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Cajun Party: Songs Of Summer Sweat

It's no secret that Cajun and zydeco music is all about sweat. So you can go to Louisiana for a summertime steambath — as I write this, the temperature in Lafayette is 93 degrees, with a heat index of 103 — or you can bring a bit of the heat to you. Here are five songs guaranteed to get your feet moving, at which point the sweating part will take care of itself. Which, in turn, is where the beer comes in.

For more entries in this summer's weekly It's Time to Party: Summer Songs series, click here.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Give Him Cornbread

It's a thankless task to have to single out just one song from the late, great zydeco musician Beau Jocque, a powerhouse on the accordion and a giant on stage -- at least 6'6" and 270 pounds. (He was only in his 40s when he died of a heart attack.) Listen to the driving beat and bass line that propel "Give Him Cornbread," and it's hard not to shout along. The song is five minutes of good, sweaty dance music, punctuated by primal howls, growls and trills of delight.

Dance All Night

It's possible that the most fun I've ever had was at the Beau vs. Boo zydeco smackdown in 1994 at New Orleans' Mid City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl -- part bowling alley, part music club. You could feel the dance floor heaving as the legendary Boozoo Chavis and his younger disciple, Beau Jocque, swapped wildly energetic sets. (The owner of the Rock 'n' Bowl, John Blancher, once told a reporter, "I put support beams underneath the dance floor for Beau Jocque. People danced harder when he played. It was almost hypnotic.") I can picture Boozoo Chavis up on stage in his white Stetson, with a white apron protecting his accordion from sweat, the floor packed with dancers stomping to his intense groove. I'm sure he played "Dance All Night," and I know for a fact that we did just that.

Je T'aime Pas Mieux

This Louisiana band has deep Cajun roots, but also flirts shamelessly with country, western swing, and honky-tonk. From the moment the twin fiddles scratch out the first beats, "Je t'aime pas mieux" takes off at a manic pace and doesn't let up. Red Stick Ramblers' members call this "a Cajun love song about quitting while you're ahead." I love the shrug of resignation in Linzay Young's lyrics: His lover talks about another man in her sleep, gives him nothing to eat in the morning and leaves her old underwear on the floor. It sounds a lot better in French, but here's the chorus: "I don't like you better than my last woman / But it's better than the times when I didn't have one." Words to live by.

Vie d'Un Vieux Garcon [Bachelor's Life]

This happy two-step was written by one of Cajun music's greats, D.L. Menard. The vocals of David Greely and Steve Riley intertwine beautifully around this song about a working guy who just wants to have some fun on Saturday night.

Missing out on a Date

This is for when the party's winding down, your feet are aching and you don't think you can possibly dance to one more song. But sure you can, though, especially if it's Keith Frank's R&B-infused zydeco. I love that this song lets you hear his fingers pattering on the buttons of his accordion. "Missing Out on a Date" starts out with a snaky bass line, and then Keith cranks it up. "Gonna have some fun tonight," he sings, "'Til the morning sun be bright."

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.