15 Of The Best Songs About New Orleans: The Big Easy Playlist

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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New Orleans is a city rich in life that has inspired countless visitors due to its people, food, and the history of Louisiana. It has been the basis of poems, paintings, prose, and, of course, music (being the birthplace of Jazz, after all). 

Because of that, hundreds of songs have been dedicated to New Orleans, featuring just about every genre of music covering all aspects of life in the Big Easy.

Not all songs are created equal, though, and you want the best. So, in this post, we’re going to look at 15 of the best songs about New Orleans.

Related: Check out our list of the best songs about Louisiana here.

1. “Down in New Orleans” by Dr. John

“Down in New Orleans” is a song written by legendary impresario Randy Newman for the 2009 Disney movie “Princess and the Frog.” 

It is the first full song to appear in the film and serves as the main theme of the movie. The lyrics foreshadow the events of the story while celebrating the city as a place filled with mansions and magic (a reference to an enduring association with voodoo) where dreams become reality.

In addition, “Down in New Orleans” speaks of sugar barons and cotton kings, both of whom played a central role in the city’s social and economic life.

After its release, “Down in New Orleans” received a nomination for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards and Best Song at the Grammys.

2. “Go To The Mardi Gras” by Professor Longhair 

You may guess based on the title that this festive song centers around Mardi Gras. Professor Longhair, whose real name is Henry Roland Byrd, wrote the song with Theresa Terry in 1949.

The lyrics are straightforward and urge the listener to attend the carnival if they ever visit New Orleans. 

Today, this R&B song routinely gets played during the Carnival season. It captures the quintessential essence of Mardi Gras in New Orleans with its lively rhythm and Longhair’s catchy whistling.

3. “Crescent City” by Lucinda Williams 

Lucinda Williams wrote “Crescent City” in 1988, which is an alternative country song with Cajun influence that she wrote out of love and admiration for New Orleans.

Crescent City is one of its many nicknames and comes from the shape of the river bend at the heart of the city. 

Her lyrics include two Cajun French phrases and reference other parts of Louisiana like Mandeville and Lake Pontchartrain. Several other artists have covered “Crescent City,” including Emmylou Harris. 

4. “House Of The Rising Sun” by The Animals

“House Of The Rising Sun” is a traditional folk song also called “Rising Sun Blues.” It has uncertain authorship, with the earliest recorded version sung by miners in the early 20th Century.

The lyrics tell the story of a person’s life going wrong in New Orleans and warn others about meeting the same fate.

Perhaps the most commercially well-known version comes from the British rock band The Animals in 1964. It has been covered many times, from Dolly Parton to French rock star Johnny Hallyday and the Colombian band Los Speakers.

5. “Born on the Bayou” by Creedence Clearwater Revival 

This song appeared on the album, Bayou Country. It came out in 1969, and its genre is classified as “swamp rock.” It’s an ode to New Orleans, although the songwriter, John Fogerty, never lived there or anywhere in the South.

Fogerty saw a bayou for the first time after playing a show in Baton Rouge in 1969 and was incredibly inspired.

He researched them in an encyclopedia and imagined a kid’s experience encountering one when he wrote the song. 

6. “I Wish I Was In New Orleans” by Tom Waits

Tom Waits wrote this beautiful song in 1976 as a wistful homage to New Orleans. The lyrics and melody switch between sadness and joy, capturing the bittersweet essence of feeling homesick for life in the city.

That longing takes the lyrics on a journey through the Big Easy. The narrator wants to be back on Bourbon Street with his friends, a drink, and something good to eat.

Throughout the song, Waits speaks fondly of New Orleans as a place of unmatched ambiance and freedom. 

7. “Goin’ Back to New Orleans” by Dr. John 

Another entry from Dr. John, “Sweet Home New Orleans is an unabashed celebration of the Big Easy. It came out in 1992 on the album of the same name.

The jaunty, upbeat song is rich in detail, with its style evoking the eclectic genres that make up the city’s musical culture.

In the lyrics, the narrator uses Cajun terms to reference all of the loved ones he’s about to see back home. He excitedly talks about getting to attend Mardi Gras again, and walking Rampart Street once more. 

Dr. John thrills at the thought of eating dishes like jambalaya and crawfish and even namedrops some of the city’s most famous luminaries, including The Neville Brothers and Big Al Carson. 

8. “Mardi Gras Mambo” by The Hawkettes

Frankie Adams and Lou Welsch wrote this as a country song in 1953, with the best-known version performed by the Hawkettes. 

This track is a quintessential Mardi Gras song. It captures everything people love about the carnival season and Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

Its lyrics laud New Orleans as the place where blues was born while referencing Rampart Street and the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club (one of the most prominent participants in the Mardi Gras parade).

The Mardi Gras Mambo is lively and upbeat, combining the best of R&B, rhumba, and calypso. 

9. “Treme Song” by John Boutté

John Boutté is a jazz singer born and raised in New Orleans. He has a diverse style that dips into R&B, gospel, Latin, and the blues. The “Treme Song” appeared on his Jambalaya album and is the theme song of a show on HBO called Treme

The lyrics reference the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, famed for its vibrant nightlife, local cuisine, and jazz clubs. Boutté’s lyrics weave a vivid image of the area, hearing church bells ring as music rings through the streets as people go about their day.

10. “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton 

Here is one entry that differs a lot from other songs on this list. “The Battle of New Orleans” was written by Jimmy Driftwood, a principal of a school in Arkansas. He wrote music to get his students more interested in learning about the War of 1812.

Its lyrics vividly recount the Battle of New Orleans, which was fought near the French Quarter in 1814. This battle remains a central part of the city’s history.

Despite being about a deadly battle, the song has an upbeat, even jaunty tune. Many artists besides Horton have covered this song, but his version remains the most popular. 

11. “Walking to New Orleans” by Fats Domino

Bobby Charles wrote “Walking to New Orleans” in about 15 minutes in 1960 for the New Orleans-born pioneer of rock and roll, Fats Domino. 

This song tells a bittersweet tale of a man recovering from a breakup who decides to up-sticks and make a new life in New Orleans.

He laments how his former flame spent up his money, so decides to head home to the Big Easy, walking all the way with a suitcase in his hand.

12. “My Dawlin’ New Orleans” by Lil’ Queenie and the Percolators

Lil’ Queenie and the Percolators was a jazz band started in New Orleans that used to play all over Louisiana. In 1980, the group released “My Dawlin’ New Orleans” as a single. Locals loved it right away, and it has since become a New Orleans staple.

Ron Cuccia originally wrote it in 1979. The lyrics paint an upbeat, poetic picture of life in N’awlins. “My Dawlin’ New Orleans” makes nostalgic references to its streetcars, its iconic Mardi Gras carnival, fabled jazz bands, and traditional cuisine.

However, there are also glimpses of frustration from the narrator, with allusions to politicians selling the city for profit.

13. “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” by John Turner Layton Jr. and Henry Creamer

The music of “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” was written by John Turner Layton Jr., and the lyrics were composed by Henry Creamer. It was first included in a Broadway production of “Spice of 1922,” and has been recorded numerous times since then. 

Some of the more famous artists to record it includes Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Dean Martin. This is essentially a love ballad to New Orleans and its women, comparing the city to Eden and describing its inhabitants as beautiful queens.

14. “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” by Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong

Eddie DeLange and Louis Alter wrote this song in 1947 for the movie “New Orleans.” Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, who acted in the film, sang it as a duet. 

As the title suggests, the song is about missing being in the magical city of New Orleans and the people that live there. The lyrics ask if you understand the depth of their feelings, the yearning for loved ones, and a loved place.

There’s a lot of emotion under the surface of this otherwise fun and upbeat New Orleans tribute. 

15. “New Orleans” by Elvis Presley

This recording of “New Orleans” comes courtesy of “King Creole,” the movie starring Elvis Presley that came out in 1958. The words and music are by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett. 

Although Presley wasn’t from New Orleans, he visited and performed there multiple times long before the film’s release. He had a strong connection to the city, and the lyrics compare the Big Easy to heaven where you can have fun Southern style. 

Summing Up Our List Of New Orleans Songs

New Orleans is perhaps the most unique city in the United States thanks to its rich and varied history.

Many poets, writers, and musicians have devoted works to the city but only a few have come close to putting its mystique into words.

The songs on this list are some of the best out there about the larger-than-life city of New Orleans.

They each touch on different aspects of what it’s like to live in, or be from, the Big Easy.

Even with these fantastic examples, you still might not appreciate what New Orleans has to offer until you’ve been. 

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.