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The Meaning Behind the Song Lyrics of “Lady Marmalade” by Patti Labelle

If you are older than 50, then you will remember “Lady Marmalade” as a 1974 hit song by Patti LaBelle and her band, Labelle. Those a bit younger will only know the reboot/cover version performed by Christina Aguilera, Lil Kim, Pink, and Mya in 2001. There’s a massive difference between the two versions in terms of the lyrics. Although the structure is very similar.

The meaning behind the song lyrics of “Lady Marmalade” by Patti LaBelle has always been a point of contention. It’s a very confusing song to decipher. Even Patti Labelle was unsure what it was all about. As they say, non-comprehension doesn’t bar you from taking part in philosophical musings of any type. Let’s have another listen to grasp the concept and meaning behind “Lady Marmalade

Bi-Lingual Gibberish 

The Meaning Behind the Song Lyrics of “Lady Marmalade” by Patti Labelle

Not many songs have both French and English languages in the lyrics. France and England are not known for co-existing well in any kind of sphere. “Michelle” by The Beatles is the only song I can remember that used a mix of French and English in the lyrics. But I guess there are loads more. They are just not that common. 

If you listen to Lady Marmalade without any context, it might sound like full-frontal gibberish. But, to be fair, that’s the best kind. And, if you can’t wrap your head around why even Patti Labelle didn’t understand what “Lady Marmalade” is about, it’s because she didn’t write it. 

Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan wrote the lyrics for “Lady Marmalade.” It was written in parts, which would explain the non-linear nature of the words and structure. Nolan gave some indication of what the song was about when he added the iconic line “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir),” which breaks down in English as “Do you want to sleep with me tonight?” But there is more to it than that.

What Did “Lady Marmalade” Mean to Patti Labelle?

Patti Labelle didn’t know what the song was about, and she definitely didn’t think it had sexual connotations. She naively thought it was a song about walking down the street and states that she and the band were very innocent at the time. 

You have to remember that back in the 1970s, people didn’t have access to the Internet. So they couldn’t quickly find out about things. You had to go to a library or consult the smartest person you knew to find out things. That’s just the way it was.

Patti found out the true meaning of the song in the funniest of ways… 

She found out the meaning behind the song lyrics for “Lady Marmalade from disgruntled nuns. They gave Patti and her entourage a right telling-off for writing it, even though she didn’t write it. 

When Patti found out what “Lady Marmalade” means, she was mortified and embarrassed. She was quoted as saying, “I felt so stupid… no, not stupid, but naïve. Young girls are now so well versed because of the internet, so they’d just know, but it was different then.”

The Meaning Behind the Song Lyrics of “Lady Marmalade” by Patti Labelle

The Meaning Behind

You might have already figured out what the song is about, but if not, here goes. The song was about a woman walking down the street, but not just any old woman or any old street. It was inspired by a street prostitute in New Orleans. And, because the city famously has a French Quarter and a French name and history, that’s why the phrasing of the chorus was in French. 

It’s essentially about a French-speaking prostitute who is hawking the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans, looking for customers. When Patti sang the lyrics, she sang them very soulfully with pride. Hilarious now when you realize she didn’t know what it meant. When she did find out, she was mightily unimpressed, as you would imagine. But the damage was already done. 

Regardless of what it was about, Patti immediately knew they had a potential hit on their hands because the song was catchy, and the rhythm was infectious.

How Did the Public React to “Lady Marmalade“?

They loved it. The general public embraced the song, and it became a massive hit. Although most people loved the track, there were some naysayers and skeptics that hated the subject matter. You have to remember that America was, and still is, very much a Puritan Christian country that places family values above anything else. So, to certain sections of the public, the song was an abomination. 

This is essentially how Patti Labelle found the true meaning of “Lady Marmalade.” A gaggle of nuns and a roundup of religious leaders were disgusted by the lyrics. These complaints found their way back to Labelle, and she finally found out the true meaning of “Lady Marmalade.” I would’ve loved to see the look on her face when she found out.

How Did the Song Perform?

It took a bunch of nuns getting upset about the song to create the controversy it needed to get some exposure. Have you noticed when a song, book, or movie gets banned, it usually creates more interest and has the opposite effect? Because of the controversy, the song hit the Pop charts running at breakneck speed. 

The song was first released in November 1974. And it didn’t take long before it made the top spot on the Hot 100 Billboard Charts in the US. It also made #1 on the Canadian and Netherlands charts at the same time.

At the time… 

Lady Marmalade” by Labelle sold over one million copies and even made it in the Top 25 songs of the year-ending US Billboard Charts. At the 2003 Grammy Awards, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. 

The famous music magazine, Rolling Stones, placed the track at #479 on their Greatest 500 Songs of All Time list in 2004. It’s won some major awards over the years, and all the controversy has long since passed. 

Lady Marmalade” Reboots and Cover Versions

Labelle’s version of “Lady Marmalade” is rightfully known as the quintessential version of the track. But there have been a couple of very successful reboots and cover versions of “Lady Marmalade.” 

The British all-girl Pop band, All Saints, did a cover version of “Lady Marmalade in 1998. As did Italian pop singer Sabrina in 1987. The All Saints’ cover version charted very well across Europe, reaching #1 in the UK. It also did very well in Australia, Denmark, Iceland, and France.

Lady Marmalade Reboot in Moulin Rouge 

The most famous and successful version of “Lady Marmalade,” outside of the original Labelle version, is the reboot that featured in the Moulin Rouge motion picture in 2001. 

This version was performed by some of the biggest female modern-day R&B and Pop vocalists of the early 2000s. The list of performers included Christina Aguilera, Lil Kim, Pink, and Mya. It had a bunch of different lyrics to the original version and essentially appeared as a medley in the movie. It was released as a single in April 2001 from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack and was produced by Missy Elliot. 

The setting of the song changed from New Orleans to the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris to reflect the movie. But, in fairness, the same vibe of the original was well and truly alive in the reboot. The vibe gave off a strong girl-power feel that reflected the changing times and the feminism that was starting to become prominent in modern society.

The reboot was also a massive commercial success… 

It reached the top spot on the Hot 100 Billboard charts and stayed there for five weeks, a full 26 years after the original. It also reached #1 in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Hungary, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Portugal. In many regards, the 2001 reboot was more widely accepted and sold more on a global scale.

Interested in The Meaning of Other Famous Songs?

If so, check out our thoughts on the Meaning Behind “Edge of Seventeen” Song By Stevie Nicks, The Meaning Behind “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry StylesThe Meaning Behind “Waterfalls” by TLCThe Meaning Behind “Lola” by The Kinks, and The Meaning Behind Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 Hit “Time After Time” for more interesting song insights.

Also, you need to hear them. So, have a look at our reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best Bass Earbuds, the Best Headphones Under $200, and the Best Cheap Earbuds Under $100 you can buy in 2024.

The Meaning Behind the Song Lyrics of “Lady Marmalade” by Patti Labelle – Final Thoughts

When you think about it, the meaning of the lyrics to “Lady Marmalade” was quite groundbreaking. They touched on subjects that were seldom talked about in the 1970s. Since the 70s, there have been many songs about prostitutes, such as “Roxanne” by the Police, “Call Me” by Blondie, “Private Dancer” by Tina Turner, and “When The Sun Goes Down” by the Arctic Monkeys.

Patti Labelle, not knowing about the song’s subject always brings a smile to my face. The truth is that she accidentally pioneered hooker anthems way before Cardi B. never had a song that merged prostitution, bi-lingual lyrics, and New Orleans at the same time. 

On a side note, I suggest you check out the Moulin Rouge 2001 official video for Lady Marmalade. It’s one of the sexiest and raunchiest music videos ever.

Until next time, happy listening.

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