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Louie Louie


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"Louie Louie"
Single by Richard Berry
A-sideYou Are My Sunshine [1]
ReleasedApril 1957 (1957-04)
GenreRhythm and blues
Songwriter(s)Richard Berry
Richard Berry singles chronology
"Take The Key"
"Louie Louie"
"Sweet Sugar You"

"Louie Louie" is a rhythm and blues song written and composed by American musician Richard Berry in 1955. It is best known for the 1963 hit version by the Kingsmen and has become a standard in pop and rock. The song is based on the tune "El Loco Cha Cha" popularized by bandleader René Touzet and is an example of Latin influence on American popular music.

"Louie Louie" tells, in simple verse–chorus form, the first-person story of a Jamaican sailor returning to the island to see his lover.

"Louie Louie" has been recognized by organizations and publications worldwide for its influence on the history of rock and roll. A partial list (see "Recognition and rankings" table below) includes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, National Public Radio, VH1, Rolling Stone Magazine, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Recording Industry Association of America. Other major examples of the song's legacy include the celebration of International Louie Louie Day every year on April 11; the annual Louie Louie Parade in Philadelphia from 1985 to 1989; the LouieFest in Tacoma from 2003 to 2012; the ongoing annual Louie Louie Street Party in Peoria; and the unsuccessful attempt in 1985 to make it the state song of Washington.

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.[2] The nearly unintelligible (and innocuous) lyrics were widely misinterpreted, and the song was banned by radio stations as well as being investigated by the FBI.

Dave Marsh, in his book The History and Mythology of the World's Most Famous Rock 'n' Roll Song wrote, "It is the best of songs, it is the worst of songs"[3] and rock historian Peter Blecha noted, "Far from shuffling off to a quiet retirement, evidence indicates that 'Louie Louie' may actually prove to be immortal."[4]

Louie Louie Intro articles: 13

Original version by Richard Berry

Richard Berry was inspired to write the song in 1955 after listening to an R&B interpretation of "El Loco Cha Cha" performed by the Latin R&B group Ricky Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers.[5] The tune was written originally as "Amarren Al Loco" ("Tie Up the Madman") by Cuban bandleader Rosendo Ruiz Jr., also known as Rosendo Ruiz Quevedo, but became best known in the "El Loco Cha Cha" arrangement by René Touzet which included a rhythmic ten-note "1-2-3 1–2 1-2-3 1–2" pattern.[6]

"Louie Louie" 10-note riff

Touzet performed the tune regularly in Los Angeles clubs in the 1950s. In Berry's mind, the words "Louie Louie" superimposed themselves over the repeating bassline. Lyrically, the first person perspective of the song was influenced by "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)," which is sung from the perspective of a customer talking to a bartender ("Louie" was the name of Berry's bartender).[7] Berry cited Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon" and his exposure to Latin American music for the song's speech pattern and references to Jamaica.[8]

Los Angeles-based Flip Records issued Berry's adaptation with his backing band the Pharaohs in April 1957 as a single B-side of "You Are My Sunshine". The single was a regional hit on the west coast, particularly in San Francisco. When the group toured the Pacific Northwest, local R&B bands began to play the song, increasing its popularity. The song was then re-released as an A-side single. However, the single never appeared on the various Billboard R&B charts nor broader Hot 100. Berry's label reported that the single had sold 40,000 copies. After a series of unsuccessful follow-ups, Berry sold his portion of publishing and songwriting rights for $750 to the head of Flip Records in 1959.[9]

While the title of the song is often rendered with a comma ("Louie, Louie"), in 1988, Berry told Esquire magazine that the correct title of the song was "Louie Louie" with no comma.[10]

Although similar to the original, the version on Rhino's 1983 The Best of Louie, Louie compilation[11] is actually a note-for-note re-recording created because licensing could not be obtained for Berry's 1957 version.[12] The original version was not legitimately re-released until the Ace Records Love That Louie compilation in 2002.[13]

Louie Louie Original version by Richard Berry articles: 15

Cover versions

"Louie Louie" is one of the world's most recorded rock songs, with published estimates ranging from over 1,600[4] to more than 2,000.[14]


Rockin' Robin Roberts

"Louie Louie"
Single by Rockin' Robin Roberts
Released1961 (1961)
Songwriter(s)Richard Berry

Robin Roberts developed an interest in rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues records as a high school student in Tacoma, Washington. Among the songs he began performing as an occasional guest singer with a local band, the Bluenotes, in 1958 were "Louie Louie", which he had heard on Berry's obscure original single, and Bobby Day's "Rockin' Robin", which gave him his stage name.[15]

In 1959, Roberts left the Bluenotes and began singing with another local band, the Wailers (often known as the Fabulous Wailers, who had had a hit record with the instrumental "Tall Cool One"). Known for his dynamic onstage performances, Roberts added "Louie Louie" to the band's set and, in 1960 recorded the track with the Wailers as his backing band.[15] The arrangement, devised by Roberts with the band, included Roberts' ad-lib "Let's give it to 'em, RIGHT NOW!!" Released on the band's own label, Etiquette, in early 1961, it became a hit locally and was then reissued and promoted by Liberty Records in Los Angeles, but it failed to chart.[15]

Roberts was killed in an automobile accident in 1967.[15] Dave Marsh dedicated his 1993 book "For Richard Berry, who gave birth to this unruly child, and Rockin' Robin Roberts, who first raised it to glory."[16]

The Kingsmen

"Louie Louie"
Original release
Single by The Kingsmen
from the album The Kingsmen In Person
B-side"Haunted Castle"
ReleasedJune 1963 (1963-06) (Jerden)
October 1963 (1963-10) (Wand)
RecordedApril 6, 1963
GenreGarage rock[17]
Songwriter(s)Richard Berry
  • Ken Chase
  • Jerry Dennon
The Kingsmen singles chronology
"Louie Louie"
Wand Re-issue
Second Wand release with "Lead vocal by Jack Ely" text
Audio sample

On 6 April 1963,[18][19] the Kingsmen, a rock and roll group from Portland, Oregon, chose "Louie Louie" for their second recording, their first having been "Peter Gunn Rock". The Kingsmen recorded the song at Northwestern, Inc., Motion Pictures and Recording in Portland. The session cost $50, and the band split the cost.[20][21]

The session was produced by Ken Chase, a local disc jockey on the AM rock station 91 KISN who also owned the teen nightclub that hosted the Kingsmen as their house band. The engineer for the session was the studio owner, Robert Lindahl. The Kingsmen's lead vocalist, Jack Ely, based his version on the recording by Rockin' Robin Roberts with the Fabulous Wailers, unintentionally introducing a change in the rhythm as he showed the other members how to play it with a 1–2–3, 1–2, 1–2–3 beat instead of the 1–2–3–4, 1–2, 1–2–3–4 beat on the Wailers record.[22] The night before their recording session, the band played a 90-minute version of the song during a gig at a local teen club. The Kingsmen's studio version was recorded in one take. They also recorded the B-side of the release, an original instrumental by the group called "Haunted Castle”.

A significant error on the Kingsmen version occurs just after the lead guitar break. As the group was going by the Wailers version, which has a brief restatement of the riff twice over before the lead vocalist comes back in, it would be expected that Ely would do the same. Ely, however, overshot his mark, coming in too soon, before the restatement of the riff. He realized his mistake and stopped the verse short, but the band did not realize that he had done so. As a quick fix, drummer Lynn Easton covered the pause with a drum fill. The error is now so well known that multiple versions by other groups duplicate it.

The Kingsmen transformed Berry's easy-going ballad into a raucous romp, complete with a twangy guitar, occasional background chatter, and nearly unintelligible lyrics by Ely.[23] Ely had to stand on tiptoe to sing into a boom mike, and his braces further impeded his singing. A guitar break is triggered by the shout, "Okay, let's give it to 'em right now!", which first appeared in the Wailers version,[24] as did the entire guitar break (although, in the Wailers version, a few notes differ, and the entire band played the break). Critic Dave Marsh suggests it is this moment that gives the recording greatness: "[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."[25] Marsh ranks the song as number eleven out of the 1001 greatest singles ever made.

First released in May 1963, the single was initially issued by the small Jerden label, before being picked up by the larger Wand Records and released by them in October 1963. It entered the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for December 7, and peaked at number two the following week, a spot which it held for six non-consecutive weeks; it would remain in the top 10 throughout December 1963 and January 1964 before dropping off in early February.[26] In total, the Kingsmen's version spent 16 weeks on the Hot 100. Dominique by the Singing Nun and There! I've Said It Again by Bobby Vinton, prevented the single from reaching #1.) "Louie Louie" did reach number one on the Cashbox pop chart for two weeks, as well as number one on the Cashbox R&B chart.[27] It was the last #1 on Cashbox before Beatlemania hit the United States with "I Want to Hold Your Hand".[28] The version quickly became a standard at teen parties in the U.S. during the 1960s, even reappearing on the charts in 1966.

Another factor in the success of the record may have been the rumor that the lyrics were intentionally slurred by the Kingsmen—to cover up lyrics that were allegedly laced with profanity, graphically depicting sex between the sailor and his lady. Crumpled pieces of paper professing to be "the real lyrics" to "Louie Louie" circulated among teens. The song was banned on many radio stations and in many places in the United States, including Indiana, where it was personally prohibited by Governor Matthew Welsh.[29][30][31][32]

These actions were taken despite the small matter that practically no one could distinguish the actual lyrics. Denials of chicanery by Kingsmen and Ely did not stop the controversy. The FBI started a 31-month investigation into the matter and concluded they were "unable to interpret any of the wording in the record."[2] However, drummer Lynn Easton later admitted that he yelled "Fuck" after fumbling a drum fill at 0:54 on the record.[20][23][33]

Sales of the Kingsmen record were initially so low (reportedly 600) that the group considered disbanding. Things changed when Boston's biggest DJ, Arnie Ginsburg, was given the record by a pitchman. Amused by its slapdash sound, he played it on his program as "The Worst Record of the Week". Despite the slam, listener response was swift and positive.[34]

By the end of October, it was listed in Billboard as a regional breakout and a "bubbling under" entry for the national chart. Meanwhile, the Raiders version, with far stronger promotion, was becoming a hit in California and was also listed as "bubbling under" one week after the Kingsmen debuted on the chart. For a few weeks, the two singles appeared destined to battle each other, but demand for the Kingsmen single acquired momentum and, by the end of 1963, Columbia Records had stopped promoting the Raiders version, as ordered by Mitch Miller.

By the time the Kingsmen version had achieved national popularity, the band had split. Two rival editions—one featuring lead singer Jack Ely, the other with Lynn Easton who held the rights to the band's name—were competing for live audiences across the country. A settlement was reached later in 1964 giving Easton the right to the Kingsmen name but requiring all future pressings of the original version of "Louie Louie" to display "Lead vocal by Jack Ely" on the label.

On 9 November 1998, after a protracted lawsuit that lasted five years and cost $1.3 million, the Kingsmen were awarded ownership of all their recordings released on Wand Records from Gusto Records, including "Louie Louie". They had not been paid royalties on the songs since the 1960s.[35][36]

When Jack Ely died on 28 April 2015, his son reported that "my father would say, 'We were initially just going to record the song as an instrumental, and at the last minute I decided I'd sing it.'" When it came time to do that, however, Ely discovered the sound engineer had raised the studio's only microphone several feet above his head. Then he placed Ely in the middle of his fellow musicians, all in an effort to create a better "live feel" for the recording. The result, Ely would say over the years, was that he had to stand on his toes, lean his head back and shout as loudly as he could just to be heard over the drums and guitars.[37]

Paul Revere & the Raiders

"Louie Louie"
Single by Paul Revere & the Raiders
from the album Here They Come!
B-side"Night Train"
ReleasedJune 1963 (1963-06)
RecordedApril 1963
Songwriter(s)Richard Berry
Producer(s)Roger Hart
Paul Revere & the Raiders singles chronology
"So Fine"
"Louie Louie"
"Louie Go Home"

Paul Revere & the Raiders also recorded a 1963 version of "Louie Louie", probably on April 11 or 13, 1963, in the same Portland studio as the Kingsmen.[38][39][40] The recording was paid for and produced by KISN radio personality Roger Hart, who soon became personal manager for the band. Released on Hart's Sandē label, their version was more successful locally. Columbia Records issued the single nationally in June 1963 and it went to #1 in the West and Hawaii. The quick success of "Louie Louie" suddenly halted, however, and a few years later Paul Revere & the Raiders learned the reason—Columbia A&R man Mitch Miller, a former bandleader (Sing Along With Mitch) who hated rock and roll, had pulled the plug on their version.

Robert Lindahl, president and chief engineer of NWI and sound engineer on both the Kingsmen and Raiders recordings, noted that the Raiders version was not known for "garbled lyrics" or an amateurish recording technique. Despite or because of these attributes, the single never seized the public's attention the way the less-polished Kingsmen version did.

The Raiders version contains a scarcely audible "dirty lyric" when Mark Lindsay says, "Do she fuck? That psyches me up!" behind the guitar solo.[41]

Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention

"Louie Louie" repeatedly figured in the musical lexicon of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in the 1960s. His original compositions "Plastic People" and "Ruthie-Ruthie" (from You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1) were set to the melody of "Louie Louie" and included Richard Berry co-writer credits.[42] Zappa said that he fired guitarist Alice Stuart from the Mothers of Invention because she couldn't play "Louie Louie", although this comment was obviously intended as a joke.[43]

At a 1967 concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Mothers of Invention keyboardist Don Preston climbed up to the venue's famous pipe organ, usually used for classical works, and played the signature riff (included on the 1969 album Uncle Meat). Quick interpolations of "Louie Louie" also frequently turn up in other Zappa works.[44]

Other 1960s versions

After the Kingsmen and Raiders versions, many other bands recorded the song:



"Louie Louie"
Single by Motörhead
from the album Overkill (re-issue)
B-side"Tear Ya Down"
ReleasedSeptember 30, 1978 (1978-09-30)
StudioWessex, London
Songwriter(s)Richard Berry
  • Neil Richmond
  • Motörhead
Motörhead singles chronology
"Louie Louie"

"Louie Louie" was Motörhead's first single for Bronze Records in 1978, following their initial release on Chiswick Records in 1977. It was a relatively faithful cover of the song, with Clarke's guitar emulating the Hohner Pianet electric piano riff. It was released as a 7" vinyl single and reached number 68 on the UK Singles Chart. The song was released with "Tear Ya Down" and appears on the CD re-issues of Overkill and The Best of Motörhead compilation. On 25 October 1978 a pre-recording of the band playing this song was broadcast on the BBC show Top of the Pops.[48]

Other 1970s versions

  • The song was covered by the Flamin' Groovies on their 1971 album Teenage Head.
  • A 1971 version by "John Lennon and Friends" recorded at his 31st birthday party was released on the 1989 bootleg CD Let's Have A Party.
  • In 1972, Berry released the song again as a single on the Happy Tiger label. This was the label's final release before it folded.
  • Also in 1972 Led Zeppelin performed a version of the song in Los Angeles which can be heard on the bootleg Burn Like a Candle. This performance is the source of most of the 2003 live album How the West Was Won, but "Louie Louie" was omitted from the official release.
  • MC5 performed "Louie Louie" in Helsinki in 1972.
  • In 1973, Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids performed the song in the film American Graffiti, in a version produced by Kim Fowley.
  • Toots & the Maytals recorded a version for their album Funky Kingston. It has been suggested that use of the Kingsmen's beat may have helped lead to the invention of reggae music,[49] but the Maytals track used a Jamaican beat unrelated to the Kingsmen version and their album was released at least four years after reggae became a distinct form, and at least six years after the "rock steady" beat on the Maytals track was first developed.
  • The 1973 song "Brother Louie" by the UK band Hot Chocolate was strongly inspired by "Louie Louie" and includes a minor-key reprise of the chorus. The song, about an interracial romance, became a No. 1 U.S. hit that same year in a cover version by the New York band Stories.[50]
  • In 1974, the Stooges (a.k.a. Iggy and the Stooges) performed the song at their final concert, with some obscene lyric changes, which was released on their live album Metallic K.O. in 1976.
  • A version of "Louie Louie" performed by the Clash was released on the Louie is a Punkrocker vinyl bootleg in 1977.
  • Re-recorded versions by Jack Ely were created in 1976 and 1980 and appeared on multiple "original artist" compilations of 60s hits as by "Jack Ely" or "The Kingsmen featuring Jack Ely".
  • A version by John Belushi appeared on the National Lampoon's Animal House soundtrack album in 1978. Released as a single, it reached #89 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
  • Other 1970s releases and bootlegs included versions by Blondie (1979), Nick Cave (1977), The Fall (1977), Goddo (1975), Heavy Cruiser (1972), the Kids (1970), John The Postman (1977), Sounds Orchestral (1970), Lou Reed (1978), Line Renaud (1973), Patti Smith (1976), and Deniz Tek (1974).


Black Flag

"Louie Louie"
The cover features Black Flag's singer Dez Cadena and some of his improvised lyrics to "Louie Louie".
Single by Black Flag
B-side"Damaged I"
Released1981 (1981)
GenreHardcore punk
LabelPosh Boy

The Hermosa Beach, California hardcore punk band Black Flag released a cover version of "Louie Louie" as a single in 1981 through Posh Boy Records.[51] It was the band's first release with Dez Cadena as singer, replacing Ron Reyes who had left the group the previous year.[52][53] Cadena would go on to sing on the Six Pack EP before switching to rhythm guitar and being replaced on vocals by Henry Rollins.[52][54] Cadena improvised his own lyrics to "Louie Louie", such as "You know the pain that's in my heart / It just shows I'm not very smart / Who needs love when you've got a gun? / Who needs love to have any fun?"[51] The single also included an early version of "Damaged I", which would be re-recorded with Rollins for the band's debut album, Damaged, later that year.[51] Demo versions of both tracks, recorded with Cadena, were included on the 1982 compilation album Everything Went Black.[55]

The front cover art shows the main verse of the lyrics to "Louie Louie" over a photograph by Edward Colver featuring Black Flag's third singer Dez Cadena.

Bryan Carroll of AllMusic gave the single four out of five stars, saying that "Of the more than 1,500 commitments of Richard Berry's 'Louie Louie' to wax ... Black Flag's volatile take on the song is incomparable. No strangers to controversy themselves, the band pummel the song with their trademark pre-Henry Rollins-era guitar sludge, while singer Dez Cadena spits out his nihilistic rewording of the most misunderstood lyrics in rock history."[51] Both tracks from the single were included on the 1983 compilation album The First Four Years, and "Louie Louie" was also included on 1987's Wasted...Again.[56][57] A live version of "Louie Louie", recorded by the band's 1985 lineup, was released on the live album Who's Got the 10½?, with Rollins improvising his own lyrics.[58]

Other 1980s versions




  • The Japanese group The's performed a live version in 2011 at The Rocking Chair in Vevey, Switzerland.[63]
  • Billy Joel performed the song in concert at the Moda Center in Portland on December 8, 2017.[64]
  • Deep Purple performed a version in concert June 22, 2017 at the Palottomatica in Rome on their Long Goodbye tour.[65]

Louie Louie Cover versions articles: 264