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"Louie Louie" is an American rhythm and blues song written by Richard Berry in 1955 and best known for the 1963 hit version by The Kingsmen. It has become a standard in pop and rock, with hundreds of versions recorded by different artists. The song was originally written and performed in the style of a Jamaican ballad. It tells, in simple verse–chorus form, the first-person story of a Jamaican sailor returning to the island to see his lady love.
|Single by Richard Berry|
|A-side||You Are My Sunshine|
|Richard Berry singles chronology|
|Note: Flip 321 re-released later in 1957 with "Louie Louie" as A-side with "Rock, Rock, Rock" B-side.
"Louie Louie" has been recognized by organizations and publications worldwide for its influence on the history of rock and roll. A partial list (see "Recognition and rankings" table below) includes the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, National Public Radio, VH1, Rolling Stone Magazine, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Recording Industry Association of America. In addition to new versions appearing regularly on YouTube and elsewhere, other major examples of the song's legacy include the unsuccessful attempt in 1985 to make it the state song of Washington, the celebration ofInternational Louie Louie Day every year on April 11, the annual Louie Louie Parade in Philadelphia from 1985-1989, the LouieFest in Tacoma from 2003-2012, and the ongoing annual Louie Louie Parade and Festival in Peoria.
Original version by Richard Berry
Richard Berry was inspired to write the song in 1955 after listening to and performing the song "El Loco Cha Cha" with Ricky Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers. The tune was written originally as "Amarren Al Loco" ("Tie up the crazy guy") by Cuban bandleader Rosendo Ruiz Jr. – also known as Rosendo Ruiz Quevedo – but became best known in the "El Loco Cha Cha" arrangement by René Touzet which included a rhythmic ten-note "1-2-3 1–2 1-2-3 1–2" riff.)"Louie Louie" ten note riff
Touzet performed the tune regularly in Los Angeles clubs in the 1950s. In Berry's mind, the words "Louie Louie" superimposed themselves over the bass riff. Lyrically, the first person perspective of the song was influenced by "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)", which is sung from the perspective of a customer talking to a bartender (Berry's bartender's name is Louie). Berry cited Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon" and his exposure to Latin American music for the song's speech pattern and references toJamaica.
Richard Berry released his version in April 1957 (Flip Records 321), originally as a B-side, with his backing band the Pharaohs, and scored a regional hit on the west coast, particularly in San Francisco. When the group toured the Pacific Northwest, local R&B bands began to play the song, increasing its popularity. The track was then re-released as an A-side. However, the single never charted on Billboard's nationalrhythm and blues or pop charts. Berry's label reported that the single had sold 40,000 copies. After a series of unsuccessful follow-ups, Berry sold his portion of publishing and songwriting rights for $750 to the head of Flip Records in 1959.
Although similar to the original, the version on Rhino's 1983 The Best of Louie, Louie compilation is actually a note-for-note re-recording created because licensing could not be obtained for Berry's 1957 version.
Rockin' Robin Roberts
|Single by Rockin' Robin Roberts|
Robin Roberts developed an interest in rhythm and blues records as a high school student in Tacoma, Washington. Among the songs he began performing as an occasional guest singer with a local band, the Bluenotes, in 1958 were "Louie Louie", which he had heard on Berry's original single, and Bobby Day's "Rockin' Robin", which gave him his stage name. In 1959, Roberts left the Bluenotes and began singing with another local band, The Wailers (often known as The Fabulous Wailers and no relation to The Wailers headed by Bob Marley years later), who had had a hit record with the instrumental "Tall Cool One". Known for his dynamic onstage performances, Roberts added "Louie Louie" to the band's set and, in 1960, recorded the track with the Wailers as his backing band. The arrangement, devised by Roberts with the band, included Roberts' ad-lib "Let's give it to 'em, RIGHT NOW!!". Released on the band's own label, Etiquette, in early 1961, it became a local hit in the Seattle area, before being reissued and promoted by Liberty Records in Los Angeles. However, it failed to chart. Roberts was killed in an automobile accident in 1967.
|Single by The Kingsmen|
|from the album The Kingsmen in Person|
|Producer(s)||Ken Chase, Jerry Dennon|
|The Kingsmen singles chronology|
On April 6, 1963, a rock and roll group from Portland, Oregon, called The Kingsmen, chose "Louie Louie" as their second recording, their first having been "Peter Gunn Rock." The Kingsmen recorded the song at Northwestern, Inc., Motion Pictures and Recording in Portland. The session cost $50, and the band split the cost. On September 5, 2013, the city of Portland dedicated a plaque at the site (411 SW 13th Avenue) to commemorate the event. An earlier version placed by the Oregon Historical Society was stolen shortly after its dedication in 1993.
The session was produced by Ken Chase. Chase was a local radio personality on the AM rock station 91 KISN and also owned the teen nightclub that hosted the Kingsmen as their house band. The engineer for the session was the studio owner, Robert Lindahl. The Kingsmen's lead singer Jack Ely based his version on the recording by Rockin' Robin Roberts with the Fabulous Wailers, unintentionally introducing a change in the rhythm as he did. "I showed the others how to play it with a 1–2–3, 1–2, 1–2–3 beat instead of the 1–2–3–4, 1–2, 1–2–3–4 beat that is on the (Wailers') record," recalled Ely. The night before their recording session, the band played a 90-minute version of the song during a gig at a local teen club.
The Kingsmen's studio version was recorded in one take. They also recorded the "B" side of the release, an original instrumental by the group called "Haunted Castle".
A significant error on the Kingsmen's version occurs just after the lead guitar break. As the group was going by the Wailers' version, which has a brief restatement of the riff two times over before the lead vocalist comes back in, it would be expected that Ely would do the same. Ely, however, overshot his mark, coming in too soon, before the restatement of the riff. He realized his mistake and stopped the verse short, but the band did not realize that he had done so. As a quick fix, drummer Lynn Easton covered the pause with a drum fill, but before the verse ended, the rest of the band went into the chorus at the point where they expected it to be. They then recovered quickly.
This error is now so embedded in the consciousness of some groups that they deliberately duplicate it when performing the song. There is also a persistent and oft-repeated story that the microphone for Ely was mounted too high for him to sing without tilting his head back excessively, resulting in his somewhat pinched and strangled sound through most of his vocal. This is exactly the way his head was pitched according to Ely. This seems unlikely, however, in view of the fact that it was recorded by professional personnel in a dedicated recording studio. According to Ely himself, "There were no professional personnel in the studio that day except maybe Lindahl. We set up all our own equipment in a circle facing each other underneath an overhead microphone up by the ceiling at which I sang/shouted the lyrics." It has also been reported that Ely had gotten braces on his teeth the day before, impeding vocalization.
The Kingsmen transformed Berry's easy-going ballad into a raucous romp, complete with a twangy guitar, occasional background chatter, and nearly unintelligible lyrics by Ely. A chaotic guitar break is triggered by the shout, "Okay, let's give it to 'em right now!", which first appeared in the Wailers' version, as did the entire guitar break (although, in the Wailers' version, a few notes differ, and the entire band played the break). Critic Dave Marsh suggests it is this moment that gives the recording greatness: "[Ely] went for it so avidly you'd have thought he'd spotted the jugular of a lifelong enemy, so crudely that, at that instant, Ely sounds like Donald Duck on helium. And it's that faintly ridiculous air that makes the Kingsmen's record the classic that it is, especially since it's followed by a guitar solo that's just as wacky".
First released in May 1963, the single was initially issued by the small Jerden label, before being picked up by the larger Wand Records and released by them in October 1963. It entered the top ten on theBillboard Hot 100 chart for December 7, and peaked at number two the following week; it would remain in the top 10 through December and January before dropping off in early February. In total, the Kingsmen's version spent 16 weeks on the Hot 100. (Singles by The Singing Nun, then Bobby Vinton, monopolized the top slot for eight weeks.) "Louie Louie" did reach number one on the Cashbox pop chart, as well as number one on the Cashbox R&B chart. The version quickly became a standard at teen parties in the U.S. during the 1960s, even reappearing on the charts in 1966.
|Second Wand release with "Lead vocal by Jack Ely" text|
|Single by The Kingsmen|
|from the album The Kingsmen In Person|
|Length||2:42 (2:24 on label)|
|Producer(s)||Ken Chase, Jerry Dennon|
Another factor in the success of the record may have been the rumor that the lyrics were intentionally slurred by the Kingsmen. Allegedly, this was to cover the fact that it was laced with profanity, graphically depicting sex between the sailor and his lady. Crumpled pieces of paper professing to be "the real lyrics" to "Louie Louie" circulated among teens. The song was banned on many radio stations and in many places in the United States, including Indiana, where it was personally prohibited by the Governor, Matthew Welsh.
These actions were taken despite the small matter that practically no one could distinguish the actual lyrics. Denials of chicanery by Kingsmen and Ely did not stop the controversy. The FBI started a 31-month investigation into the matter and concluded they were "unable to interpret any of the wording in the record." Ironically, however, drummer Lynn Easton later admitted that he yelled "Fuck" upon accidentally dropping a drumstick at 0:54 on the record.
Sales of the Kingsmen record were so low (reportedly 600) that the group considered disbanding. Things changed when Boston's biggest DJ, Arnie Ginsburg, was given the record by a pitchman. Amused by its slapdash sound, he played it on his program as "The Worst Record of the Week". Despite the slam, listener response was swift and positive.
By the end of October, the Kingsmen's version was listed in Billboard as a regional breakout and a "bubbling under" entry for the national chart. Meanwhile, the Raiders' version, with far stronger promotion, was becoming a hit in California and was also listed as "bubbling under" one week after the Kingsmen's debut on the chart. For a few weeks, the two singles appeared destined to battle each other, but demand for the Kingsmen single acquired momentum and, by the end of 1963, Columbia Records had stopped promoting the Raiders' "Louie Louie", as ordered by Mitch Miller.
By the time that the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" had achieved national popularity, the band had split. Two rival editions—one featuring lead singer Ely, the other with Lynn Easton, who held the rights to the band's name—were competing for live audiences across the country. A settlement was reached later in 1964 giving Easton the right to the Kingsmen name but requiring all future pressings of the original version of "Louie Louie" to display "Lead vocal by Jack Ely" on the label.
After a protracted lawsuit that lasted five years and cost $1.3 million, on November 9, 1998, The Kingsmen were awarded ownership of all their recordings released on Wand Records from Gusto Records, including "Louie Louie." They had not been paid royalties on the songs since the 1960s.
In February 1964, an outraged parent wrote to Robert Kennedy, then the Attorney General of the United States, alleging that the lyrics of "Louie Louie" were obscene. The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the complaint. In June 1965, the FBI laboratory obtained a copy of the Kingsmen recording and, after four months of investigation, concluded that the recording could not be interpreted, that it was "unintelligible at any speed," and therefore the Bureau could not find that the recording was obscene. In September 1965, an FBI agent interviewed one member of the Kingsmen, who denied that there was any obscenity in the song.
The lyrics controversy resurfaced briefly in 2005 when the superintendent of the school system in Benton Harbor, Michigan, refused to let the marching band at one of the schools play the song in a parade. She later relented.
It is unknown exactly how many versions of "Louie Louie" have been recorded, but it is believed to be over 1,500 (according to LouieLouie.net), The Kingsmen version has remained the most popular version of the song, retaining its association with wild partying. It enjoyed a comeback in 1978–79 and was associated with college fraternity parties when it was sung, complete with the supposedly obscene lyrics, by Bluto (John Belushi) and his fellow Delta House brothers in the movie National Lampoon's Animal House despite the anachronism of the film taking place in 1962, a year before the Kingsmen recording (although this is mitigated by the fact that the Deltas are fans of at least one black rock musician, and 1962 was 7 years afterRichard Berry wrote the song). Aside from the Animal House appearance, the song appeared in many other films, typically in raucous and humorous contexts. An instrumental version played by the Rice University Marching Owl Band (MOB) is heard in the final scene of The Naked Gun (1988). (In the film, the University of Southern California Marching Band is seen trampling Ricardo Montalban's already-flattened character, although it is the MOB that is heard playing.)
Some bands have taken liberties with the lyrics, including attempts to record the supposed "obscene lyrics". It is believed the first artists to do so were The Stooges, whose version can be heard on their live album Metallic K.O. Iggy Pop later recorded a more civilized cover version of the song, with new lyrics composed by Pop, for his 1993 album American Caesar. He continues to play it live at shows.
The Who were directed in their early recording career by the riff/rhythm of "Louie Louie". This was due to the song's influence on The Kinks, who, like the Who at the time, were produced by Shel Talmy, with the Kinks on the Pye label and the Who onBrunswick. Talmy wanted the successful sounds of The Kinks' 1964 hits "You Really Got Me", "All Day and All of the Night" and "Till the End of the Day" to be copied by The Who. As a result, Pete Townshend penned "I Can't Explain", released in March 1965. During a pre-song interview with host Brian Matthew on Saturday Club in May 1965, Pete explained that "I Can't Explain" was released to "introduce The Who to the charts" and that they were now trying to get away from all that and wanted to create the sort of sound they achieved on stage at present, hence their new single which they were about to sing live on Saturday Club now – the feedback-driven, Mod-inspired "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere". (In 1979 "Louie Louie" would be featured on the soundtrack album to Quadrophenia.)
"Louie Louie" repeatedly figured in the musical lexicon of Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention in the 1960s. An early live version of his original composition "Plastic People" (from his You Can't Do That Onstage Anymore series of live albums) was set to the melody of "Louie Louie" (the official version was released on the album Absolutely Free in 1967). Zappa reportedly fired guitarist Alice Stuart from The Mothers of Invention because she couldn't play "Louie Louie". At a Zappa concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Mothers of Invention keyboardist Don Preston climbed up to the legendary venue's pipe organ, usually used for classical works, and played the signature riff (this can be heard on the 1969 Zappa album Uncle Meat). Quick interpolations of "Louie Louie" also frequently turn up in other Zappa works.
The song has also been used in a couple of The Simpsons episodes including "Kill the Alligator and Run" when Homer is in the boat, and "We're on the Road to D'ohwhere" when Lisa's orchestra are rehearsing and their instruments begin to rust.
International Louie Louie Day
April 11, Richard Berry's birthdate, is celebrated as International Louie Louie Day and is listed by Chase's Calendar of Events, the National Special Events Registry and other sources. Support for International Louie Louie Day and other "Louie Louie"-related observances is provided by the Louie Louie Advocacy and Music Appreciation Society (LLAMAS) and "Louie Louie" fans worldwide. Other "Louie Louie"-related events in April include the release of Richard Berry's original version (1957), the Kingsmen and Raiders recording sessions (1963), "Louie Louie Day" declarations by the mayor of Seattle and the State of Washington (1985) and the State of Oregon (1986), and the resolution of the court case awarding rights to the Kingsmen (1998) for their recordings including their version of "Louie Louie'".
The City of Tacoma held a summer music and arts festival from 2003-2012 in July named LouieFest. The event began in 2003 as the "1000 Guitars Festival" and featured a group performance of "Louie Louie" open to anyone with a guitar. The event was renamed LouieFest in 2004. Members of the Wailers, Kingsmen, Raiders, Sonics and other groups with "Louie Louie" associations regularly made appearances. The grand finale each year was the "Celebration of 1000 Guitars" mass performance of "Louie Louie" on the main stage.