The Beat of LOUIE LOUIE

Over at the LOUIE LOUIE PARTY Yahoo group, there’s been some fairly active discussions lately, and some of this stuff was too good to not share.
A theoretical question was asked about the “123-12-123-12” beat of LOUIE LOUIE…

Drake Bradley first pointed out:

Dave Marsh book (p. 83) quotes Jack Ely to the effect that when he showed the other members of the Kingsmen how to play Louie Louie he did it with the now well known
1-2-3 1-2 1-2-3 1-2
beat, and the corresponding chord progression the Kingsmen adopted to fit this beat was
A-A-A D-D Em-Em-Em D-D.

Marsh claims this differs from the from both Richard Berry‘s and the Wailers’ versions which use a
1-2-3-4 1-2 1-2-3-4 1-2
beat, and presumably a chord progression like
A-A-A-A D-D Em-Em-Em-Em D-D
(or whatever key they used). However, when I listen to the original Berry song, and the Wailers version, I hear a 1-2-3 1-2 beat, not a 1-2-3-4 1-2 beat. Sure, there is a pause after the 1-2-3, but that’s true of the Kingsmen’s version too, and there’s a pause after the 1-2 in both variants as well. Marsh makes a big deal about the Kingsmen’s version leaving out a beat and that making the song go faster. But again, my untutored ear doesn’t hear a difference in the temporal patters used by Berry, the Wailers, or the Kingsmen: it’s all 1-2-3 1-2 to me. They might play at different speeds, but that is a different issue.

(Now, 2-Pump Louie does play Louie Louie using 1-2-3-4 1-2, and contrary to Marsh’s implication that including an extra beat slows the song down, it rumbles like an express train. Apples and oranges, I know.)

Marsh claims that leaving the 4 beat out of the Kingsmen version makes it go faster because there is now no rest after the third beat/chord. But in both the 1-2-3 and the 1-2-3-4 versions I hear a rest between them and the following 1-2.

What am I missing here?

Jack Ely, original Kingsmen vocalist responds:

In regards to the 123 12 123 12 issue, if one listens closely enough they can tell that the Wailers only used the 123 12 123 12 configuration on their introduction, but that after the song got going the went into a 1234 12 1234 12 configuration, or at least that’s the way I’ve always heard it on my old “Wailers at the Castle” album.

Drake, in turn replies:

Damn! You are absolutely right, Jack. It goes to 1234 after the first verse, at 0:52 into the song. I hadn’t caught that. However, as far as I can tell, Richard Berry’s version is 123 all the way through (with vocal “duh”‘s replacing guitar chords).

As to the main point, if the Wailers’ version doesn’t shift to 1234 until after the first verse, then the pace of the song has already been established and set by the 123 intro, in which case what is to distinguish it from the Kingsmen’s consistently 123 version? Go, ahead and do an A-B test, switching back and forth between the intros — I can’t hear a much of difference in the pace of the two — maybe the Kingsmen’s version is just slightly faster than the Wailers’. As for the Kingsmen’s leaving out a beat and that making it go faster, that can’t be the case. If the Wailers’ start 123 and shift to 1234 without slowing the tempo (and they don’t), then their 1234 is packed into the same time span as their original 123 (listen carefully, and you can hear that is true), and in that event there is nothing to distinguish it from the Kingsmen’s version, pace-wise. Marsh’s dropped beat argument is an attempt to explain why the Kingsmen’s version had more appeal to the party crowd. But it doesn’t hold up for me. As Marsh himself notes on p. 81 the Kingsmen first learned of Louie Louie playing at the Pypo Club in Seaside, Oregon, while, during a break, they observed college students stuffing the jukebox with quarters and playing the Wailers’ version of Louie Louie over and over again, dancing madly on the floor.

Jack then replies with:

Meter is meter and it includes rests as well as notes played. So…the meter or tempo has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of rests per measure or notes played per measure. Most try to keep it fairly consistent during a dance song. In my humble opinion, it was the constant 123 12 123 12 acting like a hypnotic pulse (the fore runner to hard rock) that made our version so different. We weren’t just jammin’ to a chord progression. We were meticulously and methodically pounding that beat like a thousand Zulu dancers working themselves up into a trance to prepare for the hunt. Watch any National Geographic film of any native hunters and you will see what they do to prepare for a hunt or fight. It’s always the same, sharpen your tools, work yourself into a trance, and go to it. The difference was that in our culture we washed our cars (tools) went to and participated in the dance (trance) and then tried our darndest to score (the hunt.)

Concerning Marsh’s version of how we found LL, it was at the Pypo, except that the Pypo was an underage club (collage age kids wouldn’t be caught dead there) and those were high-school kids that would get up and dance at their tables when LL came on, not college kids dancing wildly. And that’s the rest of the story.

Me Gotta Go Now,
Jack

UPDATE: Drake responds:

> Re: 123 12 vs 1234 12 etc. Meter is meter and it includes rests as well as notes played. So…the meter or tempo has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of rests per measure or notes played per measure.

Not being a musician, I know not about measures, rests, meter and such. I agree that tempo or pace is independent of the number of notes/rests played per measure. Somebody could play the Kingsmen’s version *exactly* as they played it except for playing twice as fast, and therefore finishing in half the time, and this would appear more “up-pace” to the listener. The fact that number of chords or notes per measure has nothing to do with tempo is consistent with the fact the 2-Pump Louie’s version — which is 1234 12 and therefore has more chords/notes per measure — is much faster than the Kingsmen’s version, simply because they play Louie Louie faster. It is Marsh who seems to argue that dropping the 4 in 1234 speeds things up, when in fact you are right in saying that that is irrelevant because you can play 123 faster or slower than 1234, it just depends.

So we need some other explanation for why the Kingsmen’s 123 12 version had more “punch” or impact on the listener. And I think you offer it here:

> In my humble opinion, it was the constant 123 12 123 12 acting like a hypnotic pulse (the fore runner to hard rock) that made our version so different. We weren’t just jammin’ to a chord progression. We were meticulously and methodically pounding that beat like a thousand Zulu dancers working themselves up into a trance to prepare for the hunt.

That says it better than anyone, including Marsh.

> Concerning Marsh’s version of how we found LL, it was at the Pypo, except that the Pypo was an underage club (collage age kids wouldn’t be caught dead there) and those were high-school kids that would get up and dance at their tables when LL came on, not college kids dancing wildly. And that’s the rest of the story.

So I guess Marsh unwittingly proves his central thesis, that Louie Louie is forever shrouded in mystery and myth. Even debunking journalists can’t get it right!

Lest anyone think I am dis-ing Marsh’s book — it is wonderfully witty and absolutely hilarious in places. It cracked me up.

Drake

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