louie louie (the original lyrics vs the dirty ones)

Estimated reading time is 11 minutes.

“A FINE LITTLE GIRL, SHE WAITS FOR ME” is the first line of the first verse of one of the most famous records of the past hundred years. But the record doesn’t open with the verse, it opens with the chorus: “Louie Louie, me gotta go.” The rest is part of rock & roll history.

The song’s title, “Louie Louie,” is without a comma. This could mean that the person being addressed by the singer is named Louie Louie. If you assume that Louie Louie is his mate onboard the ship of the singer, you’d be incorrect as the line “I sail the ship all alone” makes it clear the singer has no mates.

This article has been updated with the inclusion of a brief section with the text in brown print.

Some sources claim that the singer is addressing a bartender on whatever island he finds himself on. We do know the singer wants to get home from the Caribbean Sea and tell his girl “I’ll never leave again.”

Released in 1957 as the flip-side to You Are My Sunshine, it failed to make any national pop or R&B chart. It nonetheless became a favorite with youthful bands, especially those in the Pacific Northwest.

In 1961, Rockin’ Robin Roberts and the Wailers recorded a garagey version of Louie Louie that was a hit from Oregon to British Columbia. It seems like every band in that area added it to their repertoire. In 1963, both Paul Revere & the Raiders and the Kingsmen released it around the same time.

It was the Kingsmen’s version—based squarely on Roberts’ record—that achieved a transcendent state that has had record reviewers and rock historians reaching for their Thesauruses for decades to find adequate adjectives to describe their response to hearing/feeling it.

 

RichardBerry photo 1950s 800 crop copy
Richard Berry posed for this publicity photo in the late 1950s. (When I first saw this photo, I thought he was holding a pipe to his mouth, which would have been very odd for a R&B star at that time.)

An incomprehensible vocal

The production “values” (or near complete lack thereof) of the Kingsmen’s record were such that lead singer Jack Ely’s vocal came out rather muddied and garbled. This led to millions of kids across the country to somehow read “dirty” lyrics into the recording.

Fifty years later the prestigious New Yorker magazine addressed this record with an article titled “Is This The Dirtiest Song Of The Sixties?

“On that April day in 1963, the only microphone available to Ely was located several feet above him, hanging from the ceiling. Ely was wearing dental braces, and his bandmates, who were gathered around Ely in a circle, played their instruments loudly. The result was an incomprehensible vocal that, in time, would make Ely the most celebrated interpreter of a song which is close to being pop Esperanto.

Louie Louie remains a quintessential rock & roll recording and one of the most recorded songs in the past sixty years of pop music.

A, D, E minor, runs the chord progression. Easy. As for the lyrics, it doesn’t matter how you sing them, or even really what you sing, though you might consider beginning with the words ‘Louie Louie / Oh no / Me gotta go.’ Really, though, the floor is yours. Sing your grocery list. Pull random words from a hat.”

The almost universal belief in 1963-1964 that the Kingsmen had slipped something obscene into a song being played on the radio where minors could hear it every bloody day actually led to an investigation of the record by the FBI! The investigation lasted through 1965 but as none of the agency’s experts could figure out what the heck Ely was actually singing, they had to leave the record alone.

There is much, much more to the history of Louie Louie, but the point of this article is simply to provide readers with the lyrics from Berry’s 1956 original recording along with the “dirty” lyrics from the Kingsmen’s 1963 version.

But before going any further, please open another tab on your computer, bring up YouTube, and listen to each version of the song while reading the lyrics below.

 

RichardBerry LouieLouie Flip 78 800

RichardBerry LouieLouie Flip 800
Like almost all singles released in the US prior to 1958, Flip released Richard Berry & The Pharaohs’ Louie Louie as both a 78 rpm record (FL-254) and a 45 rpm record (45-321).

Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie”

Here are the lyrics to “Louie Louie” as Richard Berry recorded in 1956. Both sides of the record (Flip 254 and 321) are credited to Richard Berry and The Pharaohs. For this record, the Pharaohs were one of several vocal groups that Berry was working with,

At the time the record was made, the group consisted of the following members (listed alphabetically):

Godoy Colbert, first tenor
Noël Collins, baritone
Stanley Henderson, second tenor

Apparently, Berry intended the song and the performance as a nod to the then-current popularity of calypso music, made popular in the US by Harry Belafonte. Except the record opens with a repetitive, doo-woppy bass part (“Duh duh duh—duh duh—duh duh duh”) that runs throughout the song. 

Here are Berry’s lyrics (and please note that the punctuation in the transcription below is mine): 

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

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

Louie Louie, I said 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.
Well, Louie Louie, me gotta go.

Me see Jamaica Moon above.
It won’t be long, me see me love.
Me take her in my arms and then,
I tell her I’ll never leave again.

Louie Louie, me gotta go.
Louie Louie, me gotta go.
I said me gotta go.
I said me gotta go.
Well, me gotta go.

If you’re counting, that’s one my among nineteen me’s.

 

Kingsmen LouieLouie Jerden 800

Kingsmen LouieLouie Wand 800
The Kingsmen’s Louie Louie was first issued on Jerden Records and then picked up by Wand for national distribution. While it almost certainly sold a million copies for Wand, sources stating nine-figure amounts for accumulated global sales should probably be looked at with a bit of skepticism.

The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie”

While Jack Ely’s crazed vocal gets almost all of the attention, the Kingsmen were a group that played their own instruments and sang. At the time the record was made, the group consisted of the following members (listed alphabetically):

Lynn Easton, drums
Jack Ely, rhythm guitar
Don Gallucci, keyboards
Mike Mitchel, lead guitar
Bob Nordby, bass guitar

Here are the Kingsmen’s lyrics (and please note that the punctuation in the transcription below is mine): 

Louie Louie (oh, no), said me gotta go (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah).
I said, Louie Louie (oh, baby), I said baby, we gotta go.

A fine little girl, she waits for me.
Me catch the ship across the sea.
Me sailed that ship all alone.
Me never think how I’ll make it home

Louie Louie (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah) I said we gotta go (oh, no).
Said Louie Louie (oh, baby), said we gotta go.

*

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

Louie Louie (oh, no) said we gotta go (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah).
Louie Louie (oh, baby) said we gotta go.

(Okay, let’s give it to them right now!)

**

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

Louie Louie (oh, no), said we gotta go (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah).
Said Louie Louie (oh, baby), said we gotta go.
I said we gotta go now.
Let’s hustle on out of here.
Let’s go!

A close listen to the lyrics as Jack Ely sang them on the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” in 1963 reveals that they are essentially identical to those Berry sang six years earlier. The biggest difference in the lyrics is that Ely sings the title as “Loowee Loowie” and interjects a few oh-no’s, oh-baby’s, and a lot of yeah’s (in parentheses above).

The biggest difference in the music is that the Kingsmen replace the bass singer’s part with an organ and the instrumental bridge with a rather wild guitar solo. Otherwise, it’s the same song.

There is no attempt at calypso here. Instead, Ely’s vocal sounds like he is a bit unhinged while the group’s playing displays an energetic sloppiness and crudeness (“Rehearse? Nah—we got this!”) that has caused many rock historians to refer to this record as proto-garage, if not the first successfully famous slab of garage rock.

*  There actually was a four-letter word in the record: right after the second chorus, Lynn Easton dropped his drumstick, causing him to yell, “Fuck!”

**  After the instrumental bridge and the guitar solo, Ely comes in early with “Me see” and then has to stop and wait for the band to finish the bridge.

 

DaveMarsh LouieLouie later edition 600
Dave Marsh devoted an entire book to “Louie Louie” with an impressive sub-title: “The History And Mythology Of The World’s Most Famous Rock ‘n’ Roll Song.” Pictured above is a later edition with a compelling blurb from Rolling Stone magazine.

Then there’s that second verse

Reader Jim Miller posted a comment (which you can read in its brief entirety below), in which he reminded me that many people heard part of the second verse as “Every night at ten, I laid her again. I fucked that girl all kinds of ways.”

According to the New Yorker article (above), others heard that same line as being, “At night at ten, I lay her again. Fuck you girl, oh, all the way.”

Oh, my.

 

Kingsmen LouieLouie Wand Ely dj 800
In 1966, a legal settlement between the group and former member Jack Ely required that all subsequent pressings of Louie Louie on Wand would have “Lead vocal by Jack Ely” below the title. These records are much harder to find than those pressed in 1963-1965.

Louie Louie on the charts

Although Berry’s record reputedly got some playing time and some sources claim it sold more than 100,000 copies, it did not reach any of the national best-selling surveys. But despite all the brouhaha surrounding the Kingsmen’s record, Louie Louie was a huge hit! It spent two weeks at #1 on the Cash Box in January 1964.

Louie Louie was the last chart-topper for an American artist until May, the Beatles taking up the #1 position for the sixteen weeks in between! It was less successful on Billboard, where it spent six weeks at #2 or #3 between December 1963 and January 1964, but failed to get to the top.

The record was, in fact, “banned” from some radio station’s airwaves, if in a piecemeal manner. In Indiana, Governor Matthew Welsh believed the lyrics were dirty and reputedly banned the record from that state’s airwaves (although I haven’t a clue as to how he could legally accomplish that). If we assume that more than a few radio stations removed the record from their playlists, then we can assume that it affected the record’s movement up the charts—and not in a positive manner.

For some reason or another, in May 1966, Louie Louie found its way back onto the Cash Box Top 100, where it spent five weeks, peaking at #65.

 

Kingsmen LouieLouie GoldRecord 1200
By the time Wand Records presented the Kingsmen with an in-house gold record award, three of the members responsible for the million-seller had left the group! For this picture, the Kingsmen were Norm Sundholm, Mike Mitchell, Lynn Easton, Dick Peterson, and Barry Curtis.

Louie Louie sales

In their entry on Louie Louie, the contributors to Wikipedia state, “Total sales estimates for the single range from 10,000,000 to over 12,000,000 with cover versions accounting for another 300,000,000.” As the source for the first figure, they list the liner notes by Peter Blecha for the Rhino Records compilation The Best Of Louie Louie from 1983.

But in Million Selling Records From The 1900s To The 1980s, Joseph Murrells lists the record merely as a million-seller. There are also several websites that attempt to list the biggest selling singles or records in the world but none of them include the Kingsmen’s record. Louie Louie has never been certified by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award.

For the second source, they list the article “After 23 years, ‘Louie Louie’ Cooler Than Ever” by Lewis Beale for The Los Angeles Daily News from 1986. Beale states, “To date, the Kingsmen’s version of the tune has sold more than 12,000,000 copies, and the thousand or so cover versions might have sold as many as 300,000,000 records.”

That is an astonishing claim! But for those thousand records to reach that massive nine-figure amount, each record would have to have sold an average of 300,000 copies. This means there would have been versions of Louie Louie by hundreds of artists making the national Top 100 year after year for decades. But that didn’t happen.

Whatever Louie Louie’s actual sales figure may be, it remains a quintessential rock & roll recording and one of the most recorded songs in the past sixty years of pop music.

Despite. its reputation for being a ‘dirty’ record, the lyrics to the Kingsmen’s version of ‘Louie Louie’ are essentially identical to those that Richard Berry sang on the original version of the song six years earlier! Click To Tweet

TheKingsmen 1963 1200

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was cropped from this photo of the Kingsmen from the early ’60s. From left to right: Don Gallucci, Jack Ely, Lynn Easton, Mike Mitchell, and Bob Nordby. Photos from these years with Ely as a member of the band are difficult to find.

Should you want more information, there are several websites devoted to either the Kingsmen or Louie Louie. To check out one of my faves, The Louie Report (“The blog for all things LOUIE LOUIE”), click here.

And there is always Dave Marsh’s book, Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World’s Most Famous Rock ‘N’ Roll Song

 


 

4 thoughts on “louie louie (the original lyrics vs the dirty ones)”

  1. Seems to me you’ve avoided the real controversy. We all thought he sang:

    “Every night at ten, I laid her again.
    I fucked that girl all kinds of ways.”

    My cousin and I dropped the needle on that part over and over and over again.

    I believe that is what made the song popular.

    Reply
  2. Kansas City radio station WHB printed the Kingsmen’s lyrics on the back of their weekly 40 Star Survey. As a 14-year-old junior high student and vocalist in a garage band, I was able to listen to the record and, using the printed words, I was able to clearly determine the correct lyrics. The bruhaha of the FBI was ridiculous.

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, there is a rather large segment of the American population that seems prone to making as much bruhaha as often as possibe about things that are clearly seen by the rest of the population as preposterous.

      Reply

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