Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Louie Louie

Written and first recorded by Richard Berry & The Pharoahs (1955).
Inspired by “El Loco Cha Cha” (Ricky Rillera & The Rhythm Rockers, ca. 1954).
Also recorded by Rockin Robin Roberts & The Wailers (1961), Paul Revere & The Raiders (US #103 1963).
Hit version by The Kingsmen (US #2 1963).

From the wiki: “By some accounts ‘Louie Louie’ is the world’s most recorded rock song with over 1,600 versions and counting (with many more amateur versions appearing regularly on YouTube and elsewhere). Richard Berry was inspired to write the song in 1955 after listening to and performing the song ‘El Loco Cha Cha’ with Ricky Rillera & The Rhythm Rockers.

“Berry released his version in April 1957, originally as a B-side, with his backing band The Pharaohs, and scored a regional hit on the west coast, particularly in San Francisco. When the group toured the Pacific Northwest, local R&B bands began to play the song, increasing its popularity. The track was then re-released as an A-side. However, the single never charted on Billboard’s national rhythm and blues or pop charts. Berry’s label reported that the single had sold 40,000 copies. After a series of unsuccessful follow-ups, Berry sold his portion of publishing and songwriting rights for $750 to the head of Flip Records in 1959.

[Note: While the title of the song is often rendered with a comma (‘Louie, Louie’), in 1988 Berry told Esquire magazine that the correct title of the song was ‘Louie Louie’, with no comma.]

“A version of ‘Louie Louie’ was released in early 1961 by Seattle band Rockin Robin Roberts & The Wailers on the band’s own label, Etiquette. It became a local hit in the Seattle area, before being reissued and promoted by Imperial Records in Los Angeles. However, it failed to chart.

“The Kingsmen’s studio version was recorded in one take, in a session produced by local radio personality Ken Chase (who also owned the nightclub where The Kingsmen were house band) at a local Portland, OR, recording studio. First released in May 1963, the single was initially issued by the small Jerden label, before being picked up by the larger Wand Records and released by them in October 1963. It entered the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for December 7, and peaked at #2 the following week; it would remain in the Top-10 through December and January before dropping off in early February 1964.

“In February, an outraged parent wrote to Robert Kennedy, then the Attorney General of the United States, alleging that the lyrics of ‘Louie Louie’ were obscene. The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the complaint. In June 1965, the FBI laboratory obtained a copy of the Kingsmen recording and, after four months of investigation, concluded that the recording could not be interpreted, that it was ‘unintelligible at any speed.’

“Paul Revere & the Raiders also recorded a version of ‘Louie Louie’ in April 1963 in the same Portland studio as The Kingsmen. The recording was paid for and produced by KISN radio personality Roger Hart, who soon became personal manager for the band. Released on Hart’s Sandē label, the Raiders’ version was initially more successful locally. Columbia Records reissued the single nationally in June 1963 and it went to #1 in the West and Hawaii. That quick success of ‘Louie Louie’ for Paul Revere suddenly halted, however, and a few years later Paul Revere & the Raiders learned why: Columbia A&R man Mitch Miller, who did not like rock n’ roll, had pulled the plug on the group’s version stalling its national penetration.”

René Touzet, “El Loco Cha Cha” (ca. 1954):

Rockin Robin Roberts & The Wailers, “Louie Louie” (1961):

Paul Revere & The Raiders, “Louie Louie” (1963):

The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie” (1963):

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