Laissez Le Bon Temps Roulet

So it’s Fat Tuesday, or mardi gras, and while I have not had a Hurricane cocktail quite yet—old men need to keep pacing in the forefront of their thoughts—I 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 re–recorded multiple times by multiple artists. “Iko Iko” whose seemingly jabberwocky–like lyrics are taken from the chants of Mardi Gras Indian tribes—and which was originally called “Jock–A–Mo,”—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 out–of–print 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 lo–fi to begin with. While the first volume of this compilation had some obvious licensing challenges—the 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 be—even Pat O’Brien’s in the Quarter—know 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!

Ariel Bitran's picture

our track record shows how much we often fail in this regard, Robert.

soulful.terrain's picture Cajun for "Let The Good Times Roll" 


My relatives in Eunice, LA, the heart of Cajun Country, will be yeling this in the streets during thier Mardi Gras. Plenty of  Zydeco music, Audouille, Crawfish Etouffe' and Blue Crab... and BEER!!! lots and lots of

dalethorn's picture

One of my very favorites, don't know if it appears here, is I'm a Fool to Care by Joe Barry. From what I hear where I grew up in Akron OH, there was a young man who worked down the street from our house in the early '50s who got a stack of 78s from friends in New Orleans, which started him on a journey to something called rock'n'roll. 

volvic's picture

not the most proper use of the  French language, but hey it's Mardi Gras.  Also I think it is "Laissez les bon temps rouler"  Never seen a "t" at the end but hey things are done differently down in New Orleans.  Love the musical suggestions though, will seek em out.  


Markus Sauer's picture

Stereophile and French is a roulette crap shoot ... :)