The decade of excess gave us an excess of songs that were given a second chance on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 singles chart, songs like “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” “Twist And Shout” by The Beatles, “Do You Love Me?” by The Contours and “At This Moment” by Billy Vera & The Beaters, to name a handful.
For whatever reason, 1989 was an especially popular year for singles to have a second go on the BILLBOARD Hot 100, including Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” (1986), “What About Me?” by Moving Pictures (1983), “When I’m With You” by Sheriff (1983), “Where Are You Now?” by Jimmy Harnen with Synch (1986) and “Into The Night” by Benny Mardones (1980).
Another song that achieved success in 1989 but not originally from that year was “Iko Iko” by the seven-member, all-female New Wave band out of London, The Belle Stars, who formed in London in 1980 and broke up in 1986.
The origin of “Iko Iko” dates back to the early 1950s, when it was titled “Jock-A-Mo,” and was a 1953 single written and recorded by New Orleans group Sugar Boy And His Cane Cutters.
According to a 2002 interview with the late James “Sugar Boy” Crawford (who passed away in 2012), he said the story of “Iko Iko” is about a “spy boy” [a lookout for one band of Indians] encountering the “flag boy” [the flag carrier for another “tribe”]. The “spy boy” threatens to “set the flag on fire.”
“Sugar Boy” Crawford said “Jock-A-Mo” “came from two Indian chants that I put music to. ‘Iko Iko’ was like a victory chant that the Indians would shout. ‘Jock-A-Mo’ was a chant that was called when the Indians went into battle. I just put them together and made a song out of them.”
Though it was not a hit, the next incarnation of “Jock-A-Mo” in 1965 – “Iko Iko” – was. The Dixie Cups, an all-female Pop group out of New Orleans, best known for their hit, “Chapel Of Love,” recorded their version in 1964, and the following year, it was a global smash.
In 1982, The Belle Stars released their version of “Iko Iko” in their homeland of the U.K. on Stiff Records, and it was a Top 40 U.K. hit, reaching No. 35. Their cover would appear on the only studio album they released, their self-titled effort released in January 1983, and which featured the U.K. hits, “The Clapping Song” (a version of this was an American Top 40 hit for Pia Zadora in 1983), “Indian Summer” and “Sign Of The Times,” which reached No. 3 in the U.K. and No. 75 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100.
The Belle Stars’ version of “Iko Iko” went virtually unnoticed here in America until its opening appearance in the wonderful Academy Award-winning film, RAIN MAN, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, and released at the end of 1988.
Their version of “Iko Iko” was included on the soundtrack to RAIN MAN, and it didn’t take long for it to catch the ears of folks like yours truly here in America. It debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in early March 1989, and reached the Top 40 four weeks later.
The Belle Stars’ version of “Iko Iko” would go on to spend a lone week at No. 14 in mid-May 1989, and remained on the charts for about four months. It also reached No. 7 in Australia and No. 17 in Canada. Since then, it has been featured in a number of other films, including THE HANGOVER in 2009.
“Iko Iko” remains as one of the most-covered songs of all-time. Cyndi Lauper recorded a version for her second album, 1986’s TRUE COLORS. It’s been also covered by Dr. John, Warren Zevon, Zap Mama (whose version appeared in the 2000 film, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II), and most recently, on THE TONIGHT SHOW featuring Sia, Jimmy Fallon, Natalie Portman and The Roots.
It’s the 1982 / 1989 version by The Belle Stars, though, that is the version that stays close to me to this day, and I’m forever grateful that someone involved with the film, RAIN MAN, discovered it and thought it was good enough to include in the movie, and ultimately, release it as a single, so many folks (like yours truly) could, in turn, discover it too. “IKO!”