International Louie Louie Day
annually on April 11th
International Louie Louie Day celebrates "Louie Louie," one of the most recorded songs in rock and roll history. It takes place on the birthday of Richard Berry, the writer of the song, who was born on the date in 1935. Many other important events surrounding the song took place in April as well, making it fitting the song is celebrated when it is.
Richard Berry wrote the song in 1955 and released it in April 1957 on Flip Records, under the name Richard Berry and the Pharoahs. The song was influenced by the rhythms of Cuban composer René Touzet's "El Loco Cha Cha," which itself was based on another Cuban song. It also was influenced by the rise in popularity of calypso music in the United States at the time. The storyline was inspired by Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon" and Johnny Mercer's "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)."
In 1961, Rockin' Robin Roberts and the Wailers (not to be confused with Bob Marley's group) recorded a version of the song. This version introduced the phrase "Let's give it to 'em, right now!" to the song, and became a popular hit in the Northwestern United States. Many more bands started covering the song after hearing this version, including the Kingsmen. On April 6, 1963, they recorded their version in one take, at Northwestern Inc. Recording Studio in Portland, Oregon. This would become the most enduring version of the song. As the microphone was hung far above singer Jack Ely, it is hard to decipher what exactly he is saying on the recording. Being that it was recorded all in one take, it has a raw sound and imperfections were left in. Most notably, after the guitar solo, at about the 1:57 mark, Ely starts on his vocals but then abruptly stops, realizing he came in too soon. Drummer Lynn Easton can be heard attempting to cover up the mistake with a drum fill.
It was released on the Jerden label in May 1963, and then was picked up by Wand Records and released in October. It reached number two on the Billboard charts in December of that year and was on the top 100 charts for a total of sixteen weeks. However, the song was not without controversy. Because of its sometimes unintelligible lyrics, which many assumed were obscene, it was banned by some radio stations. The FBI even investigated its lyrics for over 30 months. In the end, as Ely's lyrics couldn't be deciphered, it was ruled that the lyrics couldn't be obscene. Ironically, at about the 0:54 mark of the song, Lynn Easton shouts an expletive after dropping his drumsticks. The band split up shortly after releasing the single, and did not receive royalties on their song until the late 1990s. They won a legal case on April 10, 1998, allowing them to collect $200,000 of royalties, and they got the rights back to all their songs from the Wand catalog.
"Louie Louie" almost became the official state song of Washington State, after Ross Shafer of the Seattle television show Almost Live worked to have the song replace "Washington, My Home." On April 12, 1985, the Washington State Senate declared it to be Louie Louie Day. A celebration was held at State Capitol in Olympia, and included performances by the Wailers, the Kingsmen, and Paul Revere & the Raiders (who had also recorded their own version of the song in 1963, just a week after the Kingsmen had, in the same studio). Louie Louie Day took place in Seattle on April 15, 1985, after a proclamation by the mayor. Washington themed lyrics to the song also debuted on that day, written by none other than Richard Berry.
Besides being recorded by a countless number of bands, the song has achieved many other accolades. It is played after "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during Seattle Mariners home games. It is also included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, The Grammy Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone magazine's The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
In 2003, a group of Louie Louie fans were discussing Richard Berry's birthday and decided April 11 should be Louie Louie Day each year. In 2007, the Louie Louie Advocacy and Music Appreciation Society began promoting the day as well.
How to Observe International Louie Louie Day
Celebrate the day by listening to the song! Request it from radio stations and let them know about the day if they are unaware of it. If you are a DJ, play as many versions of the song as you can today—it is estimated that there are more than 1,500 versions of it recorded. Here is a sampling of some of the more noteworthy versions of the song:
- Richard Berry and the Pharaohs' original version
- Rockin' Robin Roberts and the Wailers
- The Kingsmen
- Paul Revere & The Raiders
- Otis Redding
- The Sonics
- Toots and the Maytals
- Black Flag
- Iggy Pop
You could pick up one of the many compilations of the song that have been released or dig around at record shops for old 45s of the song. As "Louie Louie" is known as the quintessential garage rock song, this is a good day to check out some other garage rock, such as Lenny Kaye's Nuggets. Reading a book about the song while you are listening to different versions of it may be another fun way to spend the day.
Why not learn how to play the song and record your own version? As the lyrics have been changed so many times over the years, and it is not even really known what the lyrics of the Kingsmen version were, you could make up whatever lyrics you would like. If you are up for a road trip, you could visit the location where the Kingsmen recorded their version of the song, at 411 SW 13th Avenue, Portland, Oregon.