Song Of The Week: “Iko Iko” by The Dixie Cups

This is why you always keep the tape running.

It’s good advice for musicians, or investigative journalists — not so good for presidents who are conspiring to cover up crimes in the early 1970’s. But definitely a must for capturing musical magic.

Two sisters and their cousin formed The Dixie Cups in New Orleans in the early 1960’s. They were spotted by R&B singer and musical man about town, Joe Jones, who became their manager and brought them up to New York to look for a label. The singing trio signed with Leiber and Stoller, who also produced their 1964 debut single, the #1 hit “Chapel Of Love.”

That success led to The Dixie Cups spending a lot of time in the studio in 1964. At one of these sessions, after they’d completed their intended work for the day and with a few minutes of studio time left, the girls picked up some drumsticks, tapped out a rhythm on ashtray and Coke bottle, and quickly busked a song their grandmother used to sing. They were just having a little fun — they didn’t even know the tape was running.

So it came as quite a surprise to The Dixie Cups when they learned that Lieber and Stoller had not only added a little bass and percussion to the the track, but they planned to release it as a single in the spring of 1965. Now titled “Iko Iko,” the single was an unexpected hit, reaching the US Top 20 (quite unusual for such a subdued track with such sparse production — it sounded totally unlike anything else at the time).

There was a little bit of controversy when it became apparent that James “Sugar Boy” Crawford had recorded a version of the song in 1953 — albeit with different verse lyrics — but he was given a co-writing credit a few years later. It’s not entirely clear who wrote what, or how many of the lyrics stemmed from the public domain, since the Creole chorus had been around for decades, but everything worked out in the end.

So tell your flag boy to watch his back. Jockomo fee na nay … with The Dixie Cups.

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