Written by Gwen Thompkins from WWNO – New Orleans Public Radio
The 1971 single “Here Come the Girls” is just over three minutes of unbridled exuberance. An homage to women everywhere, the song begins with a military-style drumbeat and escalates into a polyrhythmic to-do. Its vibe is early New Orleans funk — Afro-Caribbean, brass-happy — and, despite the shameless lust of its male protagonist, respectful. New Orleans r&b singer Ernie K-Doe simply can’t get enough of the opposite sex. And he says so with gusto, in ways both ridiculous and sweet.
“Here Come the Girls” failed to chart. But the song has had a long and unusual afterlife, attracting a multi-generational following of artists and fans. A new version is scheduled for release today, the second of the year.
Drummer Stanton Moore — a founding member of the funk band Galactic — has made “Here Come the Girls” the lead single from his July 21 album With You in Mind. The album is a tribute to the legendary songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint, who died in 2015. Its 10-song set features some of Toussaint’s best-remembered and lesser-known compositions.
With You in Mind showcases an impressive stable of talent, including co-producer David Torkanowsky on piano, James Singleton on bass, Maceo Parker and Donald Harrison on saxophone and Nicholas Peyton on trumpet. Fittingly, Cyril Neville — whose brothers, Art and Aaron, began recording with Toussaint in the 1960s — sings lead on “Here Come the Girls.”
And yet, Cyril “had never heard the tune,” Stanton Moore says. “How is it possible? Ernie [K-Doe] was his biggest influence growing up. This confirms that it hadn’t been overdone.”
But the song has a mighty echo. Trombone Shorty plays the bridge on Moore’s cover and he’s recorded yet another version for his own 2017 album. “Here Come the Girls” is the first single from Parking Lot Symphony, which made the Billboard 200.
“I think it’s really sweet that Stanton and Trombone Shorty are covering Allen’s songs,” says Toussaint’s longtime friend and discographer Kathy Sebastian, who tracks every cover of a Toussaint composition. “It just shows how much they appreciated him and how rich his material is. What an influence he was on just about every musician’s life in New Orleans. Everyone wanted Allen’s approval. And everyone wanted Allen’s ear.”
Especially Ernie K-Doe. In 1971, the ribald New Orleans entertainer badly needed a hit. A decade earlier, he and Toussaint had topped the charts nationwide with the novelty song “Mother-in-Law.” But while Toussaint’s reputation as a hitmaker subsequently grew, K-Doe found difficulty recapturing national fame. A couple of his songs had regional play, but K-Doe’s house was repossessed and he went to jail for failing to pay child support. “Here Come the Girls” was supposed to be the comeback single on his tailor-made, Toussaint-produced, self-titled album.
“It sank like a stone,” says Ben Sandmel, author of Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans. “I picked [it] out of a cut-out bin for 99 cents. Then I went home and put it on, and it blew me away.”
Sandmel calls K-Doe’s 1971 release a “transitional album” for Toussaint. “To me, it’s an indicator of where he was going — from the stark, ’60s style to more complex arrangements,” Sandmel says. “He had a bigger sound and different instrumentation. In 1974, Allen Toussaint produced Desitively Bonnaroo for Dr. John, which is a masterpiece. The Meters are playing, with George Porter, Jr. on bass. The rhythms and horn charts were radically more complex, and [Dr. John] is singing beautifully.”
K-Doe died in 2001 as a favorite son of New Orleans, a popular singer, bar owner and one-man tourist attraction (Paul McCartney and Robert Plant were among his many fans). An estimated 5,000 people followed his casket to the tomb. And that might have been the end of it. But he and Toussaint had one more hit in the making.
Boots, the drug store chain with locations across England and Ireland, used K-Doe’s song for its 2007 holiday television commercial. The two-minute ad shows scores of female office workers preparing for a Christmas party, As they alight from their primping stations like a high-heeled army — Toussaint’s horn arrangements and K-Doe’s vocal make the moment funny and triumphant.
Here Come the Girls! (girls, girls, girls-girls)
Here Come the Girls! (girls, girls, girls-girls)
“I said, ‘Allen, you’ve got a big hit in England right now,'” Sebastian recalls. “‘So from now on when you play, include ‘Here Come the Girls’ in your set again. Don’t forget to mention you’ve got a hit in England. You have to claim your glory!”
The ad, which later won gold prize at the British Arrow awards, put K-Doe’s song on the U.K. charts for five weeks. The song also made Ireland’s top 50. It charted again the next year, leading to a cover by the British group Sugarbabes that charted even higher.
Sandmel’s biography of K-Doe cites media critic Peter York of The Independent declaring the music “utterly wonderful.” York adds,”This commercial is in direct line of descent from [the 1980 Dolly Parton smash] ‘Nine to Five’ and all sorts of celebratory commercial feminism.”
For some music lovers, the song became a kind of anthem for women. “Lots of my female friends sing the chorus as their calling card,” says Stanton Moore’s co-producer David Torkanowsky. “That’s the beauty of Allen Toussaint — he can write something that has two personalities. It’s kind of paying homage to women and the female persona.”
But there are now two sets of verses for fans to choose from — the Sugababes updated some of the song’s lyrics in 2008, eliminating the male protagonist completely.
Toussaint sang the song as he wrote it. Trombone Shorty and Moore also remain true to the original. Their recordings sound just as randy as K-Doe, who somehow manages to stretch the word “girls” into two flirtatious syllables.
Here in New Orleans, the nearly 50 year-old song has new life. Trombone Shorty’s version is playing regularly on the city’s most popular public radio station, while the Stanton Moore Trio has been performing its Toussaint tribute at Snug Harbor, on Frenchman Street. And yet, despite the celebration, the musicians sometimes notice a kind melancholy settling over the crowd. “Who among us doesn’t sigh in sadness when hearing someone say ‘the late Allen Toussaint?'” read one Facebook post after a performance.
Gwen Thompkins is a writer in New Orleans and host of the public radio program Music Inside Out.