Thursday, 4 August 2011


This a follow up to the previous post which resulted in an exchange of emails between me and my old mate Barry, with extremely substantial contributions copied from Wikipaedia,  about The Kingsmen and the song Louie Louie. 

It reminded me of the time that he and his friend Phil S tried to teach me to play the riff on guitar. When it became obvious I couldn’t, they tried to get me to do it just using the bass line. Couldn’t do that either. This was ironic as my family was very musical –everyone could play the piano, my great-grandfather taught it and my mother could play by ear. Me, after several horrendous sessions with an impatient piano teacher I vowed never to touch it again.
This also reminds me about the eccentric Phil, whom neither Barry nor I have seen or heard from in over 40 years, who had a massive Oedipus complex and kept trying, much to my embarrassment as he was year younger than us, to chat up my mother.

Any text in red between [...] parentheses are my interpolations (or, sticking my nose in). 

Mr. Pedant (or The Corrector) replies -------
Just to completely bugger it for you, this wasn't Del Shannon either........ but you got the D right!
Mr. Trivia recently read something that makes "rip offs" by "The Kinksman" [Barry refers to me commenting that Ray Davies ripped off the song for the Kinks first two hits] insignificant. The Kingsmen knocked off EXACTLY the arrangement and sound recorded by The Wailers' on their recent version....
A superb and educational mine of info on Wiki - read most of it below or check out the whole song story on Wiki yourself.  
 Lyrics were even officially investigated for "obscenity" once!

Knew I should have checked the details first. Not sure about this Wailers business. They were formed in 1963 and their version isn't on the Love That Louie CD which I would have imagined it should be if what you say is correct. Plus. the Wailers were a Jamaican band and I can't imagine them sounding anything like the Kingsmen.- 

[It was odd that I’d make the mistake about Dion as I mildly liked him at the time but positively disliked Del Shannon, a source of good-natured friction between me and some of my and Barry’s classmates who thought the sun shone out of Shannon’s arse.]


From Wikipaedia

 In late 1958, the group recorded a demo of an instrumental written by Dangel, Morrill and Greek, which found its way to Clark Galehouse of New York based Golden Crest Records. He liked the track and had it re-recorded by the band in Lakewood in February 1959; its title "Tall Cool One" was apparently suggested by Morrill's mother.  Released as a single, it reached # 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and # 24 on the R&B chart. The band made the cross-country trip to New York to record an LP, The Fabulous Wailers, which was released in December 1959 and featured two vocals by Morrill as well as instrumentals. They also appeared on Dick Clark's nationally televised American Bandstand, and toured the east coast. A second instrumental from their first recording session, "Mau-Mau", made # 68 on the Billboard pop chart,  but their third single, "Wailin'", failed to make the chart.

The band decided to return to the Northwest, rather than staying in New York as their record label wished, and they were dropped from their contract.[9] Around the same time, they added lead vocalist "Rockin' Robin" Roberts (Lawrence Fewell Roberts II, 23 November 1940 - 22 December 1967), a charismatic frontman who had previously been the singer with rival Tacoma band the Bluenotes.  John Greek left the group in acrimonious circumstances, and was replaced by bassist John "Buck" Ormsby (b. Seattle, 1941). Ormsby, Morrill and Roberts then formed Etiquette Records and, in 1961, the label released its first single, a cover version of Richard Berry's "Louie Louie". For contractual reasons the single was credited to Roberts, but was performed by the whole band.  Their recording became a local hit and was distributed nationally by Imperial Records, but did not make the national chart. However, its style, with its trademark 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3 riff,  inspired other groups from the Seattle area, most notably the Kingsmen of Portland, Oregon, to record the same song. 

The Wailers continued to perform locally and, according to Morrill, one of their biggest fans was the young Jimi Hendrix, then starting to perform guitar. The band performed both with and without Roberts, who studied at the University of Washington, the University of Puget Sound, and Oregon State University, eventually achieving a masters degree in biochemistry. They also occasionally featured teenage girl singer Gail Harris, notably on the live album The Fabulous Wailers at the Castle, recorded in 1961, which has been described as "undoubtedly one of the most influential albums in Seattle rock & roll history."  In all, the band recorded and released four albums on their own Etiquette label between 1962 and 1966, as well as a succession of singles. They also helped instigate the recording career of The Sonics, whose first two albums were issued by the label.

 R. Kennedy, Attorney General

 Using the riff is not the same as the arrangement. The Kingsmen's version is one of those unique things which has never been bettered either before or since and ranks [as a cover] along with Hendrix's cover of All Along The Watchtower. Play it and see.

Yes, but there is much more to ripping off than merely repeating one measly riff that was a part of it. Best way to explain is to say that The Wailers version - in tempo, phrasing, accents and improvisation - was miles away from the original; The Kingsmen were a few yards from the Wailers. However, the Kingsmen recording is only historically unique because of the raw performance, instrument balance (despite desperately lo-fi sound engineering that - paradoxically - helped it!) and a one-off atmosphere from their talent.
 Les Paul

 From Wikipaedia-

Cover versions: The Kingsmen
In the U.S. music industry of the 1950s and 1960s, mainstream white artists often covered songs by black artists. On April 6, 1963, a rock and roll group from Portland, Oregon, called The Kingsmen, chose "Louie Louie" as 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 group paid a modest $36 for a one-hour Saturday morning session. Ely says he remembers paying $10.00, one-fifth of the $50.00 fee. The session was produced by Ken Chase. Chase was a local radio personality on the AM rock station 91 KISN and 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 singer Jack Ely based his version on a 1961 recording of Berry's tune by another band from the Pacific Northwest, Rockin' Robin Roberts and the Fabulous Wailers (no relation to The Wailers which was headed by Bob Marley years later), unintentionally introducing a change in the rhythm as he did. "I showed the others 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 that is on the (Wailers') record," recalled Ely. 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's version occurs just after the lead guitar break; as the group were going by the Wailers' version, which has a brief restatement of the riff, two times 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 realizes his mistake and stops the verse short, but the band doesn't realize that he's done so. As a quick fix, drummer Lynn Easton covers the pause with a drum fill, but before the verse has ended, the rest of the band goes into the chorus at the point where they expect it to be; they recover quickly.

This error is now so embedded in the consciousness of some groups that they deliberately duplicate it when performing the song. There is also a persistent and oft-repeated story that the microphone for Ely was mounted too high for him to sing without tilting his head back excessively, resulting in his somewhat pinched and strangled sound through most of his vocal. This is exactly the way his head was pitched according to Ely. This seems unlikely, however, in view of the fact that it was recorded by professional personnel in a dedicated recording studio. According to Ely himself, "There were no professional personnel in the studio that day except maybe Lindahl. We set up all our own equipment in a circle facing each other underneath an overhead microphone up by the ceiling at which I sang/shouted the lyrics." It has also been reported that Ely had gotten braces on his teeth the day before, impeding vocalization.

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. A chaotic guitar break is triggered by the shout, "Okay, let's give it to 'em right now!", which first appeared in the Wailers' version,  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". 

Released in May 1963, the single entered the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for December 7, and peaked at number two the following week; it would remain in the top 10 through December and January before dropping off in early February. In total, the Kingsmen's version spent 16 weeks on the Hot 100. (Singles by The Singing Nun, then Bobby Vinton, monopolized the top slot for eight weeks.) "Louie Louie" did reach number one on the Cashbox pop chart, as well as number one on the Cashbox R&B chart.[ 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. Allegedly, this was to cover the fact that it was 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 the Governor, Matthew Welsh. 

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." 

[Today, this entire scenario seems absolutely farcical, that even for a moment could the lyrics be considered obscene no matter how strangulated. But, different times...]

After a protracted lawsuit that lasted five years and cost $1.3 million, The Kingsmen won the rights to their song "Louie Louie". The Supreme Court, in November 1998, declined to hear an appeal by the record company of an earlier legal ruling giving the rights to the band. 

Sales of the Kingsmen record were 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.

By the end of October, the Kingsmen's version 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's debut 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' "Louie Louie", as ordered by Mitch Miller.

By the time that the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" had achieved national popularity, the band had split. Two rival editions—one featuring lead singer Ely, the other with Lynn Easton, who held the rights to the band's name—were competing for live audiences across the country.

Like I more or less said, a unique convergence of different factors to accidentally create a work of sheer brilliance. A total fluke, a happenstance, and you get one of the greatest pop records ever. If it wasn't for the Kingsmen, the song  would have remained a minor footnote in Richard Berry's musical cv and he would have been a much poorer man. 

Cancel that last sentence. Wikipaedia tells me he sold the copyright cheaply in 1959 and has received very little since. Sad.

I'm just listening to the Wailers version which is on the Love That Louie CD but as by Rockin Robin Roberts and the Wailers. It is clearly the template used by the Kingsmen for their version but it's much slower, no guitar break and it fades out. It lacks the manic insanity of the Kingsmen.

I'm thinking of doing a piece in Freethinking which is basically our email discussion. You okay with that?

Yus - sounds like a good idea, but remember I never said The Wailers version was "better" (it certainly wasn't) - just what you neatly call the "template"... still ripped off!

[I'd probably have had more accurate information if the above CD with its informative inlay had been to hand, but it's somewhere in my loft where I keep them all. Once I buy a CD I copy it to my hard disk and Ipod and rarely touch it again.]

Ian wants to thank Wikipaedia, one of the Web's greatest resources, without which...

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