The Best of Louie, Louie

ImageThis blog entry is a little different from the others in that I’m not reviewing a band but rather a song. The Best of Louie, Louie is a compilation album released on Rhino Records in 1983 containing various renditions of the classic garage rock song, “Louie, Louie.” I’m not usually a fan of compilations, best ofs, etc. but I thought that this one might be kind of fun. In fact, it is. The album explores various styles and variations of the classic song over a 30-year period from Richard Berry’s original in 1955 to 80s covers by bands like Black Flag and The Last. Of course, The Kingsmen’s 1963 version which would go on to make the song a super hit is included. There are five versions of the song that seem to naturally progress: Richard Berry to Rockin’ Robin Roberts to The Kingsmen to The Sonics to Black Flag. Richard Berry’s original version is more of a doo-wop song, reliant on soothing vocals and an easy Caribbean beat. Rockin’ Robin Roberts’s version adds that beautiful electric guitar solo and brings the doo-wop beat toward a Chuck Berry classic rock ‘n’ roll sound. Then the infamous Kingsmen cover distorts the lyrical sound, propelling the song into a whirlwind of controversy and success, ultimately cementing its status as a super hit. The Sonics’ version strips down the sound and gives it a protopunk feel. This version also strengthens the vocals by making them harsher and louder. Finally, Black Flag’s version is a full throttle hardcore punk variation. Black Flag’s version speeds up and strips down the sound even further. It also includes improvised and darker lyrics. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite of these five. They are all spectacular though for different reasons. In addition to these five mainstream editions, the album also contains a number of vastly different variations. For example, Rice University Marching Owl Band covers the song in an ensemble fashion. I enjoy this version a lot because of the zealous horn section. I don’t really care for other versions like The Sandpipers’ quiet, 60s easy listening style. The Last and Les Dantz and His Orchestra perform covers that are quintessentially 80s. The Last has a power rock/gothic rock sound reminiscent of The Cure. Les Dantz and His Orchestra uses way too much synthesizer for me. The album is wrapped up with an a cappella song called The Hallelouie Chorus by The Impossibles. It’s a little bizarre to me; I could definitely do without it. Overall, I like this album. I like the concept of dedicating an album to such a classic song. I can even appreciate that the album includes experimental variations of the song. I just wish they’d be experimental in a way I find pleasing. If you want something different and can find it pretty cheap, then I’d recommend picking it up.  B

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The Kingsmen – The Kingsmen Volume II

ImageThe Kingsmen are back for their second appearance on this blog with The Kingsmen Volume II. This album, released in 1964 on Wand Records, is the follow-up to their successful The Kingsmen in Person. Like their debut, Volume II is also a live album packed with solid garage rock tunes. For starters, The Kingsmen perform quite a handful of garage rock standards, such as “Walking the Dog,” “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” and “Linda Lou.” Garage rock purists will love these renditions because in many ways The Kingsmen were the leaders of the pack. Some of these songs may not have gained such notoriety if The Kingsmen hadn’t covered them. The Kingsmen also attempt to broaden their appeal a little bit by performing garage rock covers of popular rock ‘n’ roll songs like “Do You Love Me,” “Come on Baby, Let the Good Times Roll,” and “Great Balls of Fire.” All three songs are top-notch performances, adding to the core of The Kingsmen Volume II. The Kingsmen prove that they can still bring the fast, free beats culminating in great hip-shaking vibes. For those who may grow tired of the ever-present sound of garage rock, The Kingsmen throw “David’s Mood” right in the middle of the album. This instrumental eases any potential feelings of being overwhelmed with that pure garage sound. While it’s not out-of-this-world amazing, it is interesting to see The Kingsmen flex their creative muscle a little bit. The album is also supported by minor hits like “New Orleans” and “Long Green.” Both songs remind you why simplicity is sometimes better. They are beautifully repetitious and full of energy. With these two songs you can clearly tell that The Kingsmen bring their all when they perform live. Perhaps my favorite song of the album is actually the very first song, “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” This song would renew The Kingsmen’s time on the Billboard chart and garner them more fame. Its Latin-inspired beat is fun and makes you want to do the mashed potato. Even the songs that I didn’t care too much for, like “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” and “Death of an Angel,” are decent enough tunes. While they don’t resonate with me very much, I can’t say that they are bad songs. All in all, for the garage rock purist, there are very few bands that can produce like The Kingsmen. Those who may favor blues or psychedelic rock might not find what they’re looking for, but those who dig that mid-60s beat will have to have their hands on this album. My only gripe is that I’m not convinced that the album is actually a live album. The audience applause seems extremely cohesive, almost robotic. I have a strong suspicion that it’s actually an applause track used to make listeners think it was recorded live. Also, no where on the album does it mention a day, time, or place that this supposed concert was supposed to have happened. Perhaps I’m being nitpicky. Bottom line: if you like garage rock, buy this album. If you don’t, there’s plenty of other good album reviews on this blog.  A-