In honor of his trailblazing life, we’re rounding up the top 10 Dr. John songs. On the 6th of June 2019, Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., more commonly known as Dr. John passed away. Native to New Orleans, his music encompassed a diverse range of forms such as blues, jazz, funk, boogie-woogie, and rock’n’roll.
His 1968 debut album Gris-Grismorphed his interest in voodoo, incantations, and traditional New Orleans music into one of the most enduring psychedelic recordings of all time. It also introduced his stage identity, ‘Dr. John, The Night Tripper.’
Dr. John is a mythical character from the 1840s New Orleans folklore, a large man who offered concoctions and gris-gris (small cloth bags holding scriptures) to reverse curses for a small fee.
The Night Tripper On Tour
From early to mid-1969, Dr. John took the album on tour. The tour was essentially a traveling magic show, with him dressing up in extravagant feathers, robes, and headdresses. The act even featured a man, ‘Prince Kiyama,’ who would chomp off the heads of live chickens on stage.
Two more albums followed in quick succession, Babylon (1969)and Remedies (1970). At this point, Dr. John was building a significant cult following, including high-profile artists such as Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, who featured on his 1971 album The Sun, Moon & Herbs.
The 1971 album signified a move away from his past voodoo influence and persona, instead, focusing more on traditional New Orleans R&B and funk. This transition is more noticeable in 1973, with the release of the influential funk album In the Right Place.
Produced by Allen Toussaint and backed by The Meters, the album cemented Dr. John as one of the greatest New Orleans funk musicians of all time.
Top 10 Best Dr. John Songs
10. Mardi Gras Day (1969)
Released on his 1969 album Remedies, the song “Mardi Gras Day” resembles the musical chaos of a typical Fat Tuesday. We particularly enjoy how this song makes you feel a part of the celebrations. Not only does it feature shouting and brass music, but by using call and response, it captures the century-old chants sung by the locals throughout the streets during the celebration.
9. The Patriotic Flag-Waver (1969)
From his 1969 album Babylon, “The Patriotic Flag-Waver” was the first Dr. John song featuring social commentary. The song starts and ends with children singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.'” The lyrical body of the song touches on war, poverty, and racism, creating an ironic contradiction to the children’s innocence.
8. Creole Moon (2001)
One of our favorite Dr. John songs from more recent times, “Creole Moon” features on his 2001 album of the same name. The album as a whole includes 14 tracks, each of which is a vignette of the life and soul of New Orleans. It also mirrors the sound from his mid-1970s albums Dr. John’s Gumbo and In the Right Place.
7. Makin’ Whoopee (1989)
Released on his 1989 album In a Sentimental Mood, “Makin Whoopee” is a duet with American vocalist Rickie Lee Jones. They made great partners as displayed in this playful and jazzy song. Jones tweeted about him shortly after his death, she wrote.
“Goodbye Mac. I still remember the day we met. I was 23 years old and saw you coming on La Brea Avenue, sauntering toward me in your full on Mojo protection clothes, with the snake head cane, beret and patchouli oil… we drove around that summer in your station wagon, over the canyon, back over the canyon. then, ten years later, you asked me to sing on your record, and we had a big hit together. You go now. I’ll holla at you later.”
Rickie Lee Jones
6. Junko Partner (1972)
First recorded by James Waynes in 1951, “Junko Partner” is one of the best Dr. John songs from the album Gumbo. Here’s what he had to say about it.
“It was a New Orleans classic, the anthem of the dopers, the call girls, the pimps, the cons. It was a song they sang in Angola, the state prison fams and the rhythm was even known as the ‘jailbird beat.’”
5. I Walk on Guilded Splinters (1968)
“I Walk on Guilded Splinters” is the closing track of his debut album Gris Gris. The track fuses traditional New Orleans and psychedelic sounds, becoming a staple song in voodoo culture.
4. Mama Roux (1968)
Also from his 1968 album Gris Gris, “Mama Roux” was co-composed with Jessie Hill, another New Orleans R&B singer best remembered for the classic song “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.” The song is deeply rooted in New Orleans funk but enthused with Afro-Caribbean percussion creating a steady rhythm throughout.
3. Iko Iko (1972)
One of the most covered Dr. John songs in the New Orleans music scene, “Iko Iko” is a tale of two tribes of Mardi Gras Indians. It featured on his 1972 album Dr. John’s Gumbo. Here’s what he wrote about the song in his album liner notes.
“Jockamo means ‘jester’ in the old myth. It is Mardi Gras music, and the Shaweez was one of many Mardi Gras groups who dressed up in far out Indian costumes and came on as Indian tribes. The tribes used to hang out on Claiborne Avenue and used to get juiced up there getting ready to perform and ‘second line’ in their own special style during Mardi Gras. That’s dead and gone because there’s a freeway where those grounds used to be. The tribes were like social clubs who lived all year for Mardi Gras, getting their costumes together. Many of them were musicians, gamblers, hustlers and pimps.”
2. Such a Night (1973)
Performed at the Band’s 1976 Last Waltz concert, “Such a Night” was originally written in 1953 by Lincoln Chase. Dr. John’s version of the song is truly great. We love the funky and swingy feel.
1. Right Place Wrong Time (1973)
Probably one of the most recognized Dr. John songs, the fine groove of “Right Place Wrong Time” secured him his only top 10 hit. This was his first time working with producer Allen Toussaint, which meant that he got backing from Toussaint’s up and coming house band, the Meters.
The fusion of Dr. John’s snarling vocals and blues piano with The Meter’s tight groove creates a funky tune that resonates among many.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of the top 10 Dr. John songs.