How to defend a song that’s essentially an extended mother-in-law joke? It helps if the lyrics are actually pretty clever: “She thinks her advice is the Constitution,” grumbles K-Doe, “but if she would leave, that would be the solution.” “Mother-in-Law” was the first major success by R&B legend Allen Toussaint, and if you go by chart rankings (as we do here), it was also his biggest hit. But Toussaint wasn’t just a songwriter; he was (and still is) a producer too, and a piano player in the tradition of New Orleans greats Professor Longhair and Huey “Piano” Smith. And despite K-Doe’s flamboyant personality, the song is covered in Toussaint’s fingerprints – the second line rhythms, the blast of horns and above all, the syncopated piano that’s the backbone of the song’s indelible funkiness. The contrasting vocals, ping-ponging between K-Doe’s whiny drawl and Benny Spellman’s cavernous bass, is the song’s ace up the sleeve, one so effective that Toussaint would recycle it for K-Doe’s 1962 single, “A Certain Girl.” I’m still a little disappointed that this is how Toussaint is commemorated in the Hot 100 (not “Working in a Coalmine”? “Brickyard Blues”? Anything with Irma Thomas but especially the transcendent “Ruler of My Heart”?), but it has everything an iconic Toussaint song should have: understated swagger, an interlocking puzzle of ragtag sounds, and that unrelentingly funky piano. 8
- Apologies for the sporadic updates. Things should be back to semi-daily status within a few weeks.
Hit #1 on May 22, 1961; total of 1 week at #1
50 of 969 #1’s reviewed; 5.16% through the Hot 100