It’s easy for the rest of America to dump on the South. But despite poor standardized test scores and the occasional racist politician, Southerners can still console themselves with having produced many of the country’s greatest cultural contributions: the collected works of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Tennessee Williams; the golden standard for American comfort food; and, most pertinently, nearly every popular musical genre to originate in Twentieth century America – jazz, blues, country, and rock and roll.
Growing up in Louisiana, it was a given that my native state was special, even compared with the rest of the South. After all, we invented jazz and produced Louis Armstrong, Lead Belly and Jerry Lee Lewis, just for starters. Seemingly every part of the state contributed something to the musical landscape. Southwest Louisiana birthed Cajun music and zydeco, New Orleans is home to an uncountable number of jazz and R&B legends, and North Louisiana’s ties to country music stretch back to at least the ’40s.
But what of Baton Rouge, the capital city and my hometown? Arts and culture has never been its strong point, especially when compared to the vibrancy of New Orleans and Lafayette. Still, it has managed to produce at least one terrific number-one single. The final installment in our 1963 trilogy of male-female duets, “I’m Leaving It Up to You” is also the best. The song’s little more than three choruses and a bridge, but its economy is what makes it work. This is a song about heartbreak. Verses would just belabor the point.
Baton Rouge may not have a definitive identity of its own, but the steady immigration of Louisianians into the capital city has made it a composite of the state’s diverse cultures – Louisiana in miniature. Likewise, “I’m Leaving It Up to You” borrows elements from New Orleans R&B (the backbeat and instrumentation) and honky-tonk (the aching, country-accented vocals). The strings are even reminiscent of Cajun fiddling. The result is seamless, the natural product of musical cross-pollination rather than a conscious effort at mixing genres. This seeming effortlessness, from the minimalist song structure to the heartfelt vocals, gives the record a genuine, timeless quality. But despite reaching #1 and being covered a handful of times, “I’m Leaving It Up to You” has unfortunately never quite become the standard that its level of quality would imply. But if my hometown were to be represented by one pop song, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start. 8
Hit #1 on November 23, 1963; total of 2 weeks at #1
101 of 979 #1’s reviewed; 10.32% through the Hot 100