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Music / Johnny Horton

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"Well, I'm a honky-tonk man and I can't seem to stop..."

In eighteen-fourteen we took a little trip
along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip'
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
and we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans
— "The Battle of New Orleans"

John LaGale "Johnny" Horton (April 30, 1925 November 5, 1960) was an American country music and rockabilly singer-songwriter, most famous for his cover of the song "The Battle of New Orleans", which won a Grammy Award in 1959 and was widely parodied.

Johnny Horton was born in Los Angeles and raised in Texas, often traveling to California with his family as itinerant fruit-pickers. After several jobs in California, he went to Alaska to look for gold; while there, he began writing songs. Upon his return to the lower 48, he entered and won a talent contest in Henderson, Texas, and decided to return to Los Angeles to try his luck in the music industry.

He worked on a local radio station in Pasadena while recording his first few songs, then moved to Louisiana to perform more regularly on the radio show Louisiana Hayride. He signed his first recording contract, with Mercury Records, and he and his backing band began recording for them as "The Singing Fisherman and the Rowley Trio".

His first efforts didn't end up succeeding, and when the contract expired, he began working in a tackle shop. However, a new manager got him a contract with Columbia Records, and he went up to Nashville to begin recording, taking many cues from Elvis Presley and shifting from country into more rockabilly music.

He had his first hit with "Honky-Tonk Man", which peaked at #9 on the country charts in 1956. He continued recording, releasing two albums, along with several minor hits, but he had back-to-back #1 country hits in 1959 with "When It's Springtime In Alaska (It's Forty Below)" and "The Battle of New Orleans", which was part of an album of historically-themed songs called Johnny Horton Makes History. "Battle of New Orleans" reached #1 on the Billboard Pop Charts as well, was the #1 song of the year, and was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Performance.

Sadly, in 1960, just after his third #1 hit ("North to Alaska", the theme song of the John Wayne movie of the same name), he was killed when the car he was riding in got into a head-on collision. Several albums of collected singles and unreleased tracks were made, including a "Greatest Hits" album that went platinum in 1961.

Several of his songs have been covered, including a cover of "When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)" by his close friend Johnny Cash and "Honky-Tonk Man" which was Dwight Yoakam's debut single.

His recording of "The Battle of New Orleans" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002.

Tropes to Alaska! We're goin' north to troper zone...

  • Artistic License Ships: "Sink the Bismarck" - the Bismarck wasn't the fastest ship (many ships were faster, including the HMS Hood), didn't have the biggest guns (its 15" guns were smaller than the 16" guns many other ships had), and wasn't the biggest ship (although it and its sister ship Tirpitz were the biggest battleships at the time).
  • Basso Profundo: In North to Alaska ("way up noooooooooorth").
  • Christmas Songs: "They Shined Up Rudolph's Nose"
  • Closest Thing We Got: An alligator as a last-minute cannon substitute in "Battle of New Orleans"; see Weaponized Animal.
  • Common Meter: "Sink the Bismarck" is in Common Meter Double.
  • Cool Ship: The Bismarck, in "Sink the Bismarck".
  • Curse Cut Short: See Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion.
  • Greatest Hits Album: The first posthumous album. It was the first album to contain some of his songs that had previously only been released as singles, and went platinum.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: See Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)" and "North to Alaska," both with backing vocalists doing the honors.
  • Noble Confederate Soldier: "Johnny Reb"
  • She Is All Grown Up: "All Grown Up"
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: From "The Battle of New Orleans":
    Old Hickory said we could take 'em by surprise
    If we didn't fire our muskets 'til we looked 'em in the eye
    We held our fire 'til we see'd their faces well
    Then we opened up our squirrel guns and really gave 'em wellll... weeee...
  • Title Theme Tune:
    • For North to Alaska.
    • Subverted for "Sink the Bismarck". The song was inspired by the movie Sink the Bismarck!, and the studio used it to promote the movie in the US.
  • Weaponized Animal: From "The Battle of New Orleans":
    We fired our cannon 'til the barrel melted down
    So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round
    We filled his head with cannonballs and powdered his behind
    And when we touched the powder off, the gator lost his mind!
  • Worthy Opponent: Many of his historical songs, including "Johnny Reb" and "Sink the Bismarck".