Before he became Patti Smith’s bass player, Lenny Kaye compiled the 2 album set, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era. Released in 1972, the two-LP set covered American garage rock and psychedelia from the years from 1965-1968 and was a major influence on punk rock. Rhino Records reissued an expanded version of the set in 1998, with 118 tracks in total. I’m profiling and rating each of these 118 tracks, working backwards.
Track 95: Louie Louie by The Kingsmen
Release Date: 1963
From: Portland, Oregon
Aphoristical Rating: 10/10
‘Louie Louie’ is an outlier on Nuggets – it comes from outside the 1965-1968 period. And while most Nuggets bands and songs are obscure, ‘Louie Louie’ is the most-recorded song of all time. And The Kingsmen’s version, recorded in a messy first take, is the definitive version. It reached #2 on the charts, and it belongs on Nuggets as the ground zero for garage-rock.
‘Louie Louie’ was written in 1957 by Richard Berry – Berry sold the rights to the song in 1959 to pay for an engagement ring or wedding (reports vary).
The Kingsmen originally intended to record an instrumental version of the song and the studio’s only microphone was hung several feet about head height. Lead singer Joe Ely had to stand on tiptoes and shout to be heard. This resulted in the famously unintelligible lyrics; the FBI launched an investigation to determine whether they were obscene. After 31 months, they couldn’t draw a conclusion and the investigation halted. The only profanity in the song wasn’t picked up – drummer Lynn Easton fumbled a drumstick and swore. The recording is messy but perfection is clearly overrated as this slice of rock and roll is one of the genre’s definitive songs.
‘Louie Louie’ is clearly a classic – a simple slice of primeval rock that’s peerless.