LaBelle's 'Lady Marmalade': 40 Years of Covers, from All Saints to Leona Lewis to Christina Aguilera, Pink and Lil Kim
LaBelle and its one smash hit, "Lady Marmalade," went to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 40 years ago, the last time that the group would reach that peak, and indeed, de facto frontwoman Patti LaBelle would only hit the spot once more, with "On My Own." The single gathered acclaim and notoriety (and continues to do so to this day), because of its racy French catcall: "Voulez-vous coucher aver moi (ce soir)?" or "Do you want to sleep with me (tonight)?" The track would only hold the no. 1 position for one week, but left enough of a lasting impact to land at no. 479 on Rolling Stone's list of the greatest songs of all time, and a score of covers, in its wake. Here are a few:
The Eleventh Hour (1974)
You'll note that if this cover came out during 1974, and LaBelle's single hit no. 1 during 1975, than the homer most likely came out before the former. And you'd be correct...it just so happens Patti's pop group wasn't the first to record "Lady Marmalade." The song was written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan, the latter of whom was a member of Eleventh Hour. The notably sexual subject material of the song was inspired by Crewe's experiences in New Orleans and the aggressive stance of prostitutes in the area. Although the track didn't reach the levels of popularity that LaBelle's did, it did catch the ear of Allen Toussaint, an acclaimed R&B and jazz pianist as well as producer for LaBelle's album Nightbirds.
For as controversial as people found "Lady Marmalade," the act itself didn't reach the levels of sexual openness that modern music videos have reached. If you look at the cover for the 1975 single, you'll see LaBelle herself, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash singing loud and dressed relatively conservatively. Italian pop star Sabrina didn't want anyone to confused about the meaning of the song when she released a cover during 1987: The album art features the vocalist lying in such a way that onlookers got a healthy view of cleavage (and the B-side to the single was a song titled "Boys, Hot Girl, Sexy Girl." Real subtle stuff). You can throw criticism at us for describing the art more in-depth than we do the music, but you're not missing much by avoiding this version. Stick with LaBelle.
All Saints (1998)
When it came to the UK girl group craze of the late '90s, All Saints had a lot of catching up to do when it released its debut album during 1998, what with the existence of the Spice Girls and all. One way the foursome attempted to catch some ears was via a series of single covers. Its version of "Lady Marmalade" served as the second side of a single that also featured a cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under The Bridge." Although the group "didn't know what they were singing about" according to Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, they seemed to get the idea behind "Marmalade." One benefit over the Sabrina version is that Saints opted to add their own verses, incorporating only the hook of the original (which does kind of defy the original New Orleans storyline).
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
What better way to rejuvenate "Lady Marmalade" and its faux-French themes than to recreate the song for the American film Moulin Rouge! (?) Indeed, this one really lived up to the standards of obscenity your parents have always been convinced the single represented. The all-star lineup—Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, P!nk and Mya—created quite the sensation with both the music video and the simple music: The video featured all four carousing in lingerie, while the single itself remained at no. 1 on the Hot 100 for nine weeks (eight more than the original, as you might recall). It still has the record for the most nonconsecutive weeks at no. 1 for a female collaboration, and it would remain the longest-running no. 1 for a female rapper at no. 1 until Iggy Azalea and "Fancy" came along during 2014.
Leona Lewis (2006)
If you watched the third season of the British X Factor during 2006, you knew early on that one way or another, Leona Lewis was going to come out on top (and spoiler alert: She did). Simon Cowell was a massive fan, to the point where other judges suggested that he was encouraging the performer to stay conservative in song selection (keeping it slow and balladic) in order to make sure she didn't end up on the wrong side of the voters. The solution, apparently, was to bust out a cover of "Lady Marmalade" that, to be honest, wasn't nearly as exotic as any of the examples listed above. It thrilled the judges however, and now you've heard of her so it must have worked out.