The 45 I hold in my hands today is heavy with so much R&R lore that Dave Marsh decided it needed a full book. In no way a short blog post could ever do justice to what probably is the best R&R song ever created. Though most famous and popularized by the Kingsmen, "Louie Louie" is one of the most covered Rock songs, second only to Yesterday of the Beatles. Since you cannot call that slab of schmaltz R&R in good conscious, I'm just going to give the prize to "Louie Louie". Besides the track is essential playing for any band starting out. Even though Iggy Pop claims he still hasn't mastered the song, the simple da-da-da, da-da riff that makes, makes it the ideal song for any beginning band to cover. As such "Louie Louie" probably got more plays in the Garages that spawned many of the great R&R bands than "Yesterday" could ever hope to get on all those unimaginative classic Rock radio stations.
Richard Berry & the Pharaohs
Available on "The Louie Louie Files"
Funny thing is, "Louie Louie" originally wasn't even a R&R song. Its 'author' Richard Berry stole the riff that is essentially the song from a Cha-Cha. As a Los Angeles resident Berry was surrounded by the many Latino bands that dominated the scene. In the mid fifties Berry was band hopping. At one time he was part of Rick Rillera and The Rhythm Rockers' who performed the song "El Loco Cha Cha". In turn this song was based on the Cuban song "Amarren Al Loco" ("Tie up the crazy guy") written by Rosendo Ruiz jr but made popular by Réne Touzet. These prototype Louis are so obscure I've never had the pleasure to hear them. If anybody can help me out on that front, I'll be eternally in your debt. Anyway, Berry could swear he could hear Louie Louie pulsing over the base line. After some reworking Berry turned a Cha-Cha into something that sounds like the point where Calypso and Doo Wop meet, still not quite R&R. Buried on the flip side of "You Are My Sunshine" the song sold somewhere between 40.000 and 130.000 copies (depending on the source) in 1957, not exactly a major hit. Probably why the original version is so bloody expensive these days, if you're lucky enough to find it. Strapped for cash and not suspecting the song would ever go anywhere, Berry sold the publishing and songwriting rights for a mere $750 to his label Flip records.
Not Berry's smartest move ever as ironically the flip would have made him a very wealthy man today indeed. Though largely unheard the song did make an impression on Rockin' Robin Roberts from the Fabulous Wailers, or maybe he was just looking for an easy song to play. Anyway, the Wailers covered the song and it went straight to the sell out bin. Who ever picked it up from that bin hipped Jack Ely from the Kingsmen to it, who began playing it in their set on a regular basis. The Kingsmen today are the Gods of Garage, but probably never would have been if they wouldn't have botched up the 36$ recording session of "Louie Louie" for Wand records in 1963. Ely slurs the words beyond recognition, anybody who can tell me what the hell he's singing get a no-prize! The slurred words led many to believe the Kingsmen had filled their version with obscenities. A long standing standing tradition of playing R&R records backwards was born. Whatever it was that Indiana governor Matthew Welsh heard in the lyrics he said it made his ears tingle, so it must be obscene right? Enough to get the FBI involved and conduct a full investigation. The controversy was enough for Ely to claim, quite angrily, that they "took the words from the original version by Richard Berry and recorded them faithfully". With the help of a bottle of whiskey no doubt. Legend has it the governor had the song officially band. Though that is in fact far from the truth, the controversy was enough to propel the record all the way up to the the top ten of the Billboard chart. This delightful piece of 'obscenity' has been with us ever since. As it should be, the surviving Springsteen recordings from this song are a bit of a mess themselves.
Available on Louie Louie: The Very Best of The Kingsmen