Ten More Songs You May Not Know Are Covers: The Battle of New Orleans (#8)
By Four Walls
August 29, 2016 8:03pm CST
It's yet another look at some big hits that you may not know were actually covers versions. I had a series of discussions around this subject back in July, but there are more! I don't think any of these will be as 'shocking' as the likes of "Piece of My Heart" or "Bette Davis Eyes" being covers, but you never know. Here's the next song on the list. #8: The Battle of New Orleans After ten years of working hard on his career Johnny Horton became an "overnight sensation" in 1959 with this historical ballad about the last major battle of the War of 1812. It was a runaway hit, going to #1 on both the country and pop charts and winning a Grammy award as 1959's "song of the year." So popular was the song that its parody, Homer & Jethro's "The Battle of Kookamonga," also took a Grammy that year. Well, guess what. Not only was this a cover, it was a highly sanitized cover at that. Back in the 1930s an Arkansas school teacher by the name of James Morris, who moonlighted by playing music on the weekends, wrote a detailed, historically accurate song about the battle of New Orleans in order to help his history students differentiate between the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War. In the 1950s Morris took to playing music full-time and adopted the stage name of Jimmie Driftwood. Driftwood's version of "The Battle of New Orleans," although released as a single, was doomed to failure. In the first place, it was over four minutes long. Country songs were supposed to be two minutes, maybe two and a half minutes top. (Marty Robbins would shatter this rule in 1959 with his 4 1/2-minute long epic Western song "El Paso," which became the first #1 song to clock in at over four minutes in length. Robbins had to fight his record label to have the song released as a single without having it edited for length, too!) But that was only half the problem. As I said, Driftwood's version was historically accurate. That included mentioning the fact that the victorious US troops celebrated with French hookers. Worse, Driftwood used swear words in the song!!! "Ol' Hickory said that he didn't give a damn, he was gonna whip the britches off of Colonel Packingham." Later in the song he sang, "We opened up our squirrel guns and really gave 'em hell." Back in 1959 you couldn't have "damn" or "hell" in a song and expect it to get airplay." But Johnny Horton loved the song when he heard Driftwood sing it on the Louisiana Hayride. He expressed a desire to record it, but saw the problems. He and Driftwood distilled the song down to the version that Horton released and had the massive hit with. The U.K. didn't care for the song, so Horton had to do a different version told from the perspective of a British soldier. Sadly, Horton didn't get to enjoy his success very long. A year after his Grammy success he was killed in a car wreck after a show in Texas when he was hit by a drunk driver. Jimmie Driftwood died in 1998 at the age of 91. The historical ballad that Driftwood wrote to teach his students has become an American classic. The Battle of New Orleans Written by Jimmie Driftwood Originally recorded by Jimmie Driftwood, 1958 Famously covered by Johnny Horton, 1959 The original version of "The Battle of New Orleans:"
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• United States
30 Aug 16
The melody for the song is an old fiddle tune called "The Eighth of January." That's the day the Battle of New Orleans began in earnest. The melody has been around and used for a number of variants. In fact, Hank Williams Jr. and Don Helms did a song called "The Ballad of Hank Williams" that was to the tune of "The Eighth of January."