Friday, July 4, 2014

"The Battle of New Orleans" around the world

One of the biggest international hits of 1959 was Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans." 

Written by Jimmie Driftwood about the final battle of the War of 1812, the song was not only an international hit but also kicked off a wave of copycat historical and narrative songs that coincided with the folk boom of the early '60s. 

The song was hugely successful—it ranks as one of the 30 biggest hits from the first 50 years of the Billboard charts. It topped the pop and country charts in the US and the pop charts in Canada and Australia. It was a Top 20 hit in South Africa. The sheet music topped the sheet music chart for weeks. 

In the NARAS (later known as the Grammy) awards that year "The Battle of New Orleans" netted awards for Jimmie Driftwood in the "Composer, Song of the Year" category and Johnny Horton in the "Best Country and Western Performance" category.

A rousing song about defeating the British didn't seem to have great commercial potential in the UK, so Horton recorded an alternate version that told the story from the other side. Interestingly, when British skiffle star Lonnie Donegan recorded the song, he recorded the American version, albeit somewhat mockingly. His version was a bigger hit in the UK than Horton's.

For the 4th of July, Music Weird presents Johnny Horton's US and UK versions, Lonnie Donegan's version, Jimmie Driftwood's original version, and Driftwood's answer song. 

Canadian band Des Williams and His Redcoats also recorded an answer song, "The Bladensburg Races," that told the story of the British burning the public buildings in Washington in 1814. The song was a regional hit in Canada in 1959, but I couldn't find any label shots or audio to include here.

And country parodists Homer & Jethro recorded "The Battle of Kookamonga," a parody of "The Battle of New Orleans" that also became a country hit. 

Johnny Horton's U.S. version:

Johnny Horton's British version:

Lonnie Donegan's version:

Jimmie Driftwood's original version:

Jimmie Driftwood's "The Answer to the Battle of New Orleans"

Homer & Jethro's "The Battle of Kookamonga"


  1. Is it just me, or does it sound like the Beverly HIlls Hillbillies Theme Song owes a lot to this one?

  2. Yes, definitely. This song started a whole craze for historical and faux-historical story songs. I think you can even trace novelty recordings like the Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" back to "Battle of New Orleans."