With a harmony-laden vibe that sounds more like something by Alabama or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Mel McDaniel's 1980 version of "Louisiana Saturday Night" suited both the '80s country charts and the line dancing craze that bubbled up a decade later.
Bob McDill, the writer of Alan Jackson's "Gone Country," penned the song in the late '70s. Don Williams cut the original version for his 1977 album Country Boy. His fiddle-driven take suited an introspective storyteller more so than a rowdy bandleader. It's not to be confused with a Tom T. Hall original with the same title, which was recorded by Louisiana's Jimmy C. Newman.
McDaniel, a big label recording artist since the mid-70s, went from a small-town Oklahoma dreamer to a genuine country star with his 1980 album I'm Countryfied. "Goodnight Marie," a McDaniel co-write made popular already by Bobby Goldsboro and Kenny Rogers, and another McDill creation in the future Jackson cut "Right in the Palm of Your Hand" strengthen an album anchored by "Louisiana Saturday Night."
Every single from the album, beginning with "Hello Daddy, Good Morning Darling," cracked the top 40. "Louisiana Saturday Night" reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, making it the kick starter of both the album's Top 25 success and McDaniel's surging career.
Bigger things were ahead for McDaniel, who'd top the charts in 1985 for the first and only time with "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" (a McDill original passed up by both Conway Twitty and John Anderson). His commercial peak also brought fans "Big Ole Brew" (1982), "I Call It Love (1983), a cover of Chuck Berry's "Let It Roll (Let It Rock)" (1985) and the song with the best '80s music video you might've overlooked, "Stand Up" (1985).
A Hit Before Its Time
While McDaniel moved on to new material, "Louisiana Saturday Night" was a sleeping giant, waiting to mix with the fun tunes of Brooks & Dunn and other '90s stars. Dolly Parton and Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw had a little fun when they brought the song some renewed attention on a 1987 airing of The Dolly Show. Parton's bubbly energy and Kershaw's facial expressions and showmanship (why isn't the internet obsessed with him?) first alerted dancers to an infectiously fun song. With cheeky lyrics about one-eyed dogs, kin folks, front yard festivities, a single shot rifle and an opportunity to get fed a belly full of Cajun cooking, it's filled with country music cliches used respectfully throughout a feet-stomping, hand-clapping hoedown that rages on until the morning light.
Although it wasn't reissued as a hit or used at a key moment in a popular film, "well you get down the fiddle and you get down the bow" still got line dancers boot-scooting on the floor when the great mainstream country revival of the '90s hit full-swing.
Long after the music business saw fit to turn out the lights on '80s traditionalists and '90s line dancers, the big stage of LSU's Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge kept the song relevant to a live audience. It and Garth Brooks' "Callin' Baton Rouge" blare before home games at the stadium known as Death Valley--not to be confused with Clemson's home field or the Undertaker's hometown. In all seriousness, it gets fans pumped up in one of the loudest and least inviting stadiums for visiting teams.
This story previously ran on Jan. 31, 2020.