Meaning Behind “Lady Marmalade” By Patti LaBelle

Lady Marmalade is a song you may not know, but it’s one of the most iconic and famous tracks by Patti LaBelle. If you have been wondering what this song is all about, continue reading as we dive into the meaning behind Lady Marmalade by Patti LaBelle. 

The Origins 

Kenny Nolan and Bob Crewe wrote Lady Marmalade, and it was the experiences that Crewe had with prostitutes in the Red Light District of New Orleans that inspired the track.

The Eleventh Hour first recorded the song, which Nolan had been a part of. Crewe ended up letting Allen Toussaint hear the track while in New Orleans, and it was Toussaint who decided to then record this song with Patti LaBelle. 

Vicki Wickham and Toussaint were the producers for the LaBelle version, and after they signed with Epic Records, Lady Marmalade became the first song from their album Nightbirds in 1974. She was the lead vocals for the band while Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx were the backup vocalists.

The Music Video 

✿ LABELLE - Lady Marmalade (1974) ✿

In the Lady Marmalade music video, you can see LaBelle is at a club, and there are girls dancing around her dressed in scantily-clad outfits while guys are smiling and all happy as she begins singing near them. The video seems to give the impression of sex and flirtation, but it’s not vulgar and there are no scenes of nudity in the video. Quite a few times, she looks into the camera as she sings about her services and advertises what she can do.

The Lyrics 

Lady Marmalade is best known for the specific lyric “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” This is in French, and the English translation to it is “Do you want to sleep with me tonight?” so it’s a very explicit and sexual song. 

David from Washington, DC, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, she did not know what the lyrics were translated to, and she said she just sang it without even understanding the message behind it. A lot of the lyrics seem to be more gibberish, so there’s only so much of the track you can understand, even when you translate it into English. 

The first verse is from the point of view of a person paying the prostitute, and he is meeting her on the streets of New Orleans for the first time. The second verse is all about how they are hanging out and how he is then drinking some wine before things get a little freaky between the two of them. 

When going into the third verse, it’s all about the moments after sex when the guy is reveling in her beauty and the experience they just enjoyed together. While the person in this case goes back to his regular life, he keeps thinking about the night with Lady Marmalade. 

The next part is where we get the popular “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” LaBelle sings this part of the song, and she does as if she is the prostitute aka Lady Marmalade herself, and she goes into the services that she had given the person in the earlier part of the track as part of her advertising strategy. 

So…What’s It About?

As you can see, Lady Marmalade is a song that’s all about the prostitutes working within the French Quarter of New Orleans, or generically, about a prostitute and the person. The song is mostly sung from the perspective of the person until the very end of the track where the lady of the night, Lady Marmalade, begins to sing about what services she offered him. 

He is captivated by his time with her and reflects on hanging out with her, drinking, and then having some fun and hot sex with her before he leaves to go back to his regular mundane life. The song is about being nostalgic, looking back at that night, and how he can’t get Lady Marmalade out of his head because she left such a good impression on him considering her job is being a prostitute. 

However, there is no deep meaning to this track except that it’s all about a customer and his lady of the night. You might say that the person in the song is living a lie because underneath his normal life is this freaky part of him that enjoyed being with a prostitute, and he seems to keep thinking about that special night. 

Chart Performance 

Lady Marmalade was a huge hit for LaBelle and made her group one of the top girl groups of the decade. The track went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed number one for a week. It also landed on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at number one for a week, which was the Top Soul Singles chart at the time, and placed seven on the Hot Dance/Music Club Play chart. 

Outside of America, it was a hit too, with it landing at number one on the Canada Top Singles chart. It also hit number one on the Dutch Top 40 in the Netherlands and number five in Finland. It was ranked 22 in the Top Songs of 1975 by Billboard. 

Use In Media 

LaBelle’s version of Lady Marmalade has appeared in many different movies over the years including Jacob’s Ladder, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Dick, Carlito’s Way, The Girl Next Door, Semi-Pro, and Pitch Perfect 2, just to name a few.

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