I began this list intending to reinvigorate the essential Mardi Gras soundtrack with new songs and surprising artists.
After researching and reviewing the old favorites and the Fat Tuesday standards, I realized that Mardi Gras isn’t Mardi Gras without its traditions and a good Professor Longhair track or two (or three).
This mixtape merges that old good time sound with a few new purple, green, and gold mood-enhancing tunes. As you listen to each track, look at the list as a kind of schedule dedicated to the entire day of partying, delivering you from morning, noon, night, to the last hurrah before preparing for the sacrifices of the next season: Lent.
1. Professor Longhair – Mardi Gras in New Orleans
I don’t know about you, but there is no sleeping in on Fat Tuesday. Unless you camped out or someone has graciously saved you a spot, you need to get up pretty early to brave the traffic, both foot and rubber. Professor Longhair’s “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” is the perfect melody to kickstart the day. The iconic whistle solo soothes and refreshes the soul and prepares your body, much like a marathon runner would, for the trek ahead.
2. The Meters – Cissy Strut
While this song isn’t as quintessentially Mardi Gras as much as The Meters’ “Hey Pocky A-way,” it nevertheless serves as the perfect interlude between breakfast and the first Rex float. The late sixties instrumental sounds like your own exploitation movie montage and makes for the perfect soundtrack combined with various Mardi Gras sights – both debauched and innocent.
3. Earl King – Street Parade
The big, high-energy sound in “Street Parade” reverberates like a parade already marching between your ear canals. It keeps up the rhythm even after you battle the sweet, sweet food coma brought on by a breakfast of Bloody Marys and grits.
4. Beyonce – Get Me Bodied (Extended Mix)/ DJ Jubilee – Get Ready, Ready
I can think of no occasion where a Beyonce song might be inappropriate – weddings, jogs, funerals, Mardi Gras. “Get Me Bodied” is the kind of song tailored for a spontaneous neighborly dance number in the middle of the street, but its midway dance breakdown, in the fashion of DJ Jubilee’s “Get Ready, Ready,” will work up an appetite whether you’re patting your weave or not. The two songs are interchangeable, but DJ Jubilee gets extra points as a New Orleans native.
5. The Meters – They All Ask’d For You
We slow it down, just a little, and begin a mid-day rest with something familiar and whimsical. It’s inevitable that we all end up wiping fried chicken grease from our fingers at some point, but “They All Ask’d For You” is just fine for shouting, “The monkeys ask’d, the tigers ask’d, and the elephants ask’d me too,” with a mouth full of Popeye’s during the noon lunch break.
6. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Tom Waits –Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Mardi Gras – of course – Tom Waits and Mardi Gras – sure. The song was originally recorded as a charity limited-edition record of a New Orleans standard, but Waits’ gargly baritone paired with PHJB’s Dixie Land vibes packs the brass that feels just as good as that first slice of king cake or a White Russian daiquiri.
7. The Hawkettes – Mardi Gras Mambo
I’m sure most tourists who have spent at least one weekend in New Orleans have heard this enough that they’ll have their neighbors back home humming the tune while watching slides of vacation pictures. In fact, you’re probably mouthing the words at this very second.
8. Louis Prima and Keely Smith – The Birth of the Blues
This song doesn’t immediately conjure visions of beads and floats, but it’s definitely New Orleans. Smith’s pearl-glossy voice paired with Prima’s trumpet is a stroll, then a run, then a swing down any New Orleans avenue. It’s perfect if you’ve suddenly realized you’ve lost your voice and need a break from the bedlam.
9. Alabama Shakes – Heavy Chevy
Really any Alabama Shakes track would work to get you going during Carnival. Their soul, blues, and hard rock sound fits in perfectly with the soiled streets and dark alleys of the cold Fat Tuesday night, but “Heavy Chevy” is especially fitting for its high-energy opening and freight-train pace. It’s just what the soul needs as the last floats glide down the street.
10. Stop Inc. – Second Line
It’s probably the most iconic Mardi Gras tune of all time, though it’s lately become a staple at local wedding receptions to signal the end of the night. This track should accompany one last hurrah while you gather your belongings and, most likely, your dignity, before you Second Line your way back to the car.
11. Louis Armstrong – St. James Infirmary
Louis Armstrong made this traditional folk song famous in the 1920s – today, it’s the ideal battle hymn to call home weary souls after a long, mad dash for plastic beads.