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MUSICAL MYSTERY: Who Banned Louie Louie?

by Garth Taylor
Garth Taylor

Garth Taylor

“Louie Louie” was recorded by Los Angeles musician Richard Berry who performed up and down the West Coast with doo-wop and close harmony groups, most notably The Flairs (Foot Stompin). Berry’s tune is based on “El Loco Cha Cha,” which had a long introduction based on the now-iconic three-chord, ten-note “Louie Louie” rhythm pattern:
Rene Touzet
Richard Berry

First version — Richard Berry & The Pharoahs, 1957 – is based on the three chords and ten-note rhythm, features doo-wop singers mirroring the bass line, the chorus, and as background to the verses. The Doo-wop arrangement and free play of the musicians gives it a party atmosphere. The words are clearly enunciated. There is no instrumental bridge. It was released as the B-side to “You Are My Sunshine.”

Chuck Berry’s Tune Havana Moon, 1956 is credited by Richard Berry (no relation) as an inspiration for Louie Louie. Havana Moon has a blocky, Latin-sounding rhythm with a similar feel.

The lyrics of Havana Moon have lots of images that also appear in Louie Louie, and are sung in a similar Caribbean dialect.

Chuck Berry

Me all alone with jug of rum
It’s long the night, it’s quiet the dock
Me watch the tide easin’ in

Me all alone, me open de rum Is long
American girl come back to me
We’ll dock in New York, de building’s high.

Me still alone, me sip de rum
To bring me love, oh sweet little thing
She hold me tight, she touch me lips

Me stand and wait for boat to come
The boat she late since 12 o’clock
Is low the moon, but high the wind

Is long de wait for boat to come
We’ll sail away across de sea
We find a home in de sky

Me wonder when de boat she come
She rock ‘n’ roll, she dance and sing
Me eyes they close, me heart she flip

Fabulous Walkers

Second version — Rockin’ Robin Roberts & The Wailers, 1958 – also based on the three-chord, ten-note rhythm. Includes background vocalists. The lead singer enunciates clearly with a great deal of melisma (singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession). It has an instrumental bridge played on guitar introduced by the singer with “Let’s give it to ‘em, right now.”

Third versionThe Kingsmen, 1963 – recorded in one take, went to #2 nationally, second only to “Dominique” by The Singing Nun.

A famously “raw” recording. The band planned to make an instrumental so the studio’s only microphone was set up several feet above the musicians. In a last-minute change, they decided to make a vocal instead. The singer was in the middle, standing on his toes, leaning his head back and shouting as loudly as he could in order to be heard over the other instruments.

This version, too, is based on the three-chord, ten-note pattern. There are no background vocalists. The instrumental bridge is introduced by the singer with the same “Let’s give it to ‘em, right now,” and the guitar solo is note-for-note identical to the one recorded by Rockin’ Robin Roberts & The Wailers


The Kingsmen version of Louie Louie became the first “underground” hit to go mainstream. Practically no one could distinguish the actual lyrics and it was rumored the singer had intentionally slurred his diction to cover up profanity and suggestions of sexual goings-on. High schoolers passed notes professing to be “the real lyrics” to “Louie Louie.” The song was banned on many radio stations. including statewide in Indiana, where it was personally prohibited by Governor Matthew Welsh. The Superintendent of Schools in Benton Harbor, Michigan, refused to let marching bands play the song in parades. The FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, conducted a 31-month investigation into the matter and concluded they were “unable to interpret any of the wording in the record.”

Toots & Maytals

Fourth Version – Toots and the Maytals, 1963 – three chords, but a Jamaican 4/4 “rock steady” rhythm with background harmonies and instrumental interludes reminiscent of Motown arrangements from this period, not the Louie Louie beat. The lyrics are pretty easy to understand.

2,000 More Versions — It the most recorded rock song of all time.

WARNING: Unexpurgated Lyrics

The song tells the story of a sailor returning to Jamaican to see his lover. It is sung from the perspective of a customer talking to a bartender (“Louie” was the name of Berry’s favorite bartender in Los Angeles).

Louie, Louie, me gotta go.

A fine little girl, she wait for me.
I sailed the ship, all alone.

Louie, Louie, me gotta go.

Three nights and days, we sailed the sea.
On the ship, I dream she there.

Louie, Louie, me gotta go.

Me see Jamaica, moon above.
Me take her in, my arms and then.

Louie, Louie, me gotta go.

Louie, Louie, me gotta go.
Me catch the ship, across the sea.
I never think, I’ll make it home.
Louie, Louie, me gotta go.
Me think of girl, constantly.
I smell the rose, in her hair.
Louie, Louie, me gotta go.
It won’t be long, me see me love.
I tell her I never, leave again.
Louie, Louie, me gotta go.

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