Louie, Louie

From Academic Kids

"Louie, Louie" is an American rock 'n' roll song written by Richard Berry in 1955. It has become a standard in pop and rock, with hundreds of different versions recorded by different artists.

A version by The Kingsmen recorded in 1963 is perhaps the best-known recording; it was also the subject of an FBI investigation about the potential obscenity of the lyrics, an investigation that ended without prosecution.


Original version

According to a history documented in Rhino Records liner notes in a 1989 re-release of "The Best of Louie, Louie" (Rhino R1 70605), Berry was inspired to write the song after listening to and performing René Touzet's "El Loco Cha Cha" with Ricky Rivera And The Rhythm Rockers. In Berry's mind, the words "Louie, Louie" superimposed themselves over the bass line of the song, a walking ten-note riff. The first person perspective of the song was influenced by "One For My Baby", which is sung from the perspective of a customer talking to a bartender. Berry cited Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon" and his exposure to a lot of Latin music for the song's speech pattern and references to Jamaica.

Richard Berry recorded it in 1956 with his backing band, the Pharaohs, and scored a minor success on the rhythm and blues charts in the U.S., which were dominated by black artists and bought almost exclusively by black listeners.

The song is written in the style of a simple Jamaican ballad, and tells, in simple verse-chorus form, the first-person story of a Jamaican sailor returning to the island to see his lady love.

Original lyrics

Louie, Louie, me gotta go
Louie, Louie, me gotta go.

Fine little girl, she wait for me.
Me catch the ship for across the sea.
Me sail the ship all alone.
Me never thinks me make it home.

Louie, Louie, me gotta go.
Louie, Louie, me gotta go.

Three nights and days me sailed the sea.
Me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there.
I smell the rose in her hair.

Louie, Louie, me gotta go.
Louie, Louie, me gotta go.

Me see Jamaican moon above.
It won't be long, me see me love.
I take her in my arms and then.
Me tell her I never leave again.

Louie, Louie, me gotta go.
Louie, Louie, me gotta go.

Lyrics from 1965 FBI files

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

Version by The Kingsmen

In the U.S. music industry of the 1950s and '60s, mainstream white artists would often re-record songs by black artists, and "Louie, Louie" was no exception. In April, 1963, a new rock and roll group from Portland, Oregon called The Kingsmen chose "Louie, Louie" as their first recording.

There is some controversy as to the circumstances of this recording. It is definitely known that the Kingsmen recorded it at Northwestern, Inc., Motion Pictures and Recording (http://www.hynes-inc.com/~cindy/nwi/studioa.JPG) in Portland for the Wand Records label as a demo for a possible cruise ship gig. The group paid a small sum, either $36 or $50, for a short, after-hours session. The Kingsmen's lead singer, Jack Ely, briefed the band on the song, basing his version on a 1961 recording of Berry's tune by another band from the Pacific Northwest, Rockin' Robin Roberts and the Fabulous Wailers (no relation to the band headed by Bob Marley years later), perhaps intentionally introducing a slight change in the rhythm as he did. It was recorded in one or two takes (with the second being used); according to some reports, the band may have thought they were rehearsing rather than laying down the final track. Ely himself, depending on which source one believes, was either hoarse from singing the night before, wearing braces on his teeth, hung over, obliged to shout the lyrics into a boom microphone which couldn't be adjusted to his height, or some combination thereof - or it could have been that Ely, along with the rest of the group, simply lacked the talent to produce a proper recording. (In particular, Robert Lindahl, a recording engineer at NWI who claims to have been present, disputes the "boom mike" story, saying they were not used in the session.)

Whatever the factors in the session, the Kingsmen transformed Berry's relatively easy-going ballad into a raucous, anarchic, rock 'n' roll romp, complete with a twangy guitar, occasional background chatter, and almost completely unintelligible lyrics by Ely. The version quickly became a standard for teen parties of the Sixties in the U.S., fueled by tremendous but inexplicable popularity in Boston, and reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Another factor in the success of the record may have been the rumor that the lyrics were intentionally slurred by the Kingsmen to cover the fact that it was laced with profanity, usually in the graphic depiction of sex between the sailor and his lady. Crumpled pieces of paper professing to be "the real lyrics" to "Louie, Louie" circulated among teens. It was banned on many radio stations and in many places in the United States, including Indiana, where it was personally banned by the Governor, Matthew Welch, simply on the rumor alone, as practically no one could understand the actual lyrics. The Kingsmen and Ely protested, when asked, that the lyrics were sung more or less as Berry had written them, but this did not stop the controversy. Even the FBI became involved in the controversy - but concluded a 31-month investigation with a report that they were "unable to interpret any of the wording in the record" [1] (http://www.thesmokinggun.com/louie/louie.shtml).

Oddly enough, the song does contain one possibly obscene moment that the FBI missed. Immediately before the second verse (approximately 54 seconds into the song), drummer Lynn Easton supposedly banged his sticks by accident and shouted "Fuck!"

Transcribed lyrics

The following is perhaps the best attempted transcription of the lyrics to "Louie, Louie", as sung by the Kingsmen. It has been introduced into the public domain by David Spector.

Louie, Louie
Oh no, me gotta go.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, said, ah
Louie, Louie
Oh, baby, me gotta go.

A fine little girl she waits for me
Me catch a ship for cross the sea.
Me sail that ship all alone
Me never think how I make it home.

Ah, Louie, Louie
No, no, no, no, me gotta go.
Oh, no.
Said, Louie, Louie
Oh, baby, said we gotta go.
(indistinct yell in the background, possibly "Fuck!")

Three nights and days I sail the sea
Think of girl, oh, constantly.
Ah, on that ship I dream she there
I smell the rose, ah, in her hair.

Ah, Louie, Louie
Oh, no, sayin' we gotta go.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, but, ah,
Louie, Louie
Oh, baby, said, we gotta go.
[Yelled] Okay, let's give it to 'em
right now! [instrumental portion]

Me see Jamaica, ah, moon above.
It won't be long, me see me love.
Take her in my arms again,
I got her; I'll never leave again.

Ah, Louie, Louie
Oh, no, sayin' me gotta go.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,
But, ah, Louie, Louie
Oh, baby, said, ah, we gotta go.

I said we gotta go now,

Let's get on outta here.

[Yelled] Let's go!

Recent history

Since its pressing, the Kingsmen's version has remained the most popular version of the song, retaining its association with wild partying. It enjoyed a brief comeback which also associated it with college fraternity parties in the 1970s when it was sung, complete with the obscene supposed lyrics, by Bluto (John Belushi) and his fellow fraternity brothers in the movie National Lampoon's Animal House. A more faithful rendition of the song was recorded by Belushi for the accompanying soundtrack album.

It is unknown exactly how many versions of "Louie, Louie" have been recorded, but it is believed to be over 1,500 variations, according to LouieLouie.net. This popularity helped Berry received overdue compensation for unpaid royalties.

Some bands have taken liberties with the lyrics of the song, including attempts to record the supposed "obscene lyrics". It is believed the first artists to do so were Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

Black Flag released a short E.P. called Louie, Louie in 1981 on SST Records. It features Dez Cadena on vocals for the lead track - with the bands own lyrics, and also includes the "long" version of the song "Damaged I".

In August, 2003, 754 guitarists played a ten-minute rendition of "Louie, Louie" at Cheney Stadium, in Tacoma, Washington, United States, in what was believed to be the world's largest jam session [2] (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2001608291_louie25m.html).



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