The Kingsmen—
Louie Louie/Haunted Castle

Released 1963 on Wand
The Seth Man, June 2014ce
I’ll try to keep this as short and sweet as the song itself.


Rockin’ Robin Roberts died for your sins.

OK: so what do Paul Revere & The Raiders, Ike & Tina Turner, Motörhead, Joe Junior, Otis Redding, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, Booker T. & The MG’s, Iggy & The Stooges, The Standells and Black Flag all have in common?

Yup: they all covered “Louie Louie.” Along with literally hundreds of other extant versions by artists of every conceivably genre. (Best version? The Sonics.)

“Louie Louie” is a musical ‘Kilroy Was Here’ drawing. Drawn on your drunk pal’s ass. Or lovingly executed and framed for your loved one. It’s a thumb to the nose, a jab to the side, and a nuisance: a total gas, a celebration, a pain in the ass, has tons of class and is (ahem) myself. But unlike myself, it will outlive everything. Even, possibly: Keith Richards. And cockroaches.

One third Latin cha-cha, one third black R&B, one third white teen spew, “Louie Louie” is like Preston Epps without the bongos, Nat King Cole’s “Calypso Blues” all dethroned without the crown, or Kim Fowley without the pus. It’s a dirty protest without the shit THAT IS…the shit. For this is “Loki, Loki,” the ultimate apple cart upsetter.

Richard Berry, the writer and performer of the original “Louie Louie” in 1957, concocted a nearly proto-ska song. R&B as a cod-Caribbean soul song of longing, it’s nearly ska in reverse -- and nearly a decade before the blue beat revolution in Jamaica (itself American R&B refracted through its own indigenous palette of rhythms and sounds.) With pre-“You can come outta de closet now” Ruben & The Jets backing harmonies so stupid sounding that it momentarily decreases your IQ when you sing along.

Berry was the father. And the birth of The Kingsmen’s version? Two sources cite April 13, 1963. A date important to yours truly, and for good reason: it was the day I was born. “I Will Follow Him” by Miss Peggy March was number one on the U.S. charts, Kennedy was president and I am Merv Griffin old. Back to “Louie Louie” -- it’s better if you don’t look back.

Anyway, The Kingsmen dropped a beat and made it Rock. They also axed the blarting sax intro all their other Pacific Northwest cohorts were so fond of holding onto way past the sell-by date and little Don Galucci’s Hohner e-piano intro -- jean-yus! With a capital “G” for Godhead. He went on to produce a little platter called “Fun House” by The Stooges, a fact I’m sure you’re already cognizant of but well worth repeating -- as well as “Louie Louie” itself. Why? Because it’s all about:

Keeping it real and doing it on the cheap.
About losing the battle but winning the war.
Not sloppy seconds because it’s the sloppy first.

The vocals are by turn: pure teen hunger, inept, one-take mistake, a piss-take, unyieldingly insinuating, a rolling rhythm that flows forever and keeps the dance floor moving.

Take it deadly serious or a joke: it doesn’t matter. It’s been rendered equally so: as bone-crushing frat slop or as tongue in cheek novelty (by full marching bands, probably even the Kazoo City Orchestra, Jon Lord in Japan, Frank Zappa in London. And so forth.) It’s an insult and an institution. Tough as Kevlar, smooth as silk. And so forth. Like “Anarchy In The UK,” it was dismissed from the number one spot because of an ongoing controversy.

Still, it sold tons. Because it’s the key to the lock of Rock’n’Roll. You turn it as the disc spins/the bits relay and all of a sudden: all is clear. Clear as an unmuddied lake, Fred; as muddled as a mono 1963 single recorded in one take with 2 microphones. Which it is. Nothing more, nothing less. As it transfers essential truths about longing, will, misread/misheard meanings, as it speaks secret alphabets. It’s pure dum-dum stupidity, you could write a thesis about it (people have) AND NOTHING’S CLEARER than just experiencing it. The moment -- the moment was captured in its first take, and it’s lasted for a bit more than half a century now.

The producer left the room when they were recording “Louie, Louie.” Just like the engineer who fled when The Velvet Underground refused to record their “White Light/White Heat” album at anything less than the level of bleeding way into the V.U. meter’s red zone.

The FBI investigated it.

Everybody ripped it off gleefully and had a good time: ”Get Off My Cloud,” You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” (the opening -- as evidenced by The Sandpipers’ Spanglish lounge version), “Crimson And Clover,” “Mony, Mony,” “Sugar Sugar,” “Brother Louie…” And so forth.

But Toots & The Maytals’ version? Hmm...I dunno: Should a cover sound like the original? Does its success only lie in the fact of how similar or faithful the rendition? It doesn’t matter. But with the Maytals’ version, sometime in 1972, “Louie” finally came home with the Jamaican moon above.

“Haunted Castle” has always been overshadowed by its famous A-side. Which sucks, because it’s a nifty instrumental with lightly-reverbed guitar and pre-Seeds electric piano weaving a minor surf stew. True story: the day I bought my second copy of “Louie Louie” I bumped into Robert Quine on the street. He asked me what single had in the small brown record bag. I told him and without missing a beat, he asked if I knew the B-side. For some reason I couldn’t recall, even though I had had a copy in my collection throughout the eighties. He told me, walked on and I never forgot it.
Hopefully, you never will, either.