What are the REAL lyrics to “Louie Louie”?

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Dear Cecil: My friend attended your typical inner-city sleaze high school in the late 60s. I attended your average insulated isolated sterile high school in the suburbs. Despite these similarities we learned two different versions of the lyrics to “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen, inasmuch the words are unintelligible. Can you, dear Cecil, separate our virginal teenage sexual fantasies from the “real” and “official” lyrics? Barbara K., Robin D., Chicago


Illustration by Slug Signorino

Cecil replies:

Funny you should bring this up, girls. It just so happens that I attended a seance last Sunday and had the opportunity to discuss this very topic with some of my friends from the afterlife. Bob Denver, AKA Maynard G. Krebs of TV’s Dobie Gillis–who, as I’m sure you’ll recall, died tragically when a radio fell into his bathtub–said that one of the lines of the songs is, “I @#%!! a girl endlessly.” Jerry Mathers of Leave it to Beaver, who was blown apart in Vietnam (some people think he grew up to be Alice Cooper, but that’s just one of those silly myths), opined that another line is, “I shoot a wad into her hair.” Paul McCartney recalled that he always used to sing, “Tell her I’ll never lay her again.”It pained me to shatter their illusions–as it pains me, believe me, to shatter your yours–but the “real” lyrics to “Louie Louie” are about as racy as a Neil Simon script, and almost as dumb. What’s more, we have the assurance of the man who wrote the song, one Richard Berry, that the Kingsmen did not spice it up in the studio. The song was about seven years old when the Kingsmen recorded their version in 1963, and the fantastic legend that grew up in its wake–a legend that even an FCC investigation couldn’t kill–seems to have sprung solely from their extraordinary lack of elocution.

Berry, who spoke on the subject a while back to a Los Angeles interviewer named Bill Reed, explains the song as the lament of a seafaring man, spoken to a sympathetic bartender named Louie. Here, without further ado, are the “official” published lyrics: “Louie Louie, me gotta go. Louie Louie, me gotta go. A fine little girl, she wait for me. Me catch the ship across the sea. I sailed the ship all alone. I never think I’ll make it home. Louie Louie, me gotta go . Three nights and days we sailed the sea. Me think of girl constantly. On the ship, I dream she there. I smell the rose in her hair. Louie Louie, me gotta go. Me see Jamaican moon above. It won’t be long me see me love. Me take her in my arms and then I tell her I never leave again. Louie Louie, me gotta go.” (By Richard Berry. Copyright 1957-1963 by Limax Music Inc.)

Note the subtle shifts of temporal perspective, and the refreshingly arbitrary substitution of the objective case for the nominative and possessive in pronominal situations. As a rock lyricist, Mr. Berry was clearly far ahead of his time.


Dear Cecil: He didn’t even go – he was in the Air National Guard. I would have thought the Straight Dope would get that right. –Courtney_Henderson

No shite, Sherlock. You want a ticket to my new seminar, “Introduction to the Joke”?

Cecil Adams

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.