It was the worst of songs.
It was the best of songs.
It was “Louie, Louie” and we danced to that damn song more than anything but maybe “Midnight Hour” and “Wooly Bully.” For reasons unknown, my apartments and houses always were designated party central. As the appointed host, my duties were to get everyone out of their chairs and on the floor to dance the night away. A bad party in those days had everyone talking. Boys over here. Girls over there.
Get out the Kingsmen record (honest) and find “Louie, Louie.” Put it on the record player (honest).
I have no idea what it was, but that damn song got everybody (but the total losers) on their feet. Boys and girls danced together! The ice was broken and I could relax.
The funny thing is that it is terrible music, with the drummer apparently playing another song and the singer mumbling his words so much that we had to make up our own. That singer was Jack Ely and in another sign that we are getting “one step closer to the head of the line,” he died last week at a mere 71. Everyone knew that song. No one knew Jack Ely. I had never heard of him until his obit was published.
For your info, “LL” was recorded in a Portland, Oregon studio in 1963. I always assumed it was in someone’s basement. Surprisingly “LL” was not written by Ely, but by Richard Berry, years earlier. The song took off like a shot and reached No. 2 nationally.
Everyone you knew had their own filthy version of “LL” which was debated at each and every party. The filthier the better. You have forgotten, but the FBI actually investigated the song lyrics while Whitey Bulger was killing at will with the assistance of the agency. You won’t believe this but Matthew Welsh, governor of Indiana, tried to ban the song from innocent radio stations.
LeRoy New, the chief trial deputy prosecutor for Marion County (Indianapolis), assigned two investigators to look into the obscenity charges. After listening to the record at three speeds (can you believe it?) the investigators found nothing obscene, though they said the words were garbled. New told a newspaper reporter that “the record is an abomination of out-of-tune guitars, an overbearing jungle rhythm and clanging cymbals.” But New didn’t think the words were obscene, and the obscenity laws of the day “just didn’t reckon with dirty sounds.”
You can now imagine how our “moralists” Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and Rick Perry would have reacted. Heads would have exploded and imploded. Obama would be blamed.
I remember that Maria (no last name, please), one of the smarter students at Northeastern University, had her own version of the “filthy” lyrics and wrote them down for posterity. We all assumed that her version was the true one. When I asked for the document at still another party, she embarrassingly demurred. Maria confessed that she didn’t want to carry the document around because she was terrified that she would be hit by a bus and the doctors would find the lyrics on her dead body. Then, her mother would find them. The danger was too great, she said. There is no last name because Maria evaded all those buses for all those years and became an ordained minister.
Here are some of the actual “filthy” lyrics.
“A fine little girl, she waits for me.
Catch a ship across the sea.
Sail that ship about, all alone.
Never know if I make it home.
Louie Louie, oh no no no.
Sayin’ we gotta go, oh no.”
The song lives on today. One former state finance director and his brothers play it endlessly as a homing beacon for lost visitors to his remote cabin in Rangeley.
I will pray that Jack Ely will rest in peace. He only made $5,000 for that song. But he started thousands, maybe millions, of parties.
How great is that?
Emmet Meara lives in Camden in blissful retirement after working as a reporter for the BDN in Rockland for 30 years.