louie louie (the original lyrics vs the dirty ones)

Es­ti­mated reading time is 10 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.

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

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.

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.

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
Noel 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.

 

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

 


 

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