Collecting Allen Toussaint can be a full-time occupation, but one that turns up its fair share of rewards. You already know the hits, but here are some lesser-known gems in the Toussaint writing/production catalogue—starting off with two ’60s releases that you need to hear immediately.
The Rubaiyats “Omar Khayyam”
Without exaggeration, one of the greatest New Orleans R&B records ever made—though wasn’t a hit and never saw reissue until recently. Toussaint takes the lead on a song that’s based very loosely based on the epic poem, but says everything about life that you’ll ever need to know: “Gonna drink from my cup until I get enough…Wine, women and song, my whole life through, that’s what I’m gonna do!”
Prime Mates “Hot Tamales”
Another early-’60s 45 on Sansu produced by Toussaint. This amazing instrumental has everything: A killer upfront bassline (probably George Porter Jr), a funky Latin groove, twangy guitar, a few random shouts and a surprisingly elegant Toussaint piano lick—oh, and one of the greatest band names in history.
Jessie Hill “Can’t Get Enough of That Ooh Poo Pah Doo”
Toussaint produced, but didn’t write Jessie Hill’s original smash, then did his best to author a follow up hit—a blatant but very entertaining sound-a-like.
Aaron Neville “Waiting at the Station”
Toussaint was at the helm for Neville’s 1962 sessions that preceded “Tell It Like It Is” by five years and produced a raft of classics that were barely noticed at the time. Credited to Toussaint’s pseudonym Naomi Neville, “Station” is one of many standouts; note the lyric twist at the end and the baritone sax that underlines the choruses.
Frankie Miller “Miller’s High Life”
You can’t say that Toussaint didn’t do right by this obscure (in the U.S., anyway) Scottish blues-rock singer: He produced this 1974 album and wrote seven songs for it, including three certified classics: “Shoo Rah,” “With You in Mind” and “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”, all of which got better-known when other singers recorded them.
Badger “White Lady”
A real oddity, but a good one. Badger was the band formed by original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye, who for this album teamed up with former Apple Records artist Jackie Lomax. The refined soul of Toussaint’s characteristic ’70s sound is all over the album, yet he left just a little of the English prog sound between the lines, the only time he ever connected with it.
Brian Hyland “The Bum Is Mine”
Yes, Toussaint produced this 1977 track (and a full album, In the State of Bayou) by the very same Brian Hyland who scored with “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” 15 years earlier. Perhaps the least soul-influenced singer Toussaint ever worked with but that’s not a knock; Hyland’s lilywhite pop voice actually mixes well with the light funk of Toussaint’s arrangement here.
Allen Toussaint “Mr. Mardi Gras – I love a Carnival Ball”
Toussaint’s only solo album in the ’80s was an album of carnival songs commissioned by Mardi Gras World owner Blaine Kern—who got saluted by the name in this opening track. Interestingly Toussaint pulled the song out of mothballs for his recent tour with Preservation Hall, though without the Kern namechecks as “I Know You Mardi Gras.”
James Andrews “Got Me a New Love Thing”
Perhaps the best song to come out of Toussaint’s short-lived NYNO label in the late ’90s, this one sounds remarkably like something he would have written for Ernie K-Doe 35 years earlier. WWOZ rightly spun the heck out of it.
Allen Toussaint “Preservation Hall Jazz Band”
Proving he can write great songs on just about any topic, Toussaint commemorated this year’s joint tour by writing a theme song for the venerable group. Like most Toussaint songs in the past decade, it’s as yet unreleased.