Monday, June 1, 2009

50 years ago: Johnny Horton hit #1 with “The Battle of New Orleans”

First posted 3/13/2021.

The Battle of New Orleans

Johnny Horton

Writer(s): Jimmy Driftwood (see lyrics here)


Released: April 6, 1959


First Charted: April 27, 1959


Peak: 16 US, 19 CB, 16 HR, 110 CW, 16 UK, 17 CN, 16 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 9.34 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

“The Battle of New Orleans” dates back to 1815. On August 8 of that year, Andrew Jackson led American forces against British troops in New Orelans, not knowing the War of 1812 had officially ended two weeks earlier. A folk song called “The Eighth of January” celebrated the victory and became a popular fiddle tune. BR1

It wasn’t until 1955 that Jimmy Driftwood, a high school teacher and principal from Arkansas, wrote lyrics for it in an effort to get his students more interested in learning history. WK The song described the battle in a comical tone from the perspective of an American solider. Driftwood became well known in the area for his historical songs. WK In the late 1950s, RCA gave him a recording contract and he recorded a dozen songs in 1958, including “The Battle of New Orleans.” WK

The song was subsequently recorded by many different artists, including Johnny Cash, Les Claypool, Lonnie Donegan, Bill Haley, Doug Kershaw, Vaughn Monroe, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dolly Parton, Leon Russell, and Sha Na Na. It was Johnny Horton, however, who took the song to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the country charts. His version omits many of the historical references.

Sadly, Horton was killed in a head-on collision on November 5, 1960. He performed that night at the Skyline in Austin, Texas – the same club where Hanks Williams made his final appearance before his death. In another strange coincidence, Horton’s widow, Billie Jean, was formerly married to Williams. BR1 Ironically, Horton was driving because he’d had a premonition of his death and consequently refused to fly on airplanes. BR1

Billboard ranked “New Orleans” the #1 song of 1959. It won Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Country & Western Recording.


Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Johnny Horton
  • BR1 Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 54.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia

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