To put it simply, New Orleans is a one-of-a-kind city with a richer and more unique culture than just about anywhere else. A melting pot of the south, its music history is second to none in the US as the Mecca of jazz, blues, and Cajun styles.
In this article, we’ll go over 21 of the best songs ever written about the city of New Orleans.
1. House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
The biggest widespread hit about the city of New Orleans ironically comes from an English rock band. The Animals recorded their version of House of the Rising Sun in 1964, releasing it as one of the most revolutionary singles in history and making what is regarded as the first folk-rock hit.
It was around as a folk song long before The Animals recorded their song, though. No clear initial authorship has been found, with some suggesting the song has been around in some form since the mid-1800s or even earlier.
2. Down in New Orleans – Dr. John
For this one, we enter the world of Disney animated films. Down In New Orleans comes from the Disney film The Princess and the Frog, written by Randy Newman. It sets the tone for the film, introducing the city as a whole and appearing in different forms and lengths throughout the film.
It would eventually be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Grammy Award for Best Song. Perhaps its greatest achievement was being played in full by Randy Newman in New Orleans at the 2008 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Recommended: Greatest Disney songs
3. Go To The Mardi Gras – Professor Longhair
If we’re going to talk about New Orleans, we have to include staple songs of Mardis Gras and the city’s festival season. This one came out in 1949 by Professor Longhair, a pioneer of the New Orleans music scene and one of the most important figures in bridging the gap between the early piano music of the city and the jazz of guys like Dr. John and Fats Domino.
It’s one of the most New Orleans songs out there, giving visitors tips for enjoying the Mardis Gras parades and later becoming a standard of the celebration itself. Numerous versions exist, with artists like Fats Domino and Keith Richards covering or including it in their classic compositions.
4. Sweet Home New Orleans – Dr. John
Speaking of Dr. John, we have to include another one of his songs on the list. The man’s music style is emblematic of the New Orleans music scene, creating a jazzy sound that mixes R&B, jazz, and Afro-Cuban music together.
Sweet Home New Orleans originally came out in 1998 on his album Anutha Zone and produced a soulful summary of Dr. John’s and New Orleans’s music.
5. Crescent City – Lucinda Williams
Lucinda Williams is an incredible songwriter from Louisiana that has been hailed as one of the best songwriters of her generation and has won numerous awards to back up the title. Crescent City is an alternative country song that mixes the Caju influences of her hometown as an ode to the city of New Orleans.
Several references in the song go over the city, Lake Pontchartrain, and Mandeville, but the song’s title talks about the bend in the Mississippi River in the heart of New Orleans.
6. Way Down Yonder in New Orleans – Harry Connick, Jr.
Way Down Yonder In New Orleans was groundbreaking when it was released in 1922. It broke away from the cliche concepts that dominated the early pop music scene and would go on to be recorded and rerecorded numerous times. The song became the first record of the rock era to feature a full brass section in 1959, an ode to the horns and brass integral to New Orleans music.
Another interesting tidbit is that no one owns the song; it’s freely out in the public domain for artists to cover and use for themselves.
7. Mardi Gras Mambo – The Meters
You can’t separate New Orleans and Mardis Gras, nor can you take anything away from the iconic songs that live in prominent roles during the celebrations. Mardis Gras Mambo is another of these, originally recorded in 1953 by Frankie Adams and Lou Welsch.
What started out as a country song always had a Latin rhythm to it, becoming a standard of the Mardis Gras scene and remaining a popular song in the local area.
8. I Wish I Was in New Orleans – Tom Waits
New Orleans has a massive reputation for its unique culture, food scene, and overall ambiance. Those are the things Tom Waits highlights in his song I Wish I Was In New Orleans. Originally written and produced in 1976, the song will make any listener homesick for the Big Easy whether they’ve been to the city before or not.
Waits describes the feeling of the city in detail, and the alternating tones, from happy to sad, make for one of the most beautiful homages to the city out there.
9. Born on the Bayou – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Born On The Bayou is one of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s best-known songs of the south. It originally came out on their second album Bayou Country in 1969 and is one of the best examples of swamp rock in history. The song served as the B-side to their more popular Proud Mary single, which also happens to mention the city of New Orleans.
Many have labeled Born On The Bayou as one of the band’s best songs and delves heavily into the howling of New Orleans blues.
10. Treme Song – John Boutté
John Boutté is another artist that exemplifies the melting pot of cultures that is New Orleans. He can do it all with styles diving into or drawing from jazz, gospel, Latin, blues, and R&B. Treme Song references a neighborhood in the city of New Orleans of the same name, one of the oldest parts of the city and the center of both African-American and Creole cultures.
The song came out on Bouttés album Jambalaya but would eventually be used as the theme song of the HBO series Treme, with Boutté appearing in the show several times to perform it.
11. When The Saints Go Marching In – Nola Brass Band
Most of the songs on this list directly speak about New Orleans, but this one may be more embedded in the city’s culture than any other. Originally a gospel song, When The Saints Go Marching In would eventually be turned into an uptempo jazz number that became one of the most popular songs in the city.
It’s always played at funerals as a dirge as well. Even the NFL football team in New Orleans took its name from the song and called themselves the Saints. From the beginning of the 1900s through the modern day, When The Saints Go Marching In has been a theme song for New Orleans, and we would be remiss to leave it off this list.
12. Take Me to the Mardi Gras – Paul Simon
Take Me To The Mardi Gras originally came out on Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album in 1973. Oddly enough, for a song about the south, it charted in the UK, debuting on the UK Singles chart in 1973, peaking at number seven later that year. It’s all about a fun and worry-free trip to the biggest festival New Orleans has to offer.
13. Southern Nights – Allen Toussaint
Southern Nights was the title track of Allen Toussaint’s 1975 album and the first song chosen for single release from the album. It would eventually reach number one on three different Billboard charts in the US, the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Country Songs, and Adult Contemporary charts, as well as number one on the Cash Box Top 100. A massive crossover hit with both the country and pop audiences, Southern Nights was nominated for Song of the Year at the CMA’s.
14. The Battle of New Orleans – Johnny Horton
The Battle of New Orleans is an old song that numerous artists have recorded over the years. The most famous version of Jimmy Driftwood’s song is the one recorded by Johnny Horton, rising to number one on the Hot 100 back in 1959. The song is a retelling of the historical Battle of New Orleans that takes on a lighter tone to portray the events and even throws in a bit of comedy. Driftwood wasn’t a Louisiana native; he was a teacher in Arkansas that wrote the song to help students get interested in learning about history.
15. Walking to New Orleans – Fats Domino
Fats Domino came up with Walking To New Orleans after his own car broke down, and he had to walk some way into the city to find help. It’s a tale of a man whose woman left him, down on his luck, and making his way to New Orleans in the hopes of turning his life around. It’s quintessential Fats Domino, telling a sad tale but filling it with hope and making listeners feel happy in a way despite the misfortune of the narrator in the song.
16. This City – Steve Earle
This City is another song that was written and recorded for the show Treme, appearing on both the soundtrack for the show and Steve Earle’s album I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive.
It would eventually be nominated for Best Song written for Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media at the Grammy Awards. It feels like a Cajun song and has a guest appearance from actor Tim Robbins.
17. My Dawlin’ New Orleans – Li’l Queenie & The Percolators
Speaking of Treme, here’s yet another song from the show (they killed the soundtrack for this one and produced some of the best songs ever about the city of New Orleans). My Dawlin’ New Orleans also appeared on Li’l Queenie’s 2018 album Purple Heart, but it originally appeared on her album alongside The Percolators in 1980.
Overall, it’s the perfect illustration of the city, from culture to cuisine, and has become a standard in the city in the years since its release.
18. Axman Jazz – Squirrel Nut Zippers
There are no words to this song to help you understand that it’s about New Orleans; it’s just an instrumental. The important thing about it is the blending of styles that New Orleans is famous for, from blues to swing and gypsy jazz to horns. If you’re looking for a song that embodies the city of New Orleans without ever even saying a word, this is probably the best song to listen to.
19. New Orleans – PJ Morton
It’s easy to feel at home in New Orleans. The culture as a whole is welcoming, warm, and easygoing. Many artists also draw inspiration from the city, whether it’s their perseverance in dealing with disasters or the joyous culture they find themselves immersed in. New Orleans by PJ Morton is an ode to the city, inspired by the city, and it’s him reminiscing on the way he feels making music in New Orleans.
20. Louisiana 1927 – Randy Newman
New Orleans has dealt with its fair share of disasters. Lousiana 1927 deals with the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that left 700,000 people homeless in Louisiana and Mississippi. While set outside of the city of New Orleans, it became a lament of Hurricane Katrina after that disaster in 2005.
21. Royal Orleans – Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin used to stay at the Royal Orleans hotel in New Orleans, and it is a pretty funny one. The narrator wakes up the following day to discover that the woman he picked up at the bar the night before was actually a drag queen. Zeppelin frequented gay bars in the city because, according to them, it was more fun, and they didn’t get hassled for autographs, leading to this song that is one of the few to have every member get a composer credit.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.