contributed by Annie Sattler, October 28, 1995
Oh no, me gotta go.
Oh baby, me gotta go.
A fine little girl, she wait for me,
Me catch the ship across the sea.
I sailed the ship all alone,
I never think how I'll make it home.
Oh no, no, no, me gotta go, oh no
Oh baby, me gotta go.
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.
Oh no, me gotta go, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Oh baby me gotta go.
(Okay, let's give it to 'em right now!)
Me see Jamaica moon above.
It won't be long me see me love
Me take her in my arms and then
I tell her I'll never leave again.
Oh no, me gotta go
Oh baby, me gotta go.
I said we gotta go,
Let's get on outta here.
"Louie Louie" was a song with the foulest lyrics never written. Although the words were absolutely without offense, they were hard to understand, triggering a nationwide rumor that they were dirty. As a result, millions of listeners "heard" obscene lyrics that weren't ever sung on the record.
Los Angeles session singer Richard Berry wrote the tune in 1955. It was about a bartender named Louie who listens to a customer talk of his desire to go back home to his girlfriend in Jamaica. Berry recorded the song in 1956 as the "B" side to an R&B version of "You Are My Sunshine." That single didn't sell very well.
In 1961, entertainer Rockin' Robin Roberts found the record in the bargain bin of a store in Seattle. After he heard "Louie Louie," he cut his own version of the song. It became a popular number played by local rock bands throughout the northwest.
One of the groups that featured the song in its act was the Kingsmen, whose gigs consisted of high school dances and supermarket openings in their hometown of Portland, Oregon. Guitarist Mike Mitchell and drummer Lynn Easton held day jobs at a food distributing firm whose owner let them use his Volkswagen van to cart around the band's equipment.
The Kingsmen played all the hit rock tunes of the day and ended their shows with "Louie Louie"--but as an instrumental. "It was a big five-minute closing number," Mitchell told the music magazine Goldmine. The song always drew raves from the audience. Once, at the urging of their fans during a 1963 appearance, the Kingsmen played "Louie Louie" for an entire 45-minute set! Although the band grew tired of playing the song for that long, the crowd loved it.
The next day, the Kingsmen went into a studio with local disc jockey Ken Chase and cut their own version of "Louie Louie" with the original lyrics. The group's vocalist, Jack Ely, had learned the words by listening to the song a few times on a jukebox.
"It was not set up as a music studio," recalled Easton. "It was just for voice-overs, mostly. They were not used to working with a rock group."
Mitchell said the studio didn't have the right equipment. "Everybody sat up and played at the same time with one microphone for each instrument and five on the drums. They hung a big mike from the ceiling and Jack had to stand on his toes to sing. Then they moved Jack back about four feet from the mike, and that's why you can't understand the words."
The Kingsmen cut the song in April, 1963, and got some local airplay. Eventually, the group made a deal with New York-based Wand Records, a label that featured black performers. "They had no idea we were white," said Mitchell. "By the time they found out we weren't black, the song was climbing up the Billboard chart. There's no picture of us on the first album because we were white."
"Some students at Tulane University called (drummer) Lynn's house one afternoon and said, 'We've heard the record and these are the words we hear. Is it true?' And then they sang some dirty lyrics," recalled Mitchell.
"That was the first time we learned that some people thought the lyrics were obscene because, in the northwest, it was a well-known song that had been played by many groups. The rumor spread to Florida, Indiana, and Michigan. It started with daughters telling their mothers, who went to their priests, who went to the governor who banned the record."
Allegedly, the dirty lyrics could only be heard at some other speed-- 33 or 78 or 16.
"That was really something," said Easton. "If we'd been able to do it, it would've been the greatest recording technique in the world--to have a record say something at one speed and something else at another."
"At one time we saw 35 different copies of the lyrics and they were all completely different, depending on what part of the country you were from."
The rumor caused outrage in Indiana, where the governor banned the song from the state's airwaves. Eventually, the FCC and FBI launched an investigation and interviewed both Richard Berry and Jack Ely. The authorities concluded that the song was unintelligible at any speed.