Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Labelle’s classic single, “Lady Marmalade.” During Patti LaBelle’s recent appearance on Sherri, the Godmother of Soul and talk show host talked about the hit record‘s history with the legendary singer offering a hilariously admission about the song’s lyrics.
When asked if she knew at the time of recording that it’d become the smash hit, LaBelle, 78, replied, “For once, I can say yes and really mean yes.” Back when the trio—LaBelle, Sarah Dash, and Nona Hendryx—was traveling with their late producer, Allen Toussaint, she reflected on the immediate need to record the single. “I said, ‘We have to record this because it’s a hit,’ and it was,” she added.
What she didn’t know was that the lyric, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?,” translates into “do you want to sleep with me tonight?”
LaBelle confessed, “I had no clue. I didn’t know no French. I knew it was a hit…Yeah, that’s what that song was all about. It was a hit.”
In a 1986 interview with NME, the songstress joked, “What will my mother think?,” when learning of the song’s meaning. Years later, she told JET, “I didn’t know what it was about. Nobody—I swear this is God’s truth—nobody told me what I’d just sung a song about.”
“Lady Marmalade” topped the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot Soul Singles charts in 1975 and is certified gold by the RIAA. In 2001, it was reimagined for Moulin Rouge by Christina Aguilera, Mya, Lil Kim, and Pink. uDiscoverMusic described the cover as a nod to each artist’s signature style: “Lil Kim’s raunchy raps, Pink’s soulful tone, Mya’s sultry coos, and Aguilera’s theatrical vocal runs.” It sat at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for five consecutive weeks.
20 years later, Labelle’s version was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. Watch the “If Only You Knew” singer talk about fan interactions to the song and more above.