Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Damn it, Jack Ely died

Of course you have no idea who I'm talking about. But you know why I'm talking about him -- Jack Ely, who died Tuesday at age 71 at his home in Redmond, Oregon, was the lead singer for The Kingsmen, one of about a bazillion groups to cover "Louie, Louie." The one-hit wonders did the definitive version, though -- everyone, but everyone who knows "Louie, Louie" -- or thinks they do, as the lyrics are fabulously obscure, especially the third verse  -- knows it because of The Kingsmen. Oddly enough, Ely had a falling out with the band shortly after the song was recorded in 1963 and they parted ways. But Ely and The Kingsmen made their mark forever.

The song, reputedly recorded at a cost of $36, was so hard to understand that the FBI investigated, only contributing to the fame of The Kingsmen's version:
“Louie Louie” has been covered hundreds of times, a three-chord, garage-band classic anybody could play soon after picking up an electric guitar.
Ely and the Kingsmen picked it up along with other Northwest figures such as Rockin’ Robin Roberts and Paul Revere. The Kingsmen’s version was recorded in 1963 and is the definitive version, going from cult classic to rock-and-roll standard. It has inspired more than a thousand cover versions and there’s no reliable estimate for how many times it’s been drunkenly sung at parties.
In addition to the song’s fame, Ely’s incoherent singing also made it one of the most misunderstood. The FBI was so mystified by the hard-to-understand lyrics that it conducted an investigation into whether the song was obscene. They found it to be “unintelligible at any speed.”
Over the years, Ely and other band members attributed the indistinct lyrics to the microphone suspended from the ceiling, forcing Ely to shout up at it. Sean Ely said his father got “quite the kick” out the FBI’s 455-page investigative report. He said his father certainly knew the words, and wasn’t just slurring nonsense.
“Right of his mouth, my father would say: ‘We were initially just going to record the song as an instrumental and at the last minute I decided I’d sing it. It’s all of this is in a 10-by-10 room with one microphone. I’m standing on my tippy toes yelling into the microphone: Louie Louie! Louie Louie! We gotta go!’”
The end result, of course, is pure magic:

It is, of course, no surprise that the FBI just didn't get it. RIP, Jack.Your contribution to American culture is secure.

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