Monday, June 18 marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812. We look at a pair of songs themed around the war between the British Canadian colony and the U.S.A.:
“The Battle of New Orleans” is a tune about a particular clash in the War of 1812. It was also one of the biggest hits of 1959. Johnny Horton’s recording of the song became a number one hit on both the country and the pop charts. The song went on to win the 1959 Grammy Award for song of the year, and Horton won as well for best country and western performance.
The tune was penned by a history teacher named Jimmy Driftwood, and the lyrics were added to a traditional fiddle song called “The 8th of January” that commemorated the event. Driftwood wrote the song in order to help teach his students about the war.
Driftwood recorded the song in 1957 and released it on an album in 1958. Horton heard the song and decided to record it, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Though, it was only one version of history. “The Battle of New Orleans” gives the American perspective of events. The War of 1812 was a military conflict between Great Britain and the United States. The States were experiencing economic hardship, as a result of British actions connected with the Napoleonic Wars. The U.S. decided they no longer wanted Great Britain to retain an interest in North America. Then-president James Madison looked to the colony of Canada as a means of retaliation against the British; Madison believed Canadians would join the States in their fight to overthrow the British yoke.
Yet the colony of Canada remained in the end. The British, Canadians and First Nations allies thwarted the American invasion and laid the foundation for a future unified and independent Canada – a Canada that could produce a group like Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie.
Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie is a comedy troupe from Edmonton, Alta. The team consisted of Wes Borg, Joe Bird and Paul Mather. In 1996, Borg and Mather wrote a comedic revue, The War of 1812. It featured a voice cameo by Pierre Berton and tells the story of a Grade 8 student who doesn’t feel proud of his country. Berton’s ghost takes the student away in his “time canoe” to witness the events of the war from a Canadian perspective. The revue ends with the song “The War of 1812,” which takes a poke at “The Battle of New Orleans.”
Let’s compare the lyrics. Here’s the Driftwood, American version:
We fired our guns and the British kept a'comin.
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and they began to runnin',
down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.
Well, we fired our cannon ’til the barrel melted down,
so we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round.
We filled his head with cannon balls and powdered his behind,
and when they touched the powder off, the gator lost his mind.
We'll march back home but we'll never be content,
’til we make Old Hickory the people's president.
And every time we think about the bacon and the beans,
we'll think about the fun we had way down in New Orleans.
And here’s the Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, Canadian version:
Oh we fired our guns, but the Yankees kept a coming,
There wasn’t quite as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and the Yankees started running,
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, oh, oh.
They ran through the snow and they ran through the forest,
They ran through the bushes where the beavers wouldn’t go.
They ran so fast, they forgot to take their culture,
Back to America and the Gulf and Texaco.
So, if you go to Washington, its buildings clean and nice,
Bring a pack of matches, and we’ll burn the White House twice!
Depending on which side of the border you live on, the War of 1812 will have different meanings and outcomes. Both sides claimed victory. But when it comes to novelty songs about the war, Canadians can hold their ground.
on Jun 18, 2012