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"The Battle of New Orleans" is a song written by Jimmy Driftwood. The song describes the War of 1812 Battle of New Orleans from the perspective of an American soldier; the song tells the tale of the battle with a light tone and provides a rather comical version of what actually happened at the battle. It has been recorded by many artists, but the singer most often associated with this song is Johnny Horton. His version scored number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959 (see 1959 in music). Billboard ranked it as the No. 1 song for 1959, it was very popular with teenagers in the late 50's/early 60's in an era mostly dominated by rock and roll music.
In Billboard magazine's rankings of the top songs in the first 50 years of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, "The Battle of New Orleans" was ranked as the 28th song overall and the number-one country music song to appear on the chart.
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" is often played during North American sporting events, and is commonly heard during home games of the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames. Original Horton 45 rpm discs of the song are now worth many times the original cost, partly because the price is inflated. It was regarded with derision in Britain as the British forces withdrew from the battle after heavy losses had put victory out of the question. The British lost 2,036 men, while the Americans under command of future president Andrew Jackson lost only 71.
As noted, Johnny Horton's 1959 version is the best-known recording of the song, which omits the mild expletives and many of the historical references of the original. Horton also recorded an alternative version for release in British Commonwealth countries, avoiding the unfavorable lyrics concerning the British: the word "British" was replaced with "Rebels," along with a few other differences.
Many other artists have recorded this song. Notable versions include the following:
In the United States, Vaughn Monroe's 1959 single competed with Horton's but did not achieve the same degree of success and became only a minor Hot 100 hit.
In Britain, Lonnie Donegan and his Skiffle Group's 1959 version competed with Horton's and achieved greater success, peaking at number two. In Donegan's spoken introduction, he made it obvious that the British were on the losing side.
The Germany-based Les Humphries Singers' 1972 hit, "Mexico," used the melody and parts of the lyrics, violating copyright by crediting the song to British bandleader Les Humphries. Later the Les Humphries Singers re-released "Mexico" with different lyrics. Another new release contained the original lyrics again.
Leon Russell's cover of the song is on his 1973 album Hank Wilson's Back!
Country music parodists Homer and Jethro had a hit when they parodied "The Battle of New Orleans" with their song "The Battle of Kookamonga". The single was released in 1959 and featured production work by Chet Atkins. In this version, the scene shifts from a battleground to a campground, with the combat being changed to the Boy Scouts chasing after the Girl Scouts.