Friday, May 16, 2008

Louie Louie

Song: Louie Louie
Artist: The Kinsman
Album: The Very Best of the Kingsmen

“Louie Louie” is probably most synonymous with “Animal House,” the end-all-be-all of college movies. To me it’s one of the best drunken sing-a-long songs around, made better by lyrics that are almost completely undeterminable. (Which got it in trouble.)

The song was written by Richard Berry in 1955 in the style of a Jamaican ballad. While having a drink at a bar a sailor talks about returning to the island to see the woman he’s in love with. It was the Kingsmen version that really made the song popular… and then notorious. If you have the interest, I recommend reading the details history of the song in Wikipedia. But the highlights…

The song is a staple of garage rock bands mainly because of the Kingsmen, whose slap dash version was originally a failure. The record sold so little when it came out that the group considered disbanding. But, when the song was given to Boston DJ Arnie Ginsberg, who played it in his “Worst Record of the Week” program, it immediately caught on.

The following year, after Robert Kennedy received a complaint that the song was obscene by a parent, the FBI launched an investigation. (File that under “you’re kidding me.”) After a law suit that lasted five years and cost $1.3 Million Dollars, the Supreme Court ruled that the song was not offensive because… they couldn’t understand what they’re singing! How crazy is that? Our government has ALWAYS been crazy. It makes me wonder… if “My Humps” had been released back then… would it now be legendary?

The most interesting thing I found in my “Louie Louie” research was that the Kingsmen version actually contains a mistake that has since been replicated by other bands covering the tune not realizing there is a mistake. Here’s the explanation, lifted directly from the Wiki article:

“The most notorious error left on the Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie" comes after the guitar break. To some ears, singer Jack Ely begins singing the verse in the correct place, but thinks he's come in too soon, and pauses for another cycle of the riff. To others, he comes in too soon and corrects himself, but the band doesn't realize that he's corrected himself. Either way, drummer Lynn Easton covers the pause with a drum fill. But then, before the verse has ended, the rest of the band goes into the chorus at the point where they expect it to be. They recover quickly, but the confusion would seem to indicate that the rest of the band couldn't hear the vocals while they were recording. This error is now so embedded in the consciousness of some groups that they actually 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 seems unlikely, however, in view of the fact that it was recorded by professional personnel in a dedicated recording studio.”

The Kingsmen

Here’s “the history” of Louie Louie:

And in Animal House

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