Sometimes I think truth is too important, or maybe too unimportant, to be taken seriously. Sometimes we need to step back and say, “Maybe yes, maybe no, but so what?”
Last week one of the founding members of the rock group the Kingsmen died at age 77. And who were the Kingsmen? They were the group that recorded the famous, or infamous, song “Louie Louie” in 1963.
And, “Louie Louie” has probably generated more controversy than any other rock song, based primarily on its indecipherable lyrics.
The song was not original with the Portland, Oregon, garage band. It had been recorded in 1957 By Richard Berry.
It is apparently about a sailor from Jamaica, sitting in a bar, talking to the bartender about getting back to his girlfriend. But from there the truth about the song gets lost in rumor, innuendo and ambiguity.
First, there are no obscene lyrics in the song.
The FBI investigated “Louie Louie” for more than two years, and with all of their electronic wizardry, said the lyrics were unintelligible.
So where did the rumors come from? Apparently from high school students across the country writing out what they thought were the lyrics, and then circulating them on crumpled sheets of paper to their friends.
There is, in fact, one fleeting expletive at the 54 second mark when the drummer loses the beat. But most people who have listened to the song have never noticed this brief, one word, exclamation, so I’ll leave it to you to figure out what it is.
It is also true the Kingsmen version was a recording disaster, which made no difference in its sales, but certainly added to the mystique.
The song was recorded using only one microphone placed several feet above the lead singer’s head. As a result, he had to stand on his toes, lean back and shout over the drums and guitars.
So which version of “Louie Louie” is real? What are the actual lyrics? Do any of the more than 2,000 cover version contain dirty words or ideas?
Well, maybe yes, maybe no, and does it really matter? Probably not. But it is certainly fun.
I’m Larry Burriss.