Louie Louie

“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.  First released in May 1963, the Kingsmen’s recording entered the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for December 7, and peaked at number two the following week.  It was the last #1 on Cashbox before Beatlemania hit the United States with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.  The Kingsmen’s recording was the subject of an FBI investigation about the supposed but nonexistent obscenity of the lyrics, an investigation that ended without prosecution.  “Louie Louie” has been recognized by organizations and publications worldwide for its influence on the history of rock and roll.  A partial list includes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, National Public Radio, VH1, Rolling Stone, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Recording Industry Association of America.  (More from Wikipedia)
The most famous case of supposedly offensive lyrics in popular music is “Louie Louie”, specifically the version by the Kingsmen. The original version of Louie Louie” was released in 1957 by Richard Berry (who is also the songwriter); it has a Latin American beat, and the lyrics are clearly about a sailor pining away for his woman back home.
A lesser known version of “Louie Louie was released in 1960 by Rockin’ Robin Roberts backed by the Wailers, a rock band from Tacoma, Washington that is often cited as being the first garage rock band in history. It was in this recording that the famous call was introduced: “Let’s give it to ’em, right now!” Neither of these recordings made the charts though.
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The Kingsmen released Louie Louie in 1963, and that is the one that became such a hit. I remember hearing Louie Louie on the radio just about every summer when I was growing up after that. The beat meter was accidentally changed, as was the style of the song; lead singer Jack Ely is the one who mumbled the lyrics.
From Wikipedia: “The Kingsmen transformed [Richard] Berry’s easy-going ballad into a raucous romp, complete with a twangy guitar, occasional background chatter, and nearly unintelligible lyrics by [Jack] Ely. A 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 Wailersversion, a few notes differ, and the entire band played the break).
“Critic Dave Marsh suggests it is this moment that gives the recording greatness: ‘[Jack 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.’”
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                      The Actual Lyrics to “Louie Louie”                
Rumors began to spread that the slurred vocals in Louie Louie covered up new lyrics about the sailor having sex with his woman rather than merely missing her. I remember listening to the record over and over trying to pick up on some of the lyrics; the only thing I ever thought that I heard was, “I felt my pole high in her hair” (whatever that was supposed to mean). 
Lyric sheets began circulating with the “real” lyrics on them. Here is what the FBI reportedly uncovered – yes, this official agency of the government that is supposed to be investigating criminal activity took their time to investigate the lyrics to a rock and roll song. Iggy Pop often sang the song with these lyrics, now that they had been conveniently written down.
A fine little girl a-waiting for me She’s just a girl across the way We’ll take her and park all alone She’s never a girl I lay at home
At night at ten I lay her again F--k you girl, oh all the way Oh my bed and I lay her there I meet a rose in her hair
The lyrics that circulated in Detroit went this way:
There is a fine little girl waiting for me She is just a girl across the way When I take her all alone She’s never the girl I lay at home
Tonight at ten I’ll lay her again We’ll f--k your girl and by the way And on that chair I’ll lay her there I felt my boner in her hair
There are probably at least a dozen more dirty versions of Louie Louie that are available on the Internet. The FBI closed its investigation in 1965 with the famous conclusion that the lyrics for Louie Louie are “unintelligible at any speed”.
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There is a wonderful scene in the Richard Dreyfuss movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus about a jazz musician who takes a job as a high school music teacher. One of his students, played by Alicia Witt, is struggling with her clarinet playing. He tells her, “There’s more to music than the notes on the paper.” Up until then, the movie has been dealing with “serious” music; but at this point, Dreyfuss reaches into a pile of 45’s and puts on Louie Louie.
He gives a little speech while it is playing: “Listen. These fellas have absolutely no harmonic sense. They can’t sing, the lead singer is yelling. They’re playing the same boring three chords over and over and over. The recording sucks. The lyrics are awful when you can understand them, if you can hear them. This song is about a decibel away from being noise. But we love it. I love it! Do you love it?” (She nods).
“Why? I’ll tell you why. Because it has heart. These guys are playing with everything they have and they’re having fun. They love it, so we love it.”
(June 2016)
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Items:    Louie Louie 
Last edited: March 22, 2021