`Louie Louie' pays off at last

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The Independent Online
THE KINGSMEN, who made the most famous recording of one of the world's greatest rock'n'roll songs, yesterday won the right to their music after 35 years.

"Louie Louie" was not written by the Kingsmen, but their 1963 version swept the radio stations of first their native Oregon, and then the nation. It was not a particularly skilful performance, but from the first strident chords on the electric organ it summed up the raw energy of American rock'n'roll.

The Kingsmen got nothing from it, and in 1993, they finally took the case to court, where lawyers for Gusto Records and GML, which owned the rights, confessed that they paid "not a single dime for 30 years".

The judge awarded the band the right to all royalties from the time they sued, but the record companies appealed. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which yesterday let the Kingsmen have what was rightfully theirs from the start.

The number, recorded in two hours for $50 as a demo for an audition for a job, is a party favourite around the world. But most people only know its catchy, if unimaginative, chorus - "Louie Louie, oh, oh/Louie Louie, oh oh oh oh oh oh".

The Kingsmen were not the only ones to record the song in the early Sixties. But their version soon out-sold covers by groups like Paul Revere and the Raiders and eventually reached number 2 in the US charts. It rose no higher than 26 in the British Top 40.

The federal authorities in the Sixties thought it profoundly subversive and investigated the lyrics, before pronouncing them "unintelligible at any speed". By 1984, however, its popularity was such that of Washington considered making it the state song.

"Louie Louie" was actually written in 1955 by Richard Berry, who finally got $2m in royalties in 1986. The Kingsmen, who still play, have now got back the master of their original recording - perhaps the most precious artefact of all.