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I’ll give it to ya, right now!

September 3, 2012

In 1962 a garage band from Portland, Oregon, noticed at one of their gigs that their audience

kept playing and dancing to one certain song on the jukebox.  It was a rock song, a genre that

the group, called the Kingsmen, had avoided as they played at Red Cross events and super-

market promotions.


The song was “Louie Louie”, written on toilet paper by Richard Berry in 1959.  It was originally

released by him and his group The Pharaohs in 1957 as the B-side of a 45, then re-released as

an A-side when it sold  130,000 copies.  Berry sold the copyright to it for $750 in 1959 so he

could get married.


On April 6, 1963, The Kingsmen ponied up $50 to record the song.  They prepared by playing

a 90-minute version of it the night before.  The microphone of the recording studio hung from

the ceiling.  Singer Jack Ely said he was more “yelling than singing ’cause I was trying to be

heard over all the instruments.”

That Ely had to angle his head back to sing may have contributed to the slurring of the lyrics.

It likely didn’t help that he had just been fitted with braces.  When he sings the famous line,

“Okay, let’s give it to ’em right now!” — which was added to Berry’s lyrics in a cover by Rockin’

Robin Roberts and The Fabulous Wailers (not Bob Marley’s fabulous Wailers) — he does so

with a gusto that music critic Dave Marsh described as “Donald Duck on helium”.


The Kingsmen thought they were just warming up, but it was the only take.  Ely came in early

on the third verse, but drummer Lynn Easton improvised and the rest of the band caught up.

The song is so iconic that groups covering it often include the mistake.


Paul Revere and the Raiders recorded “Louie Louie” in the same studio in the same month.

It was more polished and became a #1 hit in the West.  Then, inexplicably, Columbia Records

stopped promoting it.


The Kingsmen’s version, meanwhile, sold so poorly that the group considered breaking up.

However, a popular Boston DJ, Arnie Ginsberg, featured it as “The Worst Record of the Week”.

His listeners thought otherwise and it took off.  It spent 16 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100,

ten weeks in the Top Ten in December ’63 to February ’64.


Right after it peaked, the FBI began an investigation into its alleged dirty lyrics.  The contro-

versy was the Janet Jackson nipple of the time.  I was a senior in high school, and our class

reveled in it.  The “real” words to the song were surreptitiously passed along in class.


Where Berry’s original lyrics were “see Jamaica, the moon above.  It won’t be long, me see

me love,” we heard “she’s got a rag on, I move above.  It won’t be long, she’ll slip it off.”  We

didn’t care if it was accurate or not, it sounded obscene and we were 17.  We voted it our

class song.


The school administration vetoed us and replaced it with “The High and the Mighty”, a

lame-ass instrumental with some whistling that could in no way be construed as lewd,

no matter how we tried.


After two years of investigation the FBI abandoned the chase, concluding that the song

could not be accurately interpreted because it was “unintelligible at any speed”.  The 1964

class of Fair Park High School (and likely many more) was exonerated.


The Kingsmen split up shortly after their initial success.  Founder Easton’s mother had

registered the band’s name, so Easton insisted that he would be the singer from then on,

exiling Ely to the drum kit.  Ely and bassist Bob Nordby quit the group. Keyboardist Don

Gallucci was forced out because he was too young to tour.


This left only Easton and guitarist Mike Mitchell of the original members.  Ely formed a new

band.  Words were said and attorneys were summoned.  After a legal battle, Ely lost any

claim to the group’s name and Easton was forced to stop lip-synching Ely’s vocals.


There have been 23 members of The Kingsmen.  They still perform today.  Mitchell is still

with them.


Richard Berry, who thought he had given up all rights to “Louie Louie”, was contacted in the

mid-80’s by a lawyer representing a company that needed his permission to use the song in

a commercial.  He went from welfare to millionaire.


And here it is.  If there’s anyone reading this under the age of 40, this is a great chance to see

what a 45 is.

  1. Gordon permalink
    September 4, 2012 7:29 am

    As another proud member of the Fair Park class of ’64 I salute you for the fab coverage (as usual) of Louie, Louie. But don’t dispair about the selection of High and Mighty as the alternative. Why do you think they were whistling the lyrics. Didn’t you get the note I passed back then?

    • September 4, 2012 8:40 am

      Yes, but I’ve been busy.

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