In 2007, music historian, Peter Blecha documented, that simple little 3-chord ditty, “Louie, Louie” had surpassed Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” as the most-recorded rock song in history.
Richard Berry wrote “Louie, Louie” backstage while waiting to perform at the Harmony Club Ballroom sometime in 1955.
Berry recorded “Louie, Louie” in 1957 as the B-side to a cover of “You Are My Sunshine” with only a minor regional hit on the west coast.
Rockin’ Robin Roberts, the lead singer for The Fabulous Wailers, a Tacoma Washington-based garage band, found a copy of Berry’s recording in a discount bin. Urban legend says he bought it for a dime.
Rockin’ Robin Roberts turned the tune into a rock-based R &B single from Berry’s calypso-styled sea shanty.
This line, “Let’s give it to ’em right now!” a seven-word phrase changed the feel of rock to a more raunchy sound with The Fabulous Wailers release of the tune.
Etiquette Records, the first indie rock label, released “Louie, Louie” in 1961 under Rockin’ Robin Roberts name instead of The Fabulous Wailers, as the Wailers were legally bound by another record contract.
The Kingsmen are credited with creating a national and international sensation with the song, though Paul Revere and The Raiders recorded the same song in the same studio the day after The Kingsmen recorded it in 1963. Both bands were based in Portland, Oregon.
There was widespread misinterpretation of the song’s lyrical content. Parents became very concerned the song contained profound obscene language.
Radio stations across the country banned the record.
Indiana’s governor, Matthew Welsh, personally banned the record.
The FBI was called upon to lead a 31-month investigation into what many believed were indecent lyrics on The Kingsmen recording. The investigation was eventually dropped without any sort of prosecution, penalties or prejudice.
Due to The Fabulous Wailers’ influence in the legacy of “Louie, Louie,” there was an unsuccessful attempt to make it the state song of Washington in 1985. Washington’s governor at the time, Booth Gardner, said he’d never heard it.
In 2007, there were 1,600 known recordings of “Louie, Louie.” Here is a short list of some notable names associated with releasing commercial or bootleg versions of the timeless ballad that became the anthem for a generation; a much bemused 3-chord powerhouse of a song.
The Beach Boys
Jan & Dean
The song’s author, Richard Berry, sold the rights to the song in 1959 for $750 to pay for his wedding and never saw a penny of the royalties until the 1980’s. California Cooler wanted to use the song in a marketing campaign but needed Berry’s signature to do so. A lawyer talked Berry into taking action to regain the rights to his now world renowned tune. The publisher settled out of court, and Berry became a millionaire before he passed away in 1996.