Les Humphries Singers – “Mexico” (“The Battle of New Orleans”)

The Les Humphries Singers were better known in Europe than the USA, but the one song of theirs that sticks in my mind is their 1972 hit “Mexico”.

It is actually an adaptation of the song “The Battle of New Orleans”, written by musician and school teacher Jimmy Driftwood (James Corbitt Morris) in 1936 to get his pupils interested in history, and popularised in 1959 by Johnny Horton.

There have been many versions of the original country-folk song, using the original title, but they appear to be have been mainly known in the United States.

The German-based multinational ensemble Les Humphries Singers, with their English leader Les Humphries, popularised the story, the lyrics and the melody internationally – apparently even going so far as to violate copyright when they credited the song to Humphries.

In any case, this is the only version I had ever heard until researching this just now.

I never knew the whole lyrics, just scraps of them – like “the British kept a comin” and “down the Mississipi to the Gulf of Mexico… Mexico… Mexico…”.

Definitely rousing stuff, especially when sung by a large group of people.

So here are the Les Humphries Singers singing “Mexico” in 1972:

And by way of contrast, this is Jimmy Driftwood singing the original “The Battle Of New Orleans”:

Actually, Jimmy Driftwood (sometimes Jimmie Driftwood), who wrote over 6,000 folk songs, is a pretty interesting character worth taking a closer look at – perhaps more interesting than the Les Humphries Singers…

Paul

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2 Responses to “Les Humphries Singers – “Mexico” (“The Battle of New Orleans”)”

  1. Nik says:

    “The German-based multinational ensemble Les Humphries Singers, with their English leader Les Humphries, popularised the story, the lyrics and the melody internationally […]”

    Oh Jeez. Please do your research homework ☺… the Les Humphries version has absolutely nothing to do with the original song, except the music was stolen and the lyrics were jeopardized.

    Either the Les Humphries singers didn’t get the meaning of the original song or they spoiled it intentionally.

    Just look at the first verse:

    Driftwood et al:

    “In 1814 we took a little trip
    along with Colonnel Jackson down the mighty Missisip.
    We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
    and met the bloody British near the town of New Orleans.”

    Les Humphries:

    “In 1580 we sailed our little ship
    along the cost of Africa down the Gaza strip.
    We took some salty bacon and a hammock for a bed
    then we mixed it with the Spaniards in the middle of the med.”

    The original song is about the Battle of New Orleans. What that unforgiveable German catastrophe of a remake is about, I do not know. It doesn’t even make basic sense in a geographical way:

    Coast of Africa → Gaza strip → down the Mississipi

    Wait, what? Did they have access to a map?

    Then, the new version is about pretty girls while the original is about soldiers.

    Les Humphries did not popularize the story – they removed any meaning from the song and reproduced it as bubblegum pop.

    • Paul says:

      Hi Nik,

      I said he popularised it, which I guess could be a synonym for “turned it into ‘popular’ music”. Or as you called it, bubblegum pop.

      That doesn’t necessarily mean he did a good job of faithfully reproducing the original spirit of the song. (“Verhunzt” is a German word that comes to mind with regard to what you say about the content… 🙂 )

      Do you remember a German song called “Himbeereis zum Frühstück”? Lyrics to cringe to, what does raspberry ice cream for breakfast have to do with “standing in the crossfire”, the original English version of the song?

      Or some of the stuff by that “Munich” band Boney M… (I’m thinking more of the style here than where they got their content.)

      I guess there will always be people who don’t pay a lot of attention to the intrinsic value of a work and do what ever they want with it to suit their purposes.

      Or to avoid copyright issues…

      You can also do a lot when your audience doesn’t really understand the words and just likes a nice tune.

      It’s not exactly relevant to what we are talking about here, but I remember in the early Eighties hearing Frank Zappa sing “my name is Bobby Brown” on Bavarian radio station Bayern Drei and thinking, boy, if people knew what he was singing in that song it would be banned immediately!

      Just re-reading the post, I note I finished by saying that Jimmy Driftwood is “perhaps more interesting than the Les Humphries Singers”!

      As I had commented somewhere in the middle, I had only ever heard this version before, I really just knew the melody and scraps of the chorus, probably like most people that knew the song.

      It wasn’t until researching this post that I learned it was actually based on an earlier song little known outside the United States – and with a bit more depth.

      Anyway, thanks for taking the time to bring this up, I really appreciate it! 🙂

      Paul

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