173: “Louie Louie”

The original pressing of "Louie Louie" on Jerden Records (Photo from louielouie.net)
The original pressing of “Louie Louie” on Jerden Records (Photo from louielouie.net)

Today would have been the 72nd birthday of Jack Ely, the lead singer of The Kingsmen, who are best known for their version of “Louie Louie.”

Here are a few facts about Ely, The Kingsmen and “Louie Louie.”

Ely was born in Portland, Oregon and was classically trained on piano before switching to guitar after seeing Elvis Presley on television. He formed The Kingsmen in Portland in 1959 with Lynn Easton on drums, Mike Mitchell on guitar and Bob Nordby on bass. They began playing “Louie Louie” after hearing a version by Rockin’ Robin Roberts played on a jukebox over and over. On April 6, 1963, the band entered a studio in Portland to record their version. The studio had three microphones, including one hanging from the ceiling for Ely to sing into. This, in addition to the braces on his teeth, compounded the unintelligibility of the lyrics. Their manager decided to use the first take, which includes a mistake by Ely when he re-enters too early in the third verse. The band wasn’t happy with the version, but the manager’s decision stood.

Between the recording of the song and it becoming a hit, Ely and Nordby left the band after Easton decided he would become the singer. “Louie Louie” was featured on Boston radio as “The Worst Record of the Week” for its poor production quality. Despite this, the radio audience loved the song and it soon appeared on the Billboard chart, eventually peaking at No. 2. The Kingsmen had nine songs reach the Billboard charts, with “The Jolly Green Giant,” described as a novelty song about the love life of the advertising icon, peaking at No. 4.

“Louie Louie” was the subject of a federal investigation regarding the perceived obscenity of the lyrics. After examination, it was determined that the lyrics were not obscene, just hard to understand. The song was written and originally recorded by Richard Berry.

Jack Ely died on April 28, 2015 after a long illness. He was 71.

Our question, Which state banned “Louie Louie” because of its thought-to-be-dirty lyrics?

Today is also National Day of Catalonia, Teachers’ Day in Argentina and Patriot Day in the United States in remembrance of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Also in the United States, it’s National Hot Cross Bun Day and National Make Your Bed Day, because apparently all the other days were taken. It’s the birthday of author DH Lawrence, American football coaches Tom Landry and Paul “Bear” Bryant, and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.


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