You've heard the Kingsmen's version, probably many more times than you'd like. The all-thumbs guitar solo, the offbeat drumming, and most of all, the whiny, incomprehensible lyrics. Yeah, it's pretty bad, but somehow conveyed a primitive power that captivated a nation. Believe it or not, the recording was a hit even before word got out that the lyrics were dirty.
Anyway, the Kingsmen's version has so dominated the scene that other early (and some would say better) recordings of the song are neglected or forgotten. Though the song has now been recorded about 1,600 times (see louielouie.net), you'll rarely catch any of them on the radio (except, of course, the one by you-know-who).
THE FIRST LOUIE: RICHARD BERRY
Richard Berry, the doo-wop singer who wrote this classic ditty, released the first recording in 1957 with sort of a calypso beat. It was not a big hit. I prefer the Kingsmen's version to this, but present it as an historical arty-fact.
THE WAILERS WAIL
Though the song was forgotten elsewhere, bands in the Northwest discovered it made a great rock tune. Which group actually recorded it first is unclear, but this 1961 version by Rockin' Robin Roberts and The Wailers (of Tacoma, WA) was the one that got the air play and inspired the Kingsmen and the Raiders.
GRAB YOUR WOMAN, IT'S PAUL REVERE AND THE RAIDERS
Legend has it this version was recorded in the same Portland, Oregon studio used by the Kingsmen, and during the very same week in 1963. Though the Raiders' version was a bigger hit in the Northwest, the Kingsmen caught a lucky break. Their record was picked up for national distribution, while the Raiders' rendition was squelched by Columbia Records mogul Mitch Miller, who hated rock 'n' roll.
THE SONICS BOOM
This now-legendary Tacoma band was nurtured by The Wailers, and produced some of the most powerful rock of the sixties. In 1965, when most bands were trying to sound like The Beatles, The Sonics were doing this . . .
AND NOW, MISS JULIE LONDON
Yes, Louie had a softer side, too, and you've probably heard the one by The Sandpipers (of "Guantanamera" fame). But largely forgotten is this sultry rendition by Julie London. If you're sleepy at the end, play The Sonics' version again.
For links to more tunes on this first Forgotten Music Thursday, check out Scott Parker's blog!