"Louie Louie" - The Duel: Kingsmen vs. Paul Revere & the Raiders



Recently, we wrote that “Money” (the garage-party classic, not the Pink Floyd song) was both B.L.L. (Before “Louie Louie”) and A.L.L. (After “Louie Louie”).  The original and some other recordings were before.  But the Kingsmen covered and charted with “Money” so that it was A.L.L.

Did the Kingsmen’s recording of “Money” thus complete a circle?  Not really.  “Money” was never B.L.L.

“Louie Louie” evolved from a calypso-styled semi-obscurity to party rock anthem over 6 or 7 years.  Richard Berry, a Los Angeles Doo-Wop and R&B performer, recorded “Louie Louie” in 1957 -- two years before “Money.”  Earlier, he sang with Etta James on “The Wallflower,” which was popularly known as “Roll With Me, Henry.”  Johnny Otis and Hank Ballard co-wrote the song with Etta James.  They did not use the working title of “Roll With Me, Henry” out of fear of censoring. 

Censoring in the 1950s and 1960s?  Really?  Oh, yeah, “Louie Louie” was banned from airplay in Indiana among other places!  Even “Rumble” was banned in some markets.

Fast forward to 1963 and Portland, Oregon.  Within a week of each other and at the same studio, two local bands -- the Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders -- recorded “Louie Louie.”

Legend has it that the Kingsmen’s version was nearly moribund until a Boston DJ played “Louie Louie” as the “Worst Record of the Week.”  In fact, the band had broken up.  “Worst Record of the Week” did not deter the Boston listeners.  They apparently loved the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie.”  And the trajectory and impact of the record is history.

The band ended up in litigation.  As you knew or read here recently, the FBI investigated the Kingsmen’s recording for obscenity.

For a brief period after the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” took off in Boston, America had dueling Louie Louies.  The Paul Revere & the Raiders version did well in San Francisco and on the West Coast.  Those were the days before corporate radio and entertainment conglomerates.  Both versions were rising on the regional charts within one week of each other.  But Columbia pulled the plug on promoting “Louie Louie” by Paul Revere & Raiders.

Even though the FBI found that it was “unintelligible at any speed,” the Kingsmen version had won out. 

From there, “Louie Louie” was covered more than a thousand times.  It had a place in the careers of the Beach Boys, Otis Redding, the Sonics, Motorhead, the Flamin’ Groovies, Black Flag, Joan Jett, Iggy Pop, and Frank Zappa.  It was in the soundtrack of Animal House.  Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone magazine wrote a book about “Louie Louie.”  KFJC played 63 hours of “Louie Louie” without playing the same recording twice.

And . . . (drum roll, please) . . . The Pyronauts have performed “Louie Louie” with Paul the Pyronaut on vocals!

What would have happened if Paul Revere & the Raiders had won the duel?

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