October 12, 2016

The Kingsmen - Louie Louie (1963)

Although there were quite a few bands to don the “Kingsmen” moniker in the early sixties, it was the stardom of this particular band which forced all of the others to change their name. Formed in Portland, Oregon in 1959 by Lynn Easton and Jack Ely, the group is most associated with their biggest hit, “Louie Louie,” heard below. And although the band failed to reach the same success they had had with that hit, they were not, as popularly thought, one hit wonders. They had a handful of songs on the Billboard Hot 100, albeit none of them as widely successful as their first monster of a hit.

The song itself was written by Richard Berry in 1955. Berry’s version was recorded as a B-Side and released in 1957. It became a local success on the West Coast, selling around 40,000 copies. But, after failing to find success with any follow-up records, Berry sold the rights to his song for $750 to Flip Records in 1959.

In 1962, The Kingsmen would often hear a rendition of the song by Rockin’ Robin Roberts, who was signed to Flip Records, from the jukebox at the Pypo Club in Seaside, Oregon. And since the song always seemed to get the crowd on its feet, The Kingsmen began to incorporate it into their live performances. What they didn’t realize was that they had misheard the song a bit and, thus, made it unique in their own future recording.

Speaking of their recording of the song, The Kingsmen’s version was recorded on April 6, 1963 during a one-hour recording session at the Northwestern Inc. studios. Because they had practiced the song for 90 minutes prior to going into the studio, the band was somewhat tired, lazy, and irritated. Making matters worse, everyone was crammed into a single room with only three microphones to record simultaneously, causing the lead singer, Jack Ely, to have to uncomfortably “lean backward and scream” rather than sing, in order to be heard over the instruments being played around him.

All in all, it was these complications which wound up giving the song its character. The combination of Ely’s tired voice (and him having braces) resulted in his infamously slurred lyrics- slurred lyrics which caused suspicious parents and radio station managers to accuse the song’s lyrics of being potentially “obscene.” And although the song’s lyrics were entirely innocuous, there were enough public outcries that the FBI began an investigation. Luckily for the members of the group, no charges were filed once the harmless nature was revealed. Perhaps the most ironic bit, however, is that if you listen carefully (specifically at 0:54), you can hear the band’s drummer, Lynn Easton, yell the F-word after fumbling his drumsticks, which he admitted to much later in life.

Ultimately, the song reached number two on the charts; it has been covered well over 1,600 times; and it is known as one of, if not the, most iconic garage rock songs in the history of recorded music.

album art

The Kingsmen - Louie Louie (1963)

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Louie Louie
Oh no, me gotta go
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I said
Louie Louie, oh baby
Me gotta go

A fine little girl waits for me
Catch a ship across the sea
Sail that ship about, all alone
Never know I make it home

Louie Louie, no, no, no, no
Me gotta go, oh no
I said, Louie Louie
Oh baby, I said we gotta go

Three nights and days I sailed the sea
I think of that girl, oh, constantly
On that ship, I dream she's there
I smell the rose in her hair

Louie Louie, woah no
Sayin’ me gotta go
I said Louie Louie, oh baby
I said me gotta go

Okay, let's give it to 'em, right now!


See Jamaica, the moon above
It won't be long, me see me love
Take her in my arms again
I tell her I'll never leave again

Louie Louie, oh no
Sayin’ we gotta go
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
I said Louie Louie, oh baby
Sayin’ we gotta go

I said we gotta go now

Let’s go on out of here

Let's go!

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