Cajun music singer-songwriter D.L. Menard recently passed away on July 27, 2017. By all reports, Menard was a warm and engaging man who always had time for his fans. His most popular recordings include “Under the Oak Tree,” “Rebecca Ann,” “Bachelor’s Life,” “La Valse de Jolly Rogers,” and “She Didn’t Know I Was Married.” But his most endearing legacy may be “The Back Door” (“La Porte En Arrière”) which he wrote and performed for audiences around the world.
Menard was born Doris Leon Menard in Erath, Louisiana on April 14, 1932. He began performing music at the age of 17, and he met Hank Williams at the age of 18. Menard, who continued through his musical career to work as a craftsman, became a world-wide ambassador for Cajun music, so that he is sometimes called “The Cajun Hank Williams.”
“The Back Door” (“La Porte en Arrière”)
He wrote his biggest hit, “The Back Door,” during a shift working at a gas station. Menard’s song is about sneaking back home after a night of partying. It became a hit in 1962. And music fans today recognize the song as one of the most popular Cajun songs of all time.
Menard talks about “The Back Door” and then performs it in the video below. Even if you do not recognize the title of the song, you might recognize it once you hear it. Either way, it will make you want to get up and two-step.
Menard drew inspiration for “The Back Door” from Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues.” In the audio recording below, Williams sings “Honky Tonk Blues” live at The Grand Ole Opry in 1952.
In 2014, Rolling Stone listed Menard’s “The Back Door” (“La Porte en Arrière”) as the 72nd greatest country song of all time. It was even ahead of that other wonderful Cajan classic, Harry Coates’ “Jole Blon,” which was at 99 (and which even Bruce Springsteen recorded with Gary U.S. Bonds).
What is your favorite D.L. Menard song? Leave your two cents in the comments.
Bruce Springsteen remains one of the great living artists who connects us to early rock and roll. Perhaps as part of that connection, he is the artist most likely to sing the classic rock lyrics “sha-la-la.”
“Brown-Eyed Girl” Cover
In one example from a recent tour, Springsteen sang the line while covering Van Morrison’s classic “Brown-Eyed Girl” on April 19, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina: “Do you remember when we used to sing / Sha la la la la la la la la la la dee dah.”
“Darlington County” and “Jersey Girl”
The two “sha-la-la” songs most identified with Springsteen, though, are “Darlington County” and “Jersey Girl.” “Darlington County” first appeared on Born in the U.S.A. (1984), recounting the travels of the singer and “Wayne” heading down South from New York City to meet some girls. “We got rock and roll music blasting off the T-top singing / Sha la la la la la la la la.”
Below is a swinging performance of “Darlington County” at Olympic Park in London, England on June 30, 2013. Although the original version highlighted Springsteen’s harmonies with Steven Van Zandt, when the band plays live, everyone sings on the “sha-la-la’s.”
Although California-born Tom Waits wrote “Jersey Girl,” fans also identify Springsteen with the song from his many performances and from his close connection to New Jersey. Springsteen began performing the song during The River tour in 1981, and it appeared as a B-side to Born in the U.S.A.‘s “Cover Me.” “Jersey Girl” finally appeared on an official Springsteen album when a live version closed the box set Live: 1975-85 (1986).
In “Jersey Girl,” the singer tells us he is in love with a girl from New Jersey. It is a touching song, tinged with real-life hope and regret. The singer pleads with a single mother who is exhausted from her job, asking that she go dancing on a Saturday night where everything will be all right.
And then, apparently, they will “Sha-la-la. . .” because the singer is “in love with a Jersey girl.” As in “Brown-Eyed Girl,” one might read the “Sha-la-la’s” as rock and roll talk for sexual relations. Below is an October 2009 performance at Giants Stadium . . . in New Jersey, of course.
Springsteen used “sha-la-la” in at least one other original song besides “Darlington County.” The phrase appearing in background vocals for his song “Breakaway.”
“Breakaway” was recorded during Springsteen’s 1977-’78 recording sessions around the time of Darkness on the Edge of Town. But these sha-la-la’s did not see official release until Springsteen put together leftover songs from those sessions for the 2010 release The Promise.
Unlike the other sha-la-la’s in other songs in this post, the sha-la-la’s in “Breakaway” appear in the background, not up front in a chorus. Also, “Breakaway” is one of the rare times where “sha-la-la” does not have any sexual or love connotations.
In “Breakaway,” the “sha-la-la” phrase fills in the spaces in a song about broken dreams. Arguably, the phrase fills in for another topic we do not like to talk about: death. “Janie slid into a car last night (sha la la la, sha la la la) / In a parking lot she gave her soul away . . . .”
On a much happier note, one of my favorite “sha-la-la” songs resulted when Springsteen joined Gary U.S. Bonds on a modern version of the Cajun classic “Jole Blon” on Bonds’s 1981 album Dedication. Among other things, Springsteen contributed some “sha la la’s.”
Here is a 2012 performance where the two men teamed up on stage at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey singing a great duet on “Jole Blon” from an excellent album. Again, it is a love song and the “sha-la-la’s” help fill in the blanks.
“Sha La La”
Finally, if “sha-la-la” is good enough for a chorus, it is good enough for a name of a song. In 1964, The Shirelles recorded a song called “Sha La La” that may have given Springsteen his first love of the “sha-la-la” phrase, even though a more famous song by The Shirelles, “Baby It’s You,” also used the phrase.
Springsteen recently performed The Shirelles’ “Sha La La” in 2009 during the Working on a Dream tour. But prior to that, all of his other known performances of the song occurred in 1975.
Below is the audio of a live Springsteen version of “Sha La La” from 1975. Again, you can figure out what “sha-la-la” means: “When I kissed you and I held you tight / Baby, you made me feel alright / So this is the song that I sang all night / Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la.”
What Sha-la-la Song Should Springsteen Sing Next?
With these six songs, four of which appear on official recordings, Bruce Springsteen may be the living artist most likely to “sha-la-la” in song. It has been awhile, though, since he has recorded a “sha-la-la” song. Let us suggest “Let’s Live for Today” (“Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today”) by the Grass Roots, which Springsteen apparently is yet to sing. Maybe it is time for another new sha-la-la.
Is there a “sha-la-la” Springsteen song we missed? What is your favorite Springsteen “sha-la-la”? Leave your two cents in the comments.