Nuggets: Louie Louie by The Kingsmen

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.

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  1. Wow. All this time in the blogosphere and you are the first one I know of to tackle this gem. What’s next? ‘Wild Thing?’ I do recall seeing an FBI affidavit (or something) on this. Who can blame them with filthy, filthy lyrics like:

    Three nights and days I sailed the sea
    Me think of girl constantly
    On the ship, I dream she there
    I smell the rose in her hair

    Heh! And then today it’s nothing to have a song like WAP.

    • Is this the first 10/10 you gave to something from Nuggets? You really can’t argue with it. I think you’re right about it being a ground zero for a certain type of garage rock. And you know what’s unique about it? Unlike just about all other rock and roll of that time, it doesn’t have any 1950s hangover influences from rockabilly or Chuck Berry or Doo Wop or blues or country or anything else really. A lot of other garage rock does, but this doesn’t. It’s like a whole different idea. You wonder how intentional it was though. It could have been a total accident.

      • Second 10/10 – first was for Paul Revere and the Raiders’ Just Like Me. This one’s even stronger though.

    • Next is The Strangeloves’ I Want Candy.

      Can you understand the verse lyrics – I can hear something about Jamaica and that’s about it.

  2. You know what else was different about it? It was that herky-jerky beat that was kind of slow but kind of walloping too. Nothing else before it was like that. You could even see where a lot of 60s dancing came from it. I mean like early 60s. It wasn’t like any other kind of Rock beat.

    • It’s not miles a way from La Bamba in some ways – apparently it was a Latin chord progression back then.

      • True but instrumentally it’s nothing like la Bamba. However it’s a bit like Let’s Dance by Chris Montez, the Mexican American rock and roller, because of that organ thing. I’m not sure what keyboard it is in Louie Louie, but the one in Let’s Dance sounds like a Farfisa but it’s really not. Somebody once told me what kind of organ it is but I forget. And there was that style of Tex-Mex garage rock where the organ was the most prominent instrument instead of guitars. A bunch of them are on Nuggets. Like Woolly Bully and She’s About a Mover. The Chris Montez song is from 1962, so it preceded both garage rock and Louie Louie. The most famous organ one of course is 96 Tears, which should be on Nuggets but it’s not. A lot of people think it’s the ultimate garage rock song. I know it’s my favorite.

          • I just figured it was an electric piano but the more I listened to it the more it started to sound like something else to me.

          • There’s quite a lot of sustain on it for an electric piano, but I still think an electric piano.

          • One time I watched a couple videos of Louie Louie thinking that maybe I could tell what kind of instrument it was, but I really don’t know what any of those instruments looked like anyway, so that wasn’t really any help. Lol. I think electric piano is the greatest thing. I love the way it sounds. They kind of stopped using it after the 70s and started using all those synths that don’t sound half as nice as electric piano.

    • Yup, the most famous song in the whole box set I think. I think most people love it – has enough rawness to make it work.

    • I also like the Rhodes a lot. I wonder if the Hohner Pianet is something like that. There was probably millions of different electric pianos.

  3. The One…The Ultimate…The Classic…This one started more garage bands than any song. In the early eighties it started the one I was in. First song we ever tried.
    The rumor about the dirty lyrics made it more appealing and we would be sure to add some.

    • Makes sense as a first song right? I don’t know why the FBI didn’t go back and listen to an earlier version of the song?

      • Yes that would have been the thing to do. The FBI were out of their league. They only succeeded with making the song more popular.

        This song showed me that you can hear what you want in a song. We tried to hear something dirty and we thought we heard something around the Rose line…of course it was nothing.

    • I thought it was the lyrics that they were concerned about, but the music is concerningly raw for the era too.

      • Well, there was this neanderthal riff, the charm of the amateurish accompaniment and the mystery of what the singer actually talks about, which got the teenage fantasies excited.

    • I looked it up and it was something called a Clavioline on Runaway and not an organ. Except the guy did something to it to make it sound weirder or something. I’ve heard of a Clavinet before but not a Clavioline. I guess they’re similar though. They’re like early electronic keyboards.

  4. Our concert band in grade school played this on the Parliament steps in Ottawa during our class trip. I got the solo bit on trumpet. I can only imagine how painful it was to hear us lol. Fun times.

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