Andy Warhol famously noted that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. He failed to mention that at least half will get theirs by covering “Louie Louie.”
It’s the greatest example of a song taking on a life of its own: If the downtown Portland studio where the Kingsmen laid down their definitive version collapsed immediately after the session, little of its legacy would’ve altered.
According to recent estimates, there are about 1,600 known versions of the song. Make that 1,601: Portland throwback pop-punks the Cry
recently threw their interpretation into the lexicon, just in time for the inaugural Louie Louie Day, happening tomorrow, Oct. 5. Theirs has additional legitimacy, though, as it features Kingsmen guitarist Mike Mitchell, whose solo is a ripping highlight of the original
In honor of the epochal garage nugget’s 50th birthday, Portland has declared Oct. 5 “Louie Louie Day.” Here’s what you should know in order to properly celebrate the city’s most everlasting cultural export.
- The song—that is, the Kingsmen’s, not Richard Berry’s faux-Carribean original—was recorded on April 6, 1963, at 411 SW 13th Ave. (now the home of Skylab Architecture) for $50.
- There is some debate over which Portland garage rockers recorded the song first: the Kingsmen or Paul Revere and the Raiders, who churned out versions within days of each other. In history, though, tie goes to the band not dressed like waiters at Long John Silver’s.
- Why exactly does Kingsmen singer Joe Ely sound like he’s blackout drunk and in the middle of a stroke? Many alleged reasons: His vocal chords were strained from a jam session the night before; the studio mike was fixed too high; he wore braces at the time; and the one-take recording, which became the final version, was supposed to be a rehearsal. Those poor lyrics never stood a chance.
- The schoolyard interpretation of the lyrics, which sparked a long, ultimately fruitless obscenities investigation by the federal government, includes the line “I felt my boner in her hair,” which is a sad commentary on 1960s sex education. Funnily enough, there is one obscenity hidden somewhere in the recording: Drummer Lynn Easton yelling “Fuck!” as he drops his sticks.
- There are roughly 18 zazillion “Louie Louie” covers in existence. Among the more notable interpreters: Barry White; Black Flag; Iggy Pop (solo and with the Stooges); Toots and the Maytals; the Fat Boys; Frank Zappa; and, of course, John Belushi and the Deltas. That’s not to mention the hundreds of guitarists who close out the annual LouieFest in Tacoma by playing the iconic riff ad nauseum. Oddly enough, the one person who doesn’t appear to have covered the song? Weird Al.
- Fred and Toody Cole, the grandparents of Portland punk, own the vinyl lathe used to cut the “Louie Louie” single, and turned out several Dead Moon records on it in the ‘80s.
- The yearly Louie Louie Parade in Philadelphia was canceled in 1989 due to “excessive rowdiness.” Once again, Philly ruins everything.
- Attempts have been made to make “Louie Louie” the state song in both Oregon and Washington. Hey, Wash-tards, that’s our song! Stay away!
- In addition to a plaque affixed to the spot where it was recorded and Voodoo offering a special “Louie Louie” doughnut—which employees are required to serve while mumbling gibberish—the song’s 50th anniversary has been commemorated in Portland this year by a sculpture in the lobby of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building depicting the sound waves produced by the record, a clever reference to the government’s failed obscenities investigation in the ‘60s. Now that’s a boner in the hair!
SEE IT: Louie Louie Day is Saturday, Oct. 5. The Kingsmen will play the Oregon Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Aladdin Theatre, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., with Quarterflash and Richmond Fontaine. 7 pm. $25, $30 day of show for general admission, $100 advance, $110 day of show for VIP seating. Under 21 permitted with legal guardian.