Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Jack Ely

Sad news today of the death of Jack Ely, lead singer with the Kingsmen, the ultimate 'one-hit wonder' band - but what a hit, what a wonder! I still remember the shock of hearing their version of Louie Louie for the first time; it sounded like nothing else I had ever heard - it was way, way ahead of its time, it had no place in the pop landscape of 1963 when America stood poised for the Britpop invasion. Louie Louie was recorded in a $50 session in a 10' by 10' room, with a microphone hanging from the ceiling and Jack Ely stretching up on tiptoe, bawling into it to make himself heard above the band, who were, for sure, giving it all they'd got. It was Ely who'd had the idea of changing the beat of Louie Louie from the straightforward rhythm of Rockin' Robin Roberts' version to the inspired riff that drives the Kingsmen's Louie Louie. According to Wikipedia, the band gave a 90-minute live performance of the song at a local teen club the night before recording - yet even so they still managed to muck it up during the one-take studio session (all part of the record's raw charm).
 The mostly undecipherable lyrics of the Kingsmen's Louie Louie famously provoked a lengthy (31-month!) FBI investigation, searching for subversive or obscene messages emebdded in the song. In the end they found nothing (and missed an F-word uttered by the drummer after a drumstick fumble). Initially the single made no impact, but it began to take off after a Boston DJ played it as 'Worst Record of the Week', By the time it became a hit, the band had split, and Jack Ely didn't stay long in the music business. He had done enough.

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