Who Wrote The Seminal Classic Rock Song “Louie Louie”? Hint: It’s Not Who You Think

It might be the best-known rock song of all time. It might be the most important rock song of all time. It’s “Louie Louie” and it’s so well-known that with just the title, you likely can begin to hear it in your head. Da-da-da Da-da Da-da-da! The rhythm begins, then the words.

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Let’s dive into the origin of the song, who wrote it, and who made it famous.

Richard Berry

“Louie Louie” is a rhythm and blues song written by the American artist Richard Berry. He composed it in 1955 and recorded it a year later in 1956, releasing it in 1957. Today, the best-known version of the song is by the Portland, Oregon-based band, known as the Kingsmen (more on them below).

Berry was born on April 11, 1935, and died on January 23, 1997. He performed with a number of Los Angeles doo-wop and harmony groups in the 1950s, from The Flairs to The Robins.

Since the song’s release, it has become a standard in pop and rock ‘n’ roll, one of the most recorded songs of all time. But Berry never got the recognition or the financial reward for composing the song, since he sold the rights away to it in 1959. In the 1980s, though, he got a little love for his work, along with some financial remuneration.

Berry also wrote the song, “Have Love. Will Travel,” which has become a standard in rock and has been recorded by many artists, including The Black Keys.


Today, many believe the original “Louie Louie” is based on the Afro-Cuban song, “El Loco Cha Cha,” which was made popular by the Cuban-born American composer, pianist, and bandleader, René Touzet.

According to Berry, the words “Louie Louie” just “kind of fell out of the sky.” So, he put themselves over the repeating bass notes. Berry also credited Chuck Berry and the song “Havana Moon” for the song’s reference to Jamaica.

Berry recorded his version with his vocal group the Pharaohs, for the L.A. label Flip Records, in 1956. He released it as the B-side of the single “You Are My Sunshine.” However, just before the song was released, Berry sold his portion of the publishing (along with that of four other songs) for $750 to Max Feirtag, the head man behind Flip Records, so that he could raise money for an upcoming wedding.

The single was a hit on the west coast and when Berry toured the Pacific Northwest, local bands began to cover his song.


“Louie Louie,” which is written in a simple blues format comprised of verse-chorus-verse-chorus, tells the story from the first-person perspective of a Jamaican sailor coming home to see his love.


To date, the song has been recognized as one of the most important songs in the history of rock by outlets from the Grammy Hall of Fame to NPR to the Recording Industry of America to Rolling Stone.

In Philadelphia, the city held an annual “Louie Louie” parade for several years in the 1980s. In Tacoma, Washington, from 2003 to 2012, the city held the annual LouieFest.

Cover Versions

While Berry wrote and first recorded the song, it has been made famous by other bands, particularly those from the Pacific Northwest, most of all. Those bands, too, were comprised of white members, which perhaps aided in its success with white audiences, whereas Berry was Black.

Some estimate that the song has been recorded upwards of 2,000 times by bands. The most prominent version is by the Portland, Oregon group, The Kingsmen (recorded in 1963). Their version is likely the first version most people heard.

Other prominent recordings come from The Fabulous Wailers (recorded in 1961), Paul Revere and the Raiders (recorded in 1963), and The Sonics (recorded in 1966) as well as The Beach Boys (in 1964), the British-born band the Kinks (in 1964) and Otis Redding (also in 1964). Frank Zappa recorded it in 1967. John Fogerty, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and many more have recorded versions since.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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