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What Is Swamp Pop Music?


What Is Swamp Pop Music?

Cookie and his Cupcakes' 1959 smash "Mathilda"

Definition: Not to be confused with "swamp rock," an entirely different genre, the South Louisiana phenomenon known as "swamp pop" originated in the late 1950s as a melding of two very distinct styles: traditional Cajun folk balladry, particularly the Cajun waltz, and the slow, triplet-heavy ballad style of New Orleans R&B. (Fats Domino's own heavily C&W-inflected vocals were a major impetus in swamp-pop's development.) The first major song in this vein was Warren Storm's "Prisoner's Song" in 1958, which made it to the national Billboard charts; the next year, however, a band from Lake Charles known as Cookie and his Cupcakes recorded what is considered the definitive swamp pop anthem, "Mathilda." The genre took off from there, and remained popular in the region (while scoring an occasional national hit) until about 1965.

The typical swamp-pop song is a midtempo ballad, in 6/8 waltz time, with piano triplets and possibly a bluesy guitar line. The main watermark of swamp-pop is its melody, however, which draws strongly from (and was sometimes lifted directly off of) traditional Cajun ballads. Saxophone is occasionally present, but the instrumentation is always that of early rock and roll or heavy R&B. Most of the genre's original heyday took place in the studios and clubs west of New Orleans in "Cajun Country," primarily Lake Charles, though it could be heard as far west as Texas and as far north as Shreveport.

Though the genre died off along with the rest of rock's original styles in the mid-60s, swamp-pop had already by then influenced a number of musicians, most notably Elvis Presley. In the mid-Seventies, the Fifties revival also led to a brief national revival of swamp-pop; however, the style has never lost its core of popularity in Southern Louisiana, becoming as much a part of the local folk music as its pre-rock ancestors.

Also Known As: Swamp Rock, New Orleans Soul
  1. "I'm Leaving It All Up To You," Dale and Grace (purchase/download)
  2. "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights," Freddy Fender (purchase/download)
  3. "I Can Help," Billy Swan (purchase/download)
  4. "This Should Go On Forever," Rod Bernard (purchase/download)
  5. "Mathilda," Cookie and his Cupcakes (purchase/download)
  6. "I'm A Fool To Care," Joe Barry (purchase/download)
  7. "Big Blue Diamonds," Earl Connelly King (purchase/download)
  8. "Sea Of Love," Phil Phillips (purchase/download)
  9. "Prisoner's Song," Warren Storm (listen)
  10. "Just A Dream," Jimmy Clanton (purchase/download)
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