Wednesday, March 17, 2021

THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS--LEARNING HISTORY THROUGH SONGS #1--by Cheryl Pierson

When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, “story songs” were very popular. Even though radio stations had their “3-minute limit” for song length back then, there were some exceptions. And many of these songs were amazingly concise, able to tell the story, and also evoke emotion from the listener. It didn’t hurt to have a catchy melody to keep us all tuned in, or to be certain we’d run out and buy a 45 single record to have for our very own!



Many of these ballads were connected to movies—whether the theme or other music that was used in conjunction with a movie release. Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton were two of the most prolific balladeers of those times, and two of my favorite singers. I’m not sure in this case what came first—the “chicken or the egg”—because I was just a tyke when many of these songs gained popularity, so of course, I loved those singers and the songs, as well.

One of the most popular songs of this type was The Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton. If you’ve ever tried to sing along, you will know this is not the easiest song to perform!

The importance of the Battle of New Orleans (January 8, 1815) was not in the outcome of the War of 1812, but in the morale of the American forces as they were able to push back the British and keep them from gaining control of a major American port. This song contains the “high points” and is fun to sing (or TRY to sing!)—and easier to remember than memorizing names and dates from a history book. It was the battle the propelled Major General Andrew Jackson to national fame, and the last major battle of the war of 1812.

The song was written by Jimmy Driftwood, and received the Grammy for Best Song of the Year (1959) and Best C&W Song. Who was Jimmy Driftwood, you ask? According to Wikipedia, here’s the scoop on the melody and the lyrics, and a school principal who wanted to make learning history more interesting:

The melody is based on a well-known American fiddle tune "The 8th of January," which was the date of the Battle of New Orleans. Jimmy Driftwood, a school principal in Arkansas with a passion for history, set an account of the battle to this music in an attempt to get students interested in learning history. It seemed to work, and Driftwood became well known in the region for his historical songs. He was "discovered" in the late 1950s by Don Warden, and eventually was given a recording contract by RCA, for whom he recorded 12 songs in 1958, including "The Battle of New Orleans."

The Battle of New Orleans has been covered by many other artists, including Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, but none achieved the level of success that Johnny Horton’s version did. With a rasp in his voice, a twinkle in his eye, and his enthusiasm for the song, it’s easy to understand why The Battle of New Orleans skyrocketed, where it spent six weeks at number one on the popular charts, and ten weeks at the top spot on the country charts!

"The Battle Of New Orleans"

In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We looked down the river and we seen the British come
And there must have been a hunnerd of 'em beatin on the drum
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring
We stood beside our cotton bales 'n' didn't say a thing

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Old Hickory said we could take 'em by surprise
If we didn't fire our muskets till we looked 'em in the eye
We held our fire 'till we seed their faces well
Then we opened up the squirrel guns and really gave em
Well we

Fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We fired our cannon till the barrel melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round
We filled his head with cannonballs and powered his behind
And when we touched the powder off the gator lost his mind

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Hup, 2, 3, 4
Sound off, 3, 4
Hup, 2, 3, 4
Sound off, 3, 4
Hup, 2, 3, 4
Sound off, 3, 4

This song is included (of course!) in the 1960 album by Johnny Horton called Johnny Horton Makes History, containing all his other story-songs about different actual historical events and those that “might have been”—a wonderful collection.

Here’s a video of Johnny Horton performing his chart-topping song, and having a little fun with it.

https://youtu.be/mjXM6x_0KZk

12 comments:

  1. Cheryl,
    It makes me sad that Johnny Horton died before he had time to sing more songs with a historical theme. He was 'on to something' with these kinds of songs.

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    1. I know! So many great songs, and he had a voice for them, too. Did you know he married Hank Williams's widow (Hank's 2nd wife)? She had a lot of tragedy in her life!

      I do love all the songs he did manage to record before he died so young. And thank goodness for recordings and videos!

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  2. I knew the cover version by the Royal Guardsmen (of Snoopy vs. the Red Baron fame) before I knew Horton's version. It's been covered so many times.

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  3. Ah, well, see, you aren't nearly as old as I am, Jeff. LOL I remember riding my tricycle over the edge of my little 45 record of this song by Johnny Horton and learning a terrible lesson. Thankfully, my dad came to the rescue and went to the record store in the next couple of days and bought a new one. When he brought it home, I was the happiest kid in the world. And I didn't leave my records on the floor again. LOL I loved the Royal Guardsmen version of this too. Thanks for coming by, Jeff!

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  4. You have no idea how much you made my day by bringing Johnny Horton and the Battle of New Orleans to mind. The minute I hear Johnny's name I hear his voice in my head singing that song. I think there is a special reward waiting for those artists who do songs that people can remember for their entire lifetime (as opposed to me not even remembering what day of the week it is sometimes. LOL!).

    Also love Sink the Bismarck and North to Alaska from him as well. I've spent hours and hours of my life singing his songs. I remember as a kid the part about the gator used to always crack me up.

    Not specific to just relaying history, I have always loved country music best (especially from the mid-1990's and earlier) because no one beats country artists at telling stories in song. So many other great balladeers in country music such as Red Sovine, Johnny Cash, and many others. They are a gift and a blessing!

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    1. I feel the same way about Johnny Horton's version of The Battle of New Orleans--always makes me smile! Oh, yes, I agree with you! So many wonderful balladeers from 'back in the day' and some fantastic wordsmithing in those retelling of those stories from history. I have always thought how hard it must have been to match up the tunes and the words so perfectly--it had to be serendipity, and a whooooooole lot of talent.

      You are absolutely right--they are a gift and a blessing and thank goodness for the technology that exists to preserve their performances! Thanks for stopping by today!

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  5. Cheryl, you took me back to my early high school days. I bought Johnny's vinyl album and wore it out listening to this song. Susie smiled as I sang along with the YouTube video. I didn't miss a word! Thank you for sharing this great old song and the fascinating story behind it.

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    1. You're welcome! So glad you enjoyed it. It always brings a smile to my face, from the memories and just the fun I have when I sing along. LOL I remember how daring we kids thought we were when we came to the part where he sings, "...really gave 'em...WELL WE..." LOL We'd always giggle there.

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  6. I used to sing that song along with Johnny all the time. Of course, even when young I was interested in history. This song was perfect for me. I also loved 'Sink the Bismark' and 'North to Alaska' Doris

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    1. Johnny had so many great songs, and of course, Marty, too, and others. Like you, Doris, I could never NOT sing this song when it came on the radio! LOL Still love it!

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  7. I love the story you told about the principal! I'd never heard it. Thanks

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    1. Vicky, I didn't know that either until I researched this. I know a lot of artists don't write their own material, but I surely never thought of a principal writing this to encourage his students to be more interested in history. God bless him! He actually recorded it, too, and there is a picture of him and Johnny Horton standing together at some affair. I imagine they must have been thanking each other! LOL Thanks for stopping by today!

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