Laissez Le Bon Temps Roulet
So it’s Fat Tuesday, or mardi gras, and while I have not had a Hurricane cocktail quite yetold men need to keep pacing in the forefront of their thoughtsI have been listening to many of the gems of NOLA's glorious musical history. Most of the best New Orleans music compilations ever assembled in the LP/CD era were released either by Rhino Records or Rounder Records in the late 1980’s/early 1990s. Happily the two best, Rounder’s Mardi Gras Party and Rhino’s New Orleans Party Classics both remain in print. For me the edge goes to New Orleans Party Classics because it has a better selection of older classic NOLA “hits.” I use the quotes because tunes like “Hey Pocky Way” (done here by the Neville Brothers), “I Got Loaded” (memorably covered by Los Lobos but heard here in its original version by `Lil Bob & The Lollipops) and even “Iko Iko” (here by Dr. John) are “hits” only to those who know New Orleans music. Other than “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which is actually an old gospel number, Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame,” may be the only NOLA tune prior to Lil Wayne raps, that ever made it fully into the national consciousness.
Another plus to Party Classics are the versions chosen. Much New Orleans music has been recorded and rerecorded multiple times by multiple artists. “Iko Iko” whose seemingly jabberwockylike lyrics are taken from the chants of Mardi Gras Indian tribesand which was originally called “JockAMo,”has been recorded by everyone from The Dixie Cups (who cut its best known version) and the Grateful Dead to Warren Zevon and Dave Matthews. For the most part, the versions of each song licensed for this compilation are definitive or damned near.
Another compilation worth having and one that shares a key tune, “Sea Cruise” by Frankie Ford, with Party Classics is Vol. 2 of the now outofprint Rhino compilation, The Best of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues. This one also has two of the most essential tracks from another great NOLA comp, Specialty’s Creole Kings of New Orleans,Guitar Slim’s “The Things That I Used To Do,” and Lloyd Price’s immortal “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” Other standout tracks include The Meters “Cissy Strut,” “Let The Good Times Roll,” by Shirley & Lee and the ultimate NOLA novelty tune (and there are a few to choose from!), Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “Ain’t Got No Home.” Like all the compilations mentioned here, the sound is never audiophile quality, in most cases because the source material is either gone (and so in all likelihood clean 45’s were used) or fairly lofi to begin with. While the first volume of this compilation had some obvious licensing challengesthe cuts by Roy Brown and Smiley Lewis, for example, are lesser additions to their catalog, these two volumes are still a good place to start listening to classic late 1940’s to early 1960s NOLA R&B, which in many ways, is the sweetest of all the NOLA musical subgenres and what Mardi Gras party music is all about. And wherever you may beeven Pat O’Brien’s in the Quarterknow that if you taste gin or vodka in your Hurricane, it’s a bastardized version. The original recipe calls for just rum, lemon juice and passion fruit juice.Let the Good Times Roll! But remember the pacing!