I heard the original version of Louie Louie the other day. It’s the best.
The Kingsmen are associated with the song, but they were just carpetbaggers. Richard Berry was the progenitor. I like the relaxed, vaguely Caribbean sound of the first version.
I never understood why almost everybody couldn’t decipher the lyrics to the song, and made up all sorts of wild tales about what was being said, as I’d heard the words coming completely intelligibly out of Richard Berry’s mouth in the first place.
I’m trying to remember, but I think the Richard Berry version is in the soundtrack of Animal House somewhere. [Update: It isn’t. But they used it on Northern Exposure once] I played party music for money for a bunch of years, and there was a progression of cultural totems for the milieu. I always had the most fun in the “Otis Day and the Knights” kinda thing. I see the boneless MADD-supervised PC fun college-aged kids are allowed to have now, and I weep for them a bit. They need to rediscover their inner Elvis; a kind of rude, harmless infantilism. 1960 beats 1968, every time, if you hipsters are looking for a cool vibe to mine.
One of the most disconcerting moments of my entire life involved Louie Louie. I may have performed that song more than the Kingsmen ever did. Thousands of times. It was just another day at work to hear it or play it. All songs like that become a sort of aural wallpaper that you don’t notice much any more because you’ve been in that room so many times. I woke up late in the morning after playing some job that lasted until 2 AM. I worked all day in construction and all night in music trying to get by, and it lent an air of befuddlement to my life. A sleepy automaton vibe. The clock radio started beating me about the head, cajoling me to get back at it. I’m laying there in a half stupor, trying to remember what the hell day it was, and all I can think of is: That version of Louie Louie coming out of the radio is the worst version ever; who the hell is that? They should be horsewhipped.
As I fumbled for the off button, I realized it was a demo tape that someone had sent to the radio station, and I was playing on it.