up classic A-Town Still Ballin’ also was not selected).
As with the movie list, Louisiana Tunes reflects my taste, which leans toward rock, blues, and classic R&B. I’m not sure if the songs are timely but they’re certainly timeless. Music is very personal to me, so I tell a few stories along the way. I excluded instrumentals, which is why there aren’t many early jazz or more recent brass band numbers.
The songs were selected based on their theme, not artist. Many great Gret Stet artists missed the list, but that’s no reflection on them: they just didn’t record one of the Top 50 songs about Louisiana and its various municipalities. Some of the artists are local, others are not. I stand by my selections although I expect, and even want, criticism. Bring it on, y’all.
I tried my best to restrict the list to one song per artist. I wound up punting at the end of the list because there are three artists who wrote and recorded so many excellent Louisiana Tunes that I couldn’t choose: The Meters, Zachary Richard, and Randy Newman. In my crowd sourcing, more people mentioned Louisiana 1927 than any other song. Given what happened on Mother’s Day in New Orleans, they’re still “trying to wash us away.”
Unlike the movie list, I did not include any Louisiana Tunes that I do not like. Some of them were new to me and were suggested by friends but they not only rock, they rule.
Without further ado, here are the Top 50 Louisiana Tunes in reverse order.
50. Jambalaya– Hank Williams. It’s not one of my favorite Hank Williams tunes but it was the second most suggested song by my friends and readers. Who am I to argue with the Vox Populi?
Written By: Hank Williams.
49. Bossier City– Turnpike Troubadours. My wife and I spent part of our Katrina exile in Bossier City. We stayed with our friends Susan and Steve who suggested this song. It was new to me but it’s a winner. The band sounds like a combination of the Old 97’s and Old Crow Medicine Show. That’s good enough for me.
Written By: Turnpike Troubadours.
48. Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man– Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn. I’m not a fan of modern pop country but I like the real deal. And it doesn’t get much realer than Twitty and Loretta. This was another Facebook suggestion. Thanks, Stybby.
Written By: Becki Bluefield/Jim Owen.
47. Lafayette Waltz– Clifton Chenier. I didn’t grow up in the Gret Stet of Louisiana. I saw Clifton Chenier at Winterland in San Francisco along with Muddy Waters and Hot Tuna. I was blown away and wanted to waltz off to Lafayette at the end of the evening. It took awhile but I made it to Louisiana a decade later.
Written By: Clifton Chenier.
46. New Orleans Ladies– LeRoux. A swell pop song recorded in 1978 when the band was known as Louisiana’s LeRoux. The dropped the Louisiana from their name in 1981 but they’re still stirring the roux some 38 years later.
Written By: Hoyt Garrick/Leon Medica.
45. Callin’ Baton Rouge– Garth Brooks. This ode to Red Stick was originally recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys in 1978. In 1993, Garth Brooks released the song as a single and it hit number 2 on the country music charts. I guess wearing a gynormous cowboy hat matters.
Callin’ Baton Rouge was suggested to me via Facebook DM by someone who hates country music and requested anonymity. I’m only partially outing them because it was an excellent suggestion. Thanks, Unknown Country Music Hater. I wonder if they’re related to the Unknown Comic of Gong Show fame?
Written By: Dennis Linde.
44. Hurricane Party– Paul Sanchez. I know someone who attended the party in question. They don’t remember much about it but behaved badly enough that I’m leaving his/her name out of it.
I also considered Sanchez’s Jazz Fest anthem Exit To Mystery Street but it fell afoul of the one song rule. I don’t have a funny story about that one, which was the tiebreaker.
Written By: Paul Sanchez.
43. Louisiana Liplock– Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper. This duo describes their music as psychobilly. Who am I to argue? I’d rather not be struck by a psychobilly club, after all.
Written By: Mojo Nixon.
42.Longest Bridge In The World– Dash Rip Rock. This ode to the Causeway was suggested by my friend Kyle who used to play drums for Dash Rip Rock. He’s famous for his selfies so I was disappointed when the suggestion didn’t come with one. Oh well, there’s always next time.
Written By: Bill Davis.
41. Louisiana Lady– New Riders of the Purple Sage. This swell country-rock song came from NRPS’ debut album. It’s the one that Jerry Garcia plays pedal steel on, but it’s not an episode of Friends as far as I know.
Written By: John Dawson.
40. Take Me Back To Abita Springs– Bobby Lounge. There aren’t many Louisiana Tunes with Northshore towns in the title. I think quirky pianist Bobby Lounge has cornered the market on St. Tammany Parish tunes.
Written By: Bobby Lounge.
39. Gospel Shoes– David Bankston. One sign that I’ve taken to life in Louisiana is that I’m not averse to a bit of cronyism. In fact, David Bankston’s late father Al got a shout-out on my movie list for his performance as a racist cop in Sounder. It was only fair that David got one on this list. Besides, it’s a song that mentions Bogalusa. What’s not to love about that?
Written By: David Bankston /Sam Broussard.
38. Sweet Chalmette– Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. This tune was suggested by my Spank krewe mate Jessica. She cautioned me not to make any jokes about spotted Chalmatians, but I cannot help myself. I have a spotty record when it comes to resisting a straight line.
Andre Bohren, one of the sketchier dirty notes, thanked me on Facebook for putting this song on the list. He expressed a desire that it rocket to number one. Sorry, man. Number 38 ain’t half bad for a song about a town in Da Parish. Try writing one about disgraced former St. Bernard politician Joey DiFatta and you might hit the top of the pops.
Written By: Marc Paradis/Darcy Malone.
37. My Darlin’ New Orleans– Little Queenie and the Percolators. Back in the days before the brass band boom, there was a lively rock scene in New Orleans. Leigh Harris aka Little Queenie was at the crest of that wave. Thanks to Chef Chris DeBarr for the suggestion. I’m trying to hustle some free food at Revel by name dropping.
Written By: Ron Cuccia /Ramsey McLean/Charles Neville.
36. New Orleans (After The City) Hot 8 Brass Band. Speaking of the brass band boom, the Hot 8 are one of the leading bands in post-Katrina/Federal Flood New Orleans. They even played at Ashley Morris‘ funeral at which I was one of the pallbearers. RIP. FYYFF.
Written By: Terrell Batiste /Chadrick Honore/Alvarez “Big Al” Huntley.
35. Conja (New Orleans 1786)– Beausoleil. I’m a sucker for historical songs and Cajun fiddles. That makes this lovely tune a two-time winner.
Written By: Michael Doucet.
34. Louisiana Man– Dave Edmunds. I’m sure some folks will be unhappy that I didn’t use Doug Kershaw’s original version but this 1982 cover rocks like crazy. The piano intro by Geraint Watkins is to die for.
Written By: Doug Kershaw.
33. Drop Me Off In New Orleans– Kermit Ruffins. When I worked in the French Quarter, I used to run into Kermit all the time. He never remembered my name, so he always called me Chief. I reckoned that I should drop his name given the song title. As you may have noticed, I’m big on name dropping.
Written By: Kermit Ruffins.
32. Way Down Yonder In New Orleans– Connie Boswell. Connie was one of the Boswell Sisters from Uptown New Orleans. They were the Crescent City’s answer to the Andrews Sisters.
Written By: John Turner Layton Jr/ Henry Creamer.
31. Thibodaux, Louisiana– Marcia Ball. Singer/pianist Marcia Ball’s home base is Austin, Texas but she was raised in Vinton, Louisiana. More importantly, she’s a longtime honorary New Orleanian. In 1998, she served as a Grand Duchess in the court of that year’s Krewe du Vieux Queen, Irma Thomas. We take our fake royalty seriously in New Orleans.
This song takes her on a trip to Terrebonne Parish. Geaux, Marcia, geaux.
Written By: Robin Syler.
30. Summertime In New Orleans– Anders Osborne. When Anders Osborne first came to New Orleans, we got our hair cut at the same short-lived Magazine Street salon, Whodunit. It was a combination hair salon and mystery bookstore. It was truly one for the books as is this song.
Written By: Anders Osborne
29. Congo Square– Sonny Landreth. Sonny Landreth is perhaps the greatest rock guitarist to have ever come out of the Gret Stet of Louisiana. He’s also a helluva songwriter.
Written By: Sonny Landreth.
28. Louisiana Rain– Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I still miss Tom Petty. He personified everything that was good about rock music. This song reminds me of the last time he played Jazz Fest, a day so rainy that the Fairgrounds opened late, but the storm was gone by the time the Heartbreakers hit the stage.
Written By: Tom Petty.
27. Born In Louisiana– Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Multi-instrumentalist Gatemouth Brown played a multitude of styles: from blues to rock to swing to country to zydeco. Gate could do it all. The song title is accurate: he was born in Vincent, Louisiana and lived in Slidell for many years.
Written By: Clarence Gatemouth Brown.
26. Louisiana Blues– Muddy Waters. One of my musical heroes, Muddy Waters, was the king of the electric Chicago blues. He was born McKinley Morganfield in the Mississippi Delta and never forgot where he came from. Every time I hear Muddy, I think to myself: Hey neighbor.
Written By: McKinley Morganfield.
25. Goin’ Back To New Orleans– Dr. John. Mac Rebenack has recorded many Louisiana Tunes. In fact, he has recorded two albums of classic New Orleans music: Gumbo and Goin’ Back To New Orleans. I picked the title track of the latter album because it includes turns by various Nevilles, Danny Barker, Pete Fountain, as well as the great trad jazz trumpeter, Al Hirt who put a “Hoit on it” according to Dr. John. Fee nah nay.
Written By: Joe Liggins.
24. Mardi Gras In New Orleans– Professor Longhair. This was a coin toss. I nearly picked Fess’ ode to the Mardi Gras Indians, Big Chief, but went with the song with New Orleans in the title. Call me literal but call me anyway.
Written By: Roy Byrd aka Fess.
23. Treme Song– John Boutté. This marvelous Louisiana Tune was used as the theme song for HBO’s Treme. The show was a mixed bag, but the opening credits were special thanks to this Boutté shaking tune.
FYI: John is related to the late, great Krazy Kat cartoonist George Herriman, a black Creole who passed as white in the bad old days of Jim Crow.
Written By: John Boutté.
22. The Avenue– Cowboy Mouth. This song was written after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood. The Avenue in question is St. Charles and hearing this moving song invariably chokes me up. I considered using Cowboy Mouth’s Louisiana Lowdown, but it was another victim of the one song rule.
Written By: John Thomas Griffith/Fred LeBlanc/Paul Sanchez/Sonia Tetlow.
21. King Creole– Elvis Presley. The theme song of the movie that was number 16 on my Top 40 list of movies set in Louisiana: “He goes by the name of King Creole.”
Written By: Jerry Lieber/Mike Stoller.
20. Basin Street Blues– Louis Prima. This song was written in 1928 and has been recorded by many artists over the years. The original version was by Louis Armstrong but he’s another victim of the one song rule, so I went with the Wildest.
Written By: Spencer Williams.
19. Crescent City– Lucinda Williams. Lucinda was born in Lake Charles about which she wrote a song that just missed the cut. The one song rule is a cruel taskmaster except when I choose to bend it. Besides, the fiddle on this record is perfection
Written By: Lucinda Williams.
18. Angola Bound– Aaron Neville. As a solo artist, Aaron is best known for lush ballads. That’s why this gritty nod to his unfortunate incarceration is so cool. Like many people in Uptown New Orleans, I was acquainted with his brother Charles who co-wrote Angola Bound. He was a lovely man who passed away last year. RIP.
Written By: Aaron Neville/Charles Neville.
17. Mojo Hannah– The Neville Brothers. The Nevilles were the kings of New Orleans music when I moved here in 1987. They were the ones who really put Jazz Fest on the map as they rarely missed a chance to plug it when they were touring.
I selected Mojo Hannah because it contains a shout-out to the 13th Ward, which is my neighborhood. One of my cross streets, Valence Street, used to be the home to many Neville family members. Art (Papa Funk) Neville lived a few blocks away and I remember watching the Thoth parade with Art and one of his nephews before the Storm. A good man: New Orleans nice.
Written By: Marshall Paul/ Mentor Williams.
16. Long Hard Journey Home– The Radiators. The veteran NOLA roots rockers recorded this tribute to Professor Longhair and Jazz Fest in 1995. It begins with the voice of God: Fess himself.
Written By: Ed Volker.
15. House Of The Rising Sun– The Animals. This venerable folk song about a French Quarter bordello has been recorded by many artists down the years. This version by British Invaders, the Animals was by far and away the biggest hit.
Written By: Traditional.
14. Lady Marmalade– LaBelle. This innuendo laced song was a big hit on both the R&B and pop charts in 1974. It was produced by Allen Toussaint and includes these lyrics:
“Gitchie, gitchie, ya-ya, da-da (hey, hey, hey)
Gitchie, gitchie, ya-ya, here (here)
Mocha Chocolata, ya-ya (ooh, yeah)
Creole Lady Marmalade
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”
Written By: Bob Crewe/Kenny Nolan.
13. Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight– Emmylou Harris. Neither Emmylou nor songwriter Rodney Crowell is from the Gret Stet of Louisiana, but they nailed it in this song. Recently, the pair have recorded two albums together and toured extensively. Hence the live version of this country rock classic featuring Emmylou and Rodney.
Written By: Rodney Crowell/Donivan Cowart.
12. Pearl Of The Quarter– Steely Dan. Steely Dan are the ultimate L.A. not LA band. But Donald Fagen has kin in New Orleans and was a frequent visitor as a young man. The Pearl in question was a prostitute named Louise.
Written By: Walter Becker/Donald Fagen.
11. Saturday Night Fish Fry– Louis Jordan. Jordan is one of the contenders for the title of founder of rock and roll. This song is better characterized as jump blues, but it definitely rocks and says so in the lyrics.
Written By: Louis Jordan/ Ellis Lawrence Walsh.
10. Lover Of The Bayou– The Byrds. Roger McGuinn hooked up with theatre director Jacques Levy to make a rock musical version of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. It was to be called Gene Tryp (an anagram of Ibsen’s title) but the production never materialized. Lover Of The Bayou was one of the songs the two men wrote together. It’s more fun than a “catfish pie in a gris gris bag.”
Written By: Roger McGuinn/Jacques Levy.
9. Walking To New Orleans– Fats Domino. Antoine Domino was a legend who as an older man was loathe to leave his house in the lower 9th Ward until the levees broke in 2005. He stopped touring and rarely played live; even cancelling a Jazz Fest set at the last minute. It didn’t matter: he was a legend, a true star so we forgave him.
Written By: Bobby Charles.
8. Rad Gumbo– Little Feat. I’ve long considered the L.A. based Little Feat to be an honorary Louisiana band. Percussionist Sam Clayton and bassist Kenny Gradney were born in New Orleans and co-lead guitarist and vocalist, Paul Barrère, has Gret Stet roots. It’s fitting since Little Feat is one of the original roots rock bands.
Rad Gumbo is perhaps my favorite food song. I wonder if it was served at Louis Jordan’s Saturday Night Fish Fry. It wouldn’t surprise me none.
Written By: Paul Barrère/Sam Clayton/ Kenny Gradney/ Martin Kibbee /Bill Payne.
7. Born On The Bayou– Creedence Clearwater Revival. John Fogerty was obsessed with Louisiana music when he was growing up in El Cerrito, California. It’s why he sings with a New Orleans accent even though he was born in Berkeley, not on the bayou. The accent certainly works in this classic rock song, which is how he often opens his live shows. Hence the live version below.
Written By: John Fogerty.
6. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans– Louis Armstrong. This song was written for the 1947 movie New Orleans, which did not make my movie list. Louis Armstrong sang it in the movie and took ownership of it for the rest of his life. Louis’ version was also used as the theme song for the much loved but short-lived teevee show, Frank’s Place.
Written By: Eddie DeLange/Louis Alter.
5. Up On Cripple Creek– The Band. I’m obsessed with The Band and this is one of their most memorable songs. It all begins in Lake Charles Looziana with a girl named Bessie.
Written By: Robbie Robertson.
4. Feels Like Rain– John Hiatt. This is perhaps the most beautiful and evocative Louisiana Tune of all. Hiatt evokes Lake Pontchartrain on a summer evening. It was originally recorded with Sonny Landreth and the Goners who know from Louisiana Tunes.
Written By: John Hiatt.
Here’s where the Top 50 list gets tricky. As I said at the beginning, three artists have written and recorded so many great Louisiana Tunes that I could not choose between them. It’s time to throw out the one song rule, which is okay since it’s my rule and I rule the roost as it were. I’ve used an outline format: 3a, 3b, and 3c to mask my indecision and highlight the brilliance of The Meters, Zachary Richard, and Randy Newman. I’m still listing them in reverse order.
3. The Meters almost single-handedly put New Orleans funk on the map. They spread the funky gospel far and wide when they opened for the Rolling Stones on their 1975 tour.
3c) Hey Pocky-A-Way. This is my favorite Carnival song. Just hearing it evokes grubbing for throws and dodging band chaperones on the parade route. When it was re-recorded by the Neville Brothers, they dropped the A in the title. I say re-recorded not covered because the bands had two members in common: Art and Cyril Neville. The Nevilles are everywhere.
3b) Fiyo On The Bayou. What’s a Louisiana Tune without a bayou in the title? This is the funkiest of the three Meters songs on the list and was also re-recorded by the Neville Brothers as the title track of a 1981 album.
3a) They All Ask’d For You. It’s not just a song title, it’s a catch phrase. Eh, la bas.
All Three Songs Written By: The Meters.
2. Zachary Richard’s ancestors came to Louisiana when the Acadians were driven out of Canada by the British. He grew up speaking French and has attained the stardom that escaped him in America with his French language recordings in Quebec and the mother country.
Zach has always been fascinated with Cajun history and has written and recorded three songs that are worthy of the Top 50 list. Thanks for making my life harder, Monsieur Richard.
2c) No French No More recounts how a misguided government tried to eradicate the French language in the Gret Stet of Louisiana. They came perilously close to succeeding.
2b) Sunset On Louisianne is about the oil industry’s role in despoiling Richard’s part of Louisiana. The locals have been, alas, willing participants. That’s why Morgan City has the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival.
2a) Cote Blanche Bay. Jean Lafitte was a real person but also a mythic figure in South Louisiana. He vanished from the pages of history after the Battle of New Orleans, but his presence can still be felt. Cote Blanche Bay was the harbor from which he plied his piratical trade.
All Three Songs Written By: Zachary Richard.
1. Randy Newman’s mother was from the Gret Stet of Louisiana. When her husband went off to World War II, she came home to be with her family. As he says in Dixie Flyer, Randy “was born right here.”
1c) Kingfish. On his classic Good Old Boys album, Newman wrote songs that satirized the South. I think you know who this song is about: Huey P. Long.
1b) Dixie Flyer: Gorgeous and moving are not words ordinarily associated with Randy Newman’s songs, but they fit Dixie Flyer. It comes from Newman’s Land of Dreams album; the dream land in question is Louisiana. A musical highlight is some stellar guitar playing by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.
1a) Louisiana 1927. As I mentioned earlier, this was the most frequently mentioned song when I crowd sourced Louisiana Tunes on Facebook. I get it. It was written in 1974 but became even more meaningful after Katrina, Rita, and the Baton Rouge flood of 2016.
True story: my wife Grace and I were watching Randy Newman perform at Jazz Fest in 1994. When he launched into Louisiana 1927, a torrential downpour ensued that had everyone running for shelter. I am not making this up. Life often imitates art.
In addition to Randy Newman’s original, there are two other noteworthy versions of this great song: Aaron Neville and Marcia Ball both of whom have already made the list but I’ve snuck their covers in with the links attached to their names. Click away y’all.
Here’s our number one Louisiana Tune:
All Three Songs Written By: Randy Newman.
That concludes this Top 50 list of Louisiana Tunes. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did compiling and writing it. It was a labor of love. Thanks again to everyone who suggested their own favorite Louisiana Tunes.