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Just has to be played

Just about everyone has done a version of this and this isn’t the original either.

When the Kingsmen went into a makeshift studio in Portland, Oregon, in April 1963 to record a raucous song with indecipherable lyrics called Louie Louie, Mike Mitchell and his band mates inadvertently created an entire genre of visceral guitar noise. Scuzzy and unsophisticated but imbued with a raw energy, it came to be known as garage rock, which in turn gave birth to the insurrectionary sound of punk.

At only two minutes and 42 seconds long, the song was crudely recorded in a single take with a solitary microphone dangling from the ceiling. The record cost $36 to make and was littered with mistakes. At one point the lead singer Jack Ely comes in several bars too early and has to wait for Mitchell and the rest of the band to catch up.

Although posterity has deemed that the errors are part of the record’s charm, at the time Mitchell and the group were unhappy with the sloppiness and asked to do another take. Their manager said it was fine and in any case the song was only intended as an audition demo for a cruise ship job.

It’s not a good guitar solo and, in fact, it’s a pretty terrible rendition of the song. Boy is there some life and excitement to it though.

Can’t recall even which decade this happened – either when flavoured ice teas were the thing or maybe it was the earlier bottled wine coolers phase. Ads were all about fine young forms disporting themselves at the beach. They got a dozen bands of the day – memory makes me want to say Hootie and the Blowfish and the like – to do covers. OK, looking it up, I almost got that story right.

But the point of the story is that none of those covers ever do capture what the Kingsmen did. It’s in construction a calypso. As the Ks did it it is, like all rock, about sex. Forget the lyrics, they’re entirely unimportant. It’s 2 minutes 42 seconds of strutting testosterone and all the more marvellous for that.

Best $36 any record company ever spent.

If you’ve not heard it before – and some Brits might well not have done, much more famous over there than here – it’s worth the headphones on, cranked right up. As a piece of musical craftsmanship it’s entirely dreadful. As a blast of teenage sweat it’s entirely marvellous.

Yet they will forever be remembered for two minutes and 42 seconds of gloriously primitive noise that changed the sound of rock’n’roll for ever.


8 thoughts on “Just has to be played”

  1. That’s exactly my era, but I’ve never heard the song before. I could easily imagine the Stones covering that. Very ‘dirty’ guitar sound, right up Keith’s alley.

    I will now vanish down the Kingsmen rabbit hole.

  2. I think that we might know The Kinks’ version in the UK.
    I thought that the Stones had covered it too, but apparently not.
    Trying to think what Guy Ritchie/ Tarantino film I might have heard it.

  3. Frank Zappa and the Mothers played a brief version of the song at their first UK concert at the Albert Hall, with Don Preston leaping up the steps to play the famous riff on the enormous pipe organ.

  4. @PaulF

    “Motörhead covered it as a single, released in September 1978, peaked at number 68.” – great piece of Motörhead trivia. I once heard that Motörhead is slang german for an amphetamine user, dunno whether its true or not.

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