by Dylan Goodman
Yesterday was April the 11th, the birthday of American songwriter Richard Berry, and a day of celebration for his most famous creation; “Louie Louie”. Since it was written by Berry in 1955 and covered by the Kingsmen in ‘63, it has become a rock standard and one of the most covered songs in history. Following a simple riff that only involves 3 different chords, this tale of a Jamaican sailor returning to his island home to see his love again has been bashed out countless times and has proven to be a timeless classic. It is an essential for any group’s repertoire. Coming up is a list of my 10 favourite versions of Louie Louie, excluding Richard Berry’s original…
Motörhead brought us this hardcore rendition of the track for their first single with Bronze Records in 1978. It’s surprisingly faithful to The Kingsmen song for a heavy metal band, with “Fast” Eddie Clarke’s playing those familiar chords on guitar. Lemmy’s unmistakable bass sound kicks in about halfway through, giving the track some momentum towards its end. Give it a listen.
According to Larry Page, manager of The Kinks, the iconic riff from “You Really Got Me”, came about while Ray Davies was trying to figure out the chords for Louie Louie. This relaxed rendition sounds like it was recorded in sun chairs on somebody’s patio on a lazy, sunny day, and captures their characteristic laid-back sound perfectly.
8-Iggy and The Stooges
This one is just downright crude and filthy. From The Stooges live album released in 1976, Metallic K.O. It has entertainingly rude lyric changes (I’d advise against playing it in front of your grandparents), some jazzy piano amongst the fuzzy guitar and is taken from the second half of their very last performance before their breakup in 1974.
This 1988 take on the song is made by Tina Turner’s sexually charged, soaring voice, and her fresh set of lyrics. If you happen to be planning a yacht trip through the Caribbean Sea, this might just be the version you’d listen to while dancing around the sun-soaked deck.
A bona fide punk rock take on the track, this 1981 single just isn’t long enough, ending before the 1:20 mark. It was the band’s first release with Dez Cadena as singer, who belts out his own genius, emotionless lyrics with attitude over the traditional riff; “You know the pain that’s in my heart / It just shows I’m not very smart”.
The 1977 bootleg Louie Is a Punkrocker yielded this excellent cover. It’s straightforward, features some very un-subtle bass, and Strummer howls those almost undecipherable lyrics. It’s just about what you’d expect from The Clash, and it makes for a grand tune.
Redding’s debut album from 1964, Pain in My Heart, featured this swaggy, soulful cover, complete with a saxophone solo. It’s a fantastic interpretation of the song, from one of the greatest singers in history. It’s guaranteed to put a swing in your step as you walk down the street.
The version that catapulted Richard Berry’s song to fame. Recorded in one take, reportedly for $50 back in 1963, this seminal hit stayed in the Billboard Hot 100 for a total of 16 weeks, even garnering attention from the FBI for it’s supposedly lewd lyrics. The FBI’s investigation concluded that they “were unable to interpret any of the wording in the record and, therefore, could not make a decision concerning the matter”, making this nonchalant sounding cover even more legendary.
In 1966, garage rock band The Sonics recorded this extra-raw, extra-fuzzy cover, cementing it’s place as a garage rock standard. The Sonic’s also brought another of Richard Berry’s songs into the spotlight, when they released a cover of “Have Love, Will Travel” on their 1965 debut album, Here Are The Sonics!!!
1-Toots and The Maytals
My personal favourite, the first version I ever heard and perhaps the most inventive and original take on the track on this list. Toots and the Maytals abandoned the traditional 3 chord version of Louie Louie, and the familiar riff to create this triumphant, yet laid back, reggae number. This cover from their 1973 album Funky Kingston comes in at nearly 6 minutes, but I can’t help wishing it went on a bit longer.