Carnival season officially began on Twelfth Night, January 6. But for many, the real festivities kick off at Krewe du Vieux, the salacious, satirical first parade of the season, which reveled in ribaldry this past weekend. So, as they say – game on!
Every Tuesday from now until Mardi Gras Day, we’ll be posting a different Carnival classic here on NOLA.com. To kick things off, here’s Al “Carnival Time” Johnson’s (king of Krewe du Vieux 2005) wonderfully weird signature tune, first released in 1960.
Interestingly enough, when Ric Records first pressed the single, it didn’t immediately become the Mardi Gras anthem it is today; Minit Records’ latest release, Jessie Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” overshadowed it in sales and popularity.
“It’s Carnival Time” boasts a joyful and buoyant piano groove; it also features some of the oddest lyrics to come out of New Orleans’ golden age of R&B, to wit: “The Green Room is smokin’ and the Plaza’s burning down/throw my baby out the window and let the joint burn down/ all because it’s Carnival time.”
The horn section boasted an all-star cast, including Lee Allen and James Rivers; according to New Orleans music historian Jeff Hannusch, Mac Rebennack (and not Al) plays piano on the session that was eventually released.
“Ooh Poo Pah Doo” may have won the day fifty years ago, and it remains one of New Orleans’ finest (and also lyrically, strangest) R&B classics. But you can’t keep a good song down, and if you don’t hear “It’s Carnival Time” at least eight million times in the streets, clubs and shop of New Orleans during January and February, well, you might need to clean your ears.
Here's Al "Carnival Time" Johnson's new Super Bowl-specific version of his classic hit: