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Lady Marmalade...THE HISTORY OF THE SONG

Discussion in 'Music' started by Dennis, Oct 22, 2013.

  1. Dennis Dennis Shook

    Every now and then a song comes along that makes you smile, makes you dance, and even piques your curiosity. Labelle had one of those songs in 1974/75 called Lady Marmalade. Caught somewhere between funk, rock and roll, & soul Labelle scored one of the coolest & most covered crossover hits of all time. Strongly driven by organ, horns, bass, and drums, it features the voices of Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash, and the incredible Patti LaBelle. The lyrics are a mixture of English, French, gobbledygook, and sexual tension sung with the kind of verve and power that can only come from catching a perfect performance on tape.

    Written by Bob Crew & Kenny Nolan, the song was originally released on Labelles fourth album called Nightbirds. Up to this point, Labelle had released three mediocre selling albums that were critically acclaimed and strongly respected by fellow musicians. In fact they were so well thought of that they were selected to open for both The Who and The Rolling Stones which helped to bring them fame and boost their record sales. Despite their stage success and rock solid reputation the women thirsted for a hit that would take them from opening act to headliner. Lady Marmalade came along when they were at the peak of their abilities and their reading of it delivered the singers to the heights of rock and roll success.


    Lyrically the song is about a one night stand a man secretly has with a New Orleans prostitute calling herself Lady Marmalade. The passion the man felt in the moment drove his animal instinct off the charts and then haunted him mightily after he returned to his mundane life. My interpretation of the song has always been that the guy was a white businessman who had traveled to The Crescent City on business and then found himself in the French Quarter tempted by a beautiful hooker. The woman, Lady Marmalade, is Creole with skin the color of cafe au lait. she approaches him and asks if he "wants to give it a go" his mouth says yes and his mind say's "Gitchy gitchy ya ya da da!!!" Presumably he was so taken with this dark woman's seductive beauty and silky smooth skin that he simply couldn't find the words to describe his passion.


    Eventually the song reaches it's French tag line "Voulez-vous coucher avec mois, se soir" which simply translates to 'do you want to sleep with me tonight'. Judging from the guys brain freeze the answer was YES!!! Later he's "back at home doing 9-5" which suggests he's probably a white collar guy with the suburban dream of a white picket fence, a respectable wife, a couple of kids and maybe a dog. At night he finds his dreams haunted by the passion Lady Marmalade had awakened in him. I kind of feel bad for the poor schmuck and always harbored this personal fantasy that he shared his desires with his wife who responded by unleashing her own inner freakattude. The song doesn't tell us the end of the story but it's suggested that the man keeps his secret by saying he's "living his brave life of lies". I don't know whether keeping his passion a secret is a happy memory or just pathetic, but Labelle makes it a memory worth savoring.


    Musically the song, features horns overlaying an organ, and driven by a fiery rhythm section. While it is every bit as energetic as Stay With Me By Faces or In The Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett, it is driven by a female sexuality that is reminiscent of Chaka Khan and Rufus's Tell Me Something Good. While Rufus's song is more funk driven and Lady Marmalade is closer to straightforward rock, neither stand on ceremony about their subject matter. Chaka Khan says "I got something that'll sho nuff set yo stuff on fire", Labelle is at the other end of the equation because they did set his stuff on fire. In 1974/75 most songs about female sexuality were coy rather than open but soon women like Donna Summer would blow the doors open. In fact the success enjoyed by these talented women would drive other female singers to become a bit more forward as well. A perfect example of this was Olivia Newton-Johns conversion from If You Love Me Let Me Know to Lets Get Physical. In the first song she asks "What else can I do to make you see?" and in the second she has it all figured out.


    Later the members of Labelle would go their separate ways and then reunite a few times. Nona Hendryx had mixed results as a solo artist but became very successful in raising awareness and funding for HIV/AIDS research and raising funds to directly help the afflicted. Sarah Dash had more success as a solo artist than Hendryx, appearing with Keith Richards on his solo projects and with the Stones as well as having a string of hits on her own. She also did charity work to assist homeless women and children. Then there's Patti LaBelle who certainly had the most success of the three as a solo artist with a string of hits over the course of her long career. She has also been accused along the way of being a diva. Allegations against her include fighting with Diana Ross over a microphone, and singing to loudly when in chorus. I don't know if any of these amusing stories are true. but there is no doubt that Patti LaBelle has led a colorful life as a singer and entertainer. The members of Labelle have won many awards including Grammy's as either members of the band or as solo artists. While the group isn't as strongly remembered as, say, Dianna Ross and the Supremes, they certainly affected the direction of modern music as strongly as anyone in the mid 1970's .

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