The History Of The Provocative Single, “Lady Marmalade”

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When sexual innuendos dominate the modern-day music industry, it is almost unusual to think that songs from the past were seen as provocative. One song that was widely controversial during its time was the LaBelle’s version of Lady Marmalade in 1974.

“Lady Marmalade”

Hey Sister, Go Sister, Soul Sister, Go Sister
Hey Sister, Go Sister, Soul Sister, Go SisterHe met Marmalade down in old New Orleans
Struttin’ her stuff on the street
She said ‘Hello,
Hey Joe, you wanna give it a go? Mmm, mmmItchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da
Itchi Gitchi Ya Ya here
Mocha-choca-lata Ya Ya
Creole Lady MarmaladeVoulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?He sat in her boudoir while she freshened up
The boy drank all her magnolia-wine
On the black satin sheets where oh I swear he started to freakItchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da
Itchi Gitchi Ya Ya here
Mocha-choca-lata Ya Ya
Creole Lady Marmalade

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

Hey, hey, hey
Touching her skin feelin’ silky smooth
The colour of cafe au lait
Made the savage beast inside
Roar until it cried, more, more, more

Now he’s back home doing 9 to 5
Living his grey flannel life
But when he turns off to sleep
Old memories creep, more, more, more

Itchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da
Itchi Gitchi Ya Ya here
Mocha-choca-lata Ya Ya
Creole Lady Marmalade

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
Voulez-vous couchez avec moi ce soir?
Creole Lady Marmalade

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

Itchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da
Itchi Gitchi Ya Ya here
Mocha-choca-lata Ya Ya
Itchi Gitchi Ya Ya here

 


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Bob Crewe, a producer who worked on countless songs during the ‘60s, including hits by The Four Seasons, co-wrote Lady Marmalade with singer-songwriter, Kenny Nolan. The song was atypical from Crewe’s other works, but it became the leading (and last) hit during his career.

It was also the biggest hit for Crewe and Nolan as a team. The composers became the third songwriting group to succeed themselves at number one, when Lady Marmalade replaced the 1975 hit song “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli.

 

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“My Eyes Adored You”

My eyes adored you though I never laid a hand on you
My eyes adored you like a million miles away from me
You couldn’t see how I adored you
So close, so close and yet so far
Carried your books from school
Playin’ make believe you’re married to me
You were fifth grade, I was sixth when we came to be
Walkin’ home ev’ry day over Bonnicut Bridge and Bay
Till we grew into the me and you who went our separate ways
My eyes adored you though I never laid a hand on you
My eyes adored you like a million miles away from me
You couldn’t see how I adored you
So close, so close and yet so far
Headed for city lights, climbed the ladder up to fortune and fame
I worked my fingers to the bone made myself a name
Funny I seemed to find that no matter how the years unwind
Still I reminisce ’bout the girl I miss and the love I left behind
My eyes adored you though I never laid a hand on you
My eyes adored you like a million miles away from me
You couldn’t see how I adored you
So close, so close and yet so far
All my life I will remember how warm and tender we were way back then
Whoa baby
Oh the feeling, sad regrets I know I won’t ever forget you
My childhood friend
My eyes adored you though I never laid a hand on you
My eyes adored you like a million miles away from me
You couldn’t see how I adored you
So close, so close and yet so far

The hit song was initially recorded by The Eleventh Hour, a disco group which included Kenny Nolan, himself. In an interview with Billboard for The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Nolan explained his method to writing the provocative chorus: “The song was written in pieces. I had one part of the song here and one part there, and it still needed something. Bob and I came up with the idea of ‘Voulez-vous couchez avec moi (ce soir).’ It was like a puzzle that finally fit together.”

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Lady Marmalade was written in New Orleans and was inspired by the city’s red-light district. Allen Toussaint, the LaBelle’s producer, was also from The Big Easy and introduced the all-female group to the song to record as the main track for their album, Nightbirds. It was released in December of 1974, and became the #1 hit song the following year.

However, the LaBelle’s were not apart of the New Orleans trend. Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sara Dash were originally from Philadelphia, where the group was created in 1962, along with New Jersey native Cindy Birdsong.

When the song was released as the first single from Nightbirds, “Lady Marmalade” swept through disco’s around the nation before making its radio debut. On January 4, 1975, the song entered the Hot 100 and grabbed the #1 spot 12 weeks later.

Even amidst its fame in dance clubs and on the radio, “Lady Marmalade’s” risque lyrics were banned from television. The chorus of the song, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)” which translates to “Do you want to sleep with me (tonight)” was prohibited from tv due to broadcast standards. The group ultimately changed the lyric to “Voulez-vous danser avec moi ce soir,” which translates to “Do you want to dance with me (tonight).”

 

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In an 1986 interview with NME, Patti LaBelle explained her thoughts on the songs apparent glamorization of prostitution: “That song was taboo. I mean, why sing about a hooker? Why not? I had a good friend who was a hooker, and she died. She never took the mike out of my mouth and I never took the mattress from under her. She was my friend, doing her thing. I don’t believe in separating people. If your job is as a hooker, more power to you.”

Although the song is the only hit credited to LaBelle, the group took a seemingly harmless melody and transformed it into the ultimate party anthem for decades to come.

Who sang your favorite version of this sultry song? Share in the comment section below!

(Sources: NME & Wikipedia)

 

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