The music that emanated from New Orleans always had soul – born in the streets, in the drum circles and jazz funerals, the second-line brass and the legendary figures like King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima, Fats Domino and Roy Brown. Allen Toussaint came from those same streets, soaked up all the influences the city had to offer and with contemporaries like Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe, the Neville Brothers and Dr. John, took the soul of the city’s music and injected it into a whole new kind of sound, then taking it to the masses.
When Toussaint died on Nov. 10, 2015, those who knew his music reflected back on a lifetime of great songs, and though it’s impossible to pick the best (that’s such a subjective thing), we have our favorites. Among them are these:
Ernie K-Doe, “Mother-in-Law”: According to legend, Toussaint – who wrote, produced and played piano on “Mother-in-Law” – was so frustrated with trying to record the tune in the studio, he literally threw away the song’s sheet music in frustration. A background singer picked it up and convinced everyone to try it one more time. The recording of that take became a No. 1 record.
READ MORE: Happy Birthday, Ernie K-Doe!
Dr. John, “I Been Hoodood”: Dr. John might’ve written this song, but Toussaint produced the record – as deep a funk record as you’re likely to hear from New Orleans or anywhere else, for that matter.
The Pointer Sisters, “Yes, We Can Can”: This early Pointer Sisters jam was written by Toussaint and can still get feet moving and hips shaking. The harmonies on the chorus will make your ears happy, too.
Lee Dorsey, “Working in the Coal Mine”: Toussaint wrote and co-produced this 1966 single, which gave Dorsey his first hit in five years.
Allen Toussaint, “Southern Nights”: If you know this song, you probably know Glen Campbell’s 1977 country-pop cover, which hit No. 1 that year. Toussaint’s original (the title track to his 1975 album) is super trippy, his vocal processed to within an inch of its existence – light years away from Campbell’s radio-friendly version. Once you’ve heard the original, though, it’s the only version you’ll want to hear.
Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint, “Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further”: The unlikely combination of British New Wave icon Costello and Toussaint was a winner, and 2006’s The River in Reverse is all the proof you need. The two trade off vocals on this cut, and a combo of Costello’s band and the cream of New Orleans players cooks behind them.