Battle of New Orleans

In 1814 we took a little trip…

In 1959, Johnny Horton earned a number one hit on the Billboard Charts for the song The Battle of New Orleans.  Written by Jimmy Driftwood, it commemorates the victory of the United States over the British Army at the end of the War of 1812.1

Today, January 8, 2015, commemorates the 200th anniversary of the conclusion of the battle, fought from December 23, 1814 to January 8, 1815.  It was the last important battle of the War of 1812, occurring after the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814 (but before the treaty was ratified by both governments in February 1815).2

The Battle of New OrleansAll of this is to set the background of a song that played a significant role in my childhood.  When my father was overseas in the US Navy, he picked up several LPs, including Johnny Horton’s album. It was made from a semi-translucent red plastic, and probably was meant to last more that a few dozen plays. My family defied physics and played that album over and over and over again!

It was a favorite of ours, mostly because the tunes on the album were catchy, and some were slightly silly, and all were easy to remember the lyrics and sing along to (though no one really wants to listen to a Reilly sing). In some ways, this song was one of the theme songs of my life, and had a funny way of popping up again and again.

The first time the song showed up unexpectedly I was a junior in college at NYU, studying Journalism.  I was taking a class taught by Mitchell Stephens about the History of American Journalism.  We were discussing how news traveled during the War of 1812, and the popular belief that the Battle of New Orleans took place after the treaty was signed because the news had not reached the combatants in time to stop the battle.  Out of the blue, Professor Stephens asked if anyone was familiar with the song The Battle of New Orleans.  Without really thinking, I raised my hand, surprised at the question.  He then asked me to sing it!  I wasn’t about to embarrass myself by singing in front of the entire class, but I did recite the lyrics (see box).  I also offered to bring in my Johnny Horton CD to the next class to play the song for the class.  (Yes – I had bought a CD of the album once I had gone off to college.  It helped deal with the homesickness of being almost 3000 miles away from home.)

The second time the song caught me by surprise was the night I first introduced the man who was to become my husband to my family.  It was the summer before my senior year of college, and I brought him home for dinner at the end of the summer before I returned to college for my final year.  I don’t remember now how it came up in conversation, but all of a sudden my entire family simultaneously broke out singing the song, including my mom!  I remember thinking, “Oh my, he’s never going to want to go out with me again!”.  Fortunately, he’s a good sport, and thought it was funny, if a little weird.

To hear the song for yourself, view this YouTube video:

  1.  The Battle of New Orleans, Wikipedia:, Modified 18 Dec 2014, Accessed 5 Jan 2015. 
  2. Battle of New Orleans, Wikipedia:, Modified 2 Jan 2015, Accessed 5 Jan 2015. 

The Music that Defined My Childhood

I was recently going through an old box of books and came across something I had bought many, many years ago and barely used.  It’s The Autobiography Box by Brian Bouldrey.  It comes with a little “Owner’s Manual” and a stack of cards designed to prompt you to help write your autobiography.  It’s cute, it’s fun, it’s a little kitschy – but as I was going through the box, I can across one card that immediately jumped out at me.

Is there a piece of music that reminds you of a particular time and place in your life?

It’s funny because my family is not a particularly musically inclined family, but there are certain songs, albums, bands that defined my childhood.  It’s also a rather odd collection of artists, which may account for my rather wide-ranging taste in music today.

John Denver

An Evening with John Denver

1.  John Denver 

I can still sing every word of Take Me Home, Country Roads by heart.  My mother loved John Denver and she played his music all the time.  In fact she even had an album of duets by John Denver and Placido Domingo that met a very untimely death on a California freeway.  My father swears to this day it was an accident, but my mother always maintained that it was music homicide…  Hearing a John Denver song on the radio, or in a store, brings back such strong emotional memories of my mother that it will stop me in my tracks and bring me to tears.  Perhaps my personal favorite of John Denver’s songs was Grandma’s Feather Bed, because the image of a bed “nine feet high and six feet wide” filled with “eight kids, four hound dogs and a piggy we stole from the shed” made me giggle.

It was nine feet high and six feet wide
Soft as a downy chick
It was made from the feathers of forty’leven geese
Took a whole bolt of cloth for the tick
It’d hold eight kids, four hound dogs
And a piggy we stole from the shed
We didn’t get much sleep but we had a lot of fun
On Grandma’s feather bed