Odd Stuff – Louie Louie

The Kingsmen performing. Louie Louie was their top song.
The Kingsmen performing

“Louie Louie” is one of the most famous American rock ‘n’ roll songs. It was written by Richard Berry in 1955 and has since been recorded by hundreds of different artists. Berry recorded the song with The Pharoahs in 1957 as the flip side of his recording of “You Are My Sunshine.” Although the song had moderate success, Berry sold Louie Louie to help pay for his wedding.

Fast forward to 1963 when a local band from from Portland, Oregon called the Kingsmen decided to use “Louie Louie” as their first demo recording. They weren’t happy with the results. On top of the fuzzy voice, there were several other errors, and they didn’t expect much from the results. There were many different accounts of why the lyrics were slurred, one hypothesizes that the microphones were out of place, another that lead singer Jack Ely was either horse from singing the night before, wearing braces on his teeth, or just plain hung over.

Whatever the reason, The Kingsmen souped up what was a ballad into a high energy number by adding a festive rock ‘n’ roll rhythm, a sassy guitar, background chatter, and almost unintelligible lyrics, and Louie Louie became America’s #1 party song.

They were surprised as the song was promoted by DJs in Boston and eventually became a hit. Rumors arose that the lyrics were intentionally slurred by the Kingsmen to cover the fact that it was full of profanity and contained a graphic depiction of sex between a sailor and his lady, which added to the song’s popularity.

The FBI got involved in the controversy under the Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material (ITOM) law. I guess they thought that their investigation would do some good, but after 2 years, all that they succeeded in doing was to increase the record’s sales and create an industry out of guessing what the real words were.

One can only wonder if there were any FBI agents with children, and if they realized that, even in the 60s, the best way to promote something was to try to take it away! For the record, here are the words from the FBI file:

Louie, Louie…oh yea, a-way we go
Yea, yea, yea, yea, yea
Louie, Louie…oh baby, a-way we go
A fine little girl – she wait for me.
Me catch the ship – a-cross the sea.
I sailed the ship – all a-lone.
I never think – I’ll make it home.
Louie, Louie…a-way we go
Three nights and days we sailed the sea.
Me think of girl constant-ly.
On the ship – dream she there.
I smell the rose – in her hair.
Louie, Louie…oh baby, a-way we go
Me see Jamaica – moon a-bove.
It won’t be long – me see me love.
Me take her in arms and then.
I tell her I never leave a-gain.
Louie, Louie…oh yea, a-way we go

As a side note, there evidently was some obscenity in the recording, and it totally slipped by the FBI. Reports are that, just before the second verse, about 54 seconds in, drummer Lynn Easton banged his sticks by accident and shouts the “F” word.