Friday Five: The War of 1812

Juli Thanki | June 18th, 2010

198 years ago today, the United States declared war on the British. The War of 1812 is one of the lesser remembered wars, probably because at war’s end, things largely reverted back to status quo ante bellum. However, it is responsible for a few wonderful songs, some of which are still being performed today.

  • 5. “The Star Spangled Banner” – Garth Brooks

    Francis Scott Key’s poem “The Defence (sic) of Fort McHenry,” penned after the British naval attack on the fort, was set to already existing music and became the USA’s national anthem. Though it’s the most significant song in this week’s Friday Five, it’s slotted in this space because, well, performers only ever sing the first verse, which is kind of disappointing (there are three more). Brooks’ version, sung at Super Bowl XXVII, made a little history itself when he stomped out shortly before the game because NBC refused to air his video for “We Shall Be Free” during the broadcast. Luckily cooler heads prevailed, Brooks sang, and a clip from the video was aired. Now all of the Super Bowl’s anthem singers are required to have a backup recording.

  • Ballads of the War of 1812, 1791-18364. “Wallace House” – The Hunters of Kentucky

    “The Hunters of Kentucky,” a poem written by Samuel Woodworth, was first set to music in the early 1820s. It’s about then-Colonel Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans. Of course, how could he lose when each Kentucky infantryman (who made up about a quarter of Jackson’s troops in New Orleans) is “half a horse, half an alligator?” Though the song may be more myth than fact, “Hunters” would become Jackson’s campaign song in 1824 and ’28. Folksinger House recorded this, and several other songs—both American and British—from the War of 1812 for Smithsonian Folkways.

  • 3. “Lakes of Pontchartrain” – The Be Good Tanyas

    This one’s an Irish folk tune about a man who falls in love with a “Creole girl,” only to learn that she’s waiting for her sailor to return. While an exact date or location cannot be placed on this song’s origin, it’s hypothesized that British soldiers carried it back overseas with them following the War of 1812. Hearing the Tanyas mournful harmonies, it’s near impossible not to feel for the poor guy and the “bonny ol’ girl” he left behind. Well, maybe not so much for her: she has that sailor.

  • Destination Life2. “Eighth of January” – Rhonda Vincent

    Here’s a 19th century fiddle tune written about the Battle of New Orleans; Vincent and her crew grassed it up on this cut from Destination Life. Now, the battle had little importance as the Treaty of Ghent had already been signed, but since it was responsible for two excellent songs on today’s list, we’ll just let that little bit of information slide.

  • Johnny Horton'S Greatest Hits1. “Battle of New Orleans” – Johnny Horton

    Jimmy Driftwood (who also wrote “Tennessee Stud”) took the instrumental “Eighth of January” and added lyrics to it. It’s a great song, yes, but as far as historically accurate—I’m no history scholar, but chances are that the U.S. troops didn’t use an alligator as a makeshift cannon barrel when their real one melted.
    Horton’s 1959 version was a smash, spending ten weeks at Number One, and British singer Lonnie Donegan had a hit with it across the pond as well.

  1. Paul W Dennis
    June 18, 2010 at 8:34 am

    The Johnny Horton version of the song is a much abridged version of the song. For full impact one needs to listen to Driftwood’s original version of the “Battle of New Orleans”

  2. Paul W Dennis
    June 18, 2010 at 8:37 am

    I do think you understate the significance of Jackson’s victory. If Jackson’s troops had lost decisively, The British might have been emboldened to try again in the not-too-distant future. The decisiveness of Jackson’s victory convinced Great Britain that we’d make much better allies than enemies and so it was from that point forward

  3. highwayman3
    June 18, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I have found ‘The Battle of New Orleans’ to be the most catchiest song I’ve ever heard. I’ve had it stuck in my head since I was 9. I sing the opening line ‘In 1814′ outloud at least once a day.’ then people around me get mad cause its stuck in their head. I just want it out.

  4. jane
    June 18, 2010 at 9:15 am

    I’m shocked you didn’t mention the song that commemorates who really won the War of 1812:

  5. Jon
    June 18, 2010 at 9:56 am

    The other verses to the “Star Spangled Banner” are pretty lame. The Isaacs do a killer job with it (see, for instance, ), and so did 3 Fox Drive. Sorry, Garth.

  6. bll
    June 18, 2010 at 11:35 am

    “Brooks’ version, sung at Super Bowl XXVII, made a little history itself when he stomped out shortly before the game because NBC refused to air his video for “We Shall Be Free” during the broadcast. ”

    Actually NBC is the culprit here as they had agreed to air the entire video at halftime and then tried to go back on the agreement. Garth then enforced the terms of their agreement and said no video no Anthem. I don’t fault Garth; if you say you’re going to do something, do it.

  7. Rick
    June 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

    My favorite version of “The Battle Of New Orleans” comes from the Ragin’ Cajun himself Doug Kershaw. Doug sings and plays his fiddle with such abandon (often bordering on wackiness) that I find his best songs as irresistable as a good bowl of jambalaya or blackened crawdads! (lol)

  8. SW
    June 18, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I feel like this “Friday Five” is just an excuse to remind everyone how sweet Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans” is as a song. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea!

  9. t.scott
    June 18, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    thanks rick.I had forgotten about Doug Kershaw’s version.
    Has there been a forgotten artist article on him?

  10. Stormy
    June 18, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Interesting Factiod: Jimmie Driftwood started out a history teacher and began writing songs to help his students learn.

  11. Noeller
    June 18, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    @Jane – really glad someone posted the Arrogant Worms “War of 1812″, which is the true story of what really happened.


    Newfies with elephant guns at the border going “Best not be crossin’ here, by tunderin’!”

    Don’t. Piss Off. Canadians.

  12. luckyoldsun
    June 19, 2010 at 9:06 am

    That Horton video is bizzarro!

  13. Dusty Dee
    June 21, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Corb Lund, Horse Soldier

    “Saw Ross’ mount shot down at Washingtown the night we burned the White House down
    And cursed the sack of York and sons of Yanks”

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