Iko Iko

Album: The Big Easy Soundtrack (1965)
Charted: 23 20

Songfacts®:

  • This is based on a New Orleans folk melody commonly used for celebrations like parades. The "Jock-a-mo fee-na-nay" chorus, so central to the song's refrain, is a subject of long debate. Scholars have proposed various linguistic origins, suggesting, alternately, that it the phrase is Native American, West African, or a creolization of those languages with New Orleans French. Hypotheses about its meaning range from "Kiss my ass" to "Very good" to "The fool will not play today."
  • The Dixie Cups were a black female trio from New Orleans made up of Barbara Hawkins, her sister Rosa Hawkins, and their cousin Joan Marie Johnson. They were discovered by singer/producer Joe Jones at a high school talent show. In 1964 they had a US #1 single with "Chapel Of Love" for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's Red Bird Label. It had originally been written for The Ronettes, but both they and The Crystals failed to score with the song. They failed to have any more hits after "Iko Iko" and in 1966 they disbanded.

    And about that other "Dixie" trio that popped up in the '90s: the Dixie-Cups got their name from a brand of disposable drinking cup, while the Dixie Chicks were named after the Little Feat song "Dixie Chicken."
  • In 1953, James "Sugar Boy" Crawford recorded an R&B song for Chess Records with his group The Cane Cutters entitled "Jock-a-Mo." Given that Crawford's song is based on similar New Orleans celebratory ritual sources, including traditional songs from Mardi Gras parades, its closeness to the Dixie Cups' tune is striking. In fact, Crawford sued the Dixie Cups for ownership of the material, eventually settling for a percentage of performance royalties in 1967. The legal battle was a curious one, given that both recordings essentially culled variations on popular folk materials, and effectively, "Iko Iko" and "Jock-a-mo" appear almost interchangeably in recordings by later artists. (Dr. John, for instance, has performed and recorded the song under both titles, singing variant verses but always using the same "Jock-a-mo fee-na-nay" chorus.
  • "Iko Iko" wasn't originally planned to be recorded at its session. However, after the musicians had gone home, while the Dixie-Cups were doing some overdubbing, they started singing this traditional New Orleans song among themselves, using only a chair, drumstick, Coke bottle, ashtray, and drums as accompaniment. Producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller liked the sound and had the band record it for real.
  • "Iko Iko"/ "Jock-a-Mo" has been re-recorded in countless versions, by artists that include The Grateful Dead, Cyndi Lauper, Warren Zevon, Dave Mathews, and Long John Baldry. In 1982, both Natasha (#10) and The Belle Stars (#35) had UK Top 40 hits with their renditions of the Dixie-Cups version.

    A more traditional New Orleans version was a minor hit for Dr. John, going to #71 in 1972.
  • The song has appeared in many films, perhaps most famously in The Big Easy, which was set in New Orleans. Other soundtracks to feature versions of the tune include K-9, Satisfaction, Rain Man, Mission: Impossible 2, and The Hangover.
  • The Belle Stars' version of this song went to #14 in America in 1989 after it was featured in the movie Rain Man and used on the soundtrack (the song plays in the film's first scene). The Belle Stars were a female pop group from England; they released their cover in 1982, which went to #35 in the UK, but didn't chart in America. The group had a few other UK hits, but only one other American chart appearance: their song "Sign Of The Times" went to #75 in 1983.

Comments: 5

  • Martha Gotwals from New York, NyMy late sweetheart, Charles Honeyboy Otis, was the original drummer with the Dixie Cups on this song, and he came to NYC with them. Ladies, a lot of the write-ups seem to have made him disappear. It would be great for me and his kids if you could credit him.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 17th 1965, the Dixie Cups performed "Iko Iko" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was at #63 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; four weeks later on May 16th, 1965 it would peak at #20 {for 2 weeks} and spent 10 weeks on the Top 100...
    Between May 1964 and April 1965 the New Orleans trio had five Top 100 records; with one making the Top 10, and that one reached #1*, "Chapel of Love" for three weeks on May 31st, 1964...
    * The first week "Chapel of Love" was at #1, the #2 record was a Lennon-McCartney composition, "Love Me Do" and for its 2nd & 3rd week at #1, another Lennon- McCartney song was at #2, "A World Without Love" by Peter and Gordon.
  • Coffeegod from Brandon, MsIt bears saying that a remake of this by The Belle Stars was featured in 'Rainman'. The Belle Stars were pretty much a one hit wonder as well, at least in the US. The Neville Brothers have recorded it as well as just about every known act to come out of New Orleans. Great song and a good song to sing with your kids.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhCyndi Lauper also made a recording of this song which appeared on her albumn, "True Colors".
  • Jac from Miami, United States"Iko" is "suck the bone" good! (This is meant as an incredibly POSITIVE compliment.) Thank you for the info. Would like more scoop on the derivation and writer's intent regarding the lirics.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Jethro Tull

Jethro TullFact or Fiction

Stage urinals, flute devices, and the real Aqualung in this Fact or Fiction.

Brandi Carlile

Brandi CarlileSongwriter Interviews

As a 5-year-old, Brandi was writing lyrics to instrumental versions lullabies. She still puts her heart into her songs, including the one Elton John sings on.

Eagles Lyrics Quiz

Eagles Lyrics QuizMusic Quiz

Lots of life lessons in these Eagles lyrics - can you match them to the correct song?

How The Beatles Crafted Killer Choruses

How The Beatles Crafted Killer ChorusesSong Writing

The author of Help! 100 Songwriting, Recording And Career Tips Used By The Beatles, explains how the group crafted their choruses so effectively.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater RevivalFact or Fiction

Is "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" about Vietnam? Was John Fogerty really born on a Bayou? It's the CCR edition of Fact or Fiction.

70s Music Quiz 1

70s Music Quiz 1Music Quiz

The '70s gave us Muppets, disco and Van Halen, all which show up in this groovy quiz.