Why is "Louie Louie" Washington's theme song?
By Paula Wissel
Why is “Louie Louie” our theme song here?
In the 1980’s, the Washington State Legislature considered making it the official state song. The measure failed, but “Louie Louie” is still listed on government websites as the “unofficial” state rock song.
Sure it’s got a good beat and it’s easy to dance to, but is a song about a Jamaican sailor longing for his girl really the best tune to represent Washington State? (Voice your opinion in the poll at the bottom of the page)
How did this classic party song become so much a part of our cultural DNA, anyway?
Louie Louie’s roots go deep in the soggy Northwest
Exploring the “why” in this case takes you back to the late 1950’s to a record shop in Tacoma.
A local teenager who went by the name Rockin’ Robin Roberts worked at the store part time. He came across a single by Richard Berry and The Pharaohs. On the “B” side was a calypso song written by Berry called “Louie Louie.”
Roberts shared his find with the Tacoma band he sang with, The Fabulous Wailers. They rearranged it with a rock n’ roll beat and released this version, with Rockin’ Robin singing, in 1961.
Robin Roberts died in 1967 in a car accident in California. But, in 2003, KPLU “All Blues” host John Kessler interviewed Buck Ormsby and Kent Morrill, who were with The Fabulous Wailers. Morrill has since passed away.
They said as soon as they recorded the song they knew it was something special.
“We thought it was a hit, a total hit. We thought this would be a monster,” Ormsby said.
They were right. It was a huge regional hit. Radio stations played it. Local bands learned it and performed it in dance halls up and down the I-5 corridor. It sold 15,000 records in the Pacific Northwest in just a few weeks.
“We were told it sold more records in the Pacific Northwest than any song ever had up to that point,” said Ormsby.
And the Northwest connection doesn’t end there. The Kingsmen, a band from Portland, recorded this version, the version that went on to become the national hit, in 1963. It’s the “Louie Louie” you’ve probably sung along to.
Nothing sells records like a good old-fashioned FBI probe.
After The Kingsmen’s version shot up the national charts, complaints started coming in that the unintelligible lyrics were lewd.
The FBI launched an investigation to determine if the song was obscene.
The case was eventually dropped, but the FBI spent more than a year investigating the song and produced over a hundred pages of documents. It all helped add to the song’s lore.
And the beat goes on
Credit the Seattle Mariners with doing more than anyone else in keeping the “Louie Louie” tradition alive in the Northwest. The song is played during every seventh inning stretch, right after “Take Me out to the Ball Game.”
They started the ritual back in 1990. Vice president of marketing, Kevin Martinez, says it was the dawning of the Ken Griffey Jr. era.
“So our crowds were getting bigger and bigger. And we were looking for a signature song,” Martinez said.
“There was always talk of using Perry Como’s “The Bluest Skies (are in Seattle),” but we didn’t think that had enough kick,” he said.
He says not long after adopting “Louie Louie,” the Mariners hired legendary manager Lou Piniella.
“And that just layered in another element to the mystic of ‘Louie Louie,’” Martinez said.
Of course, Piniella and Griffey are long gone, but the song plays on.
Do we need a new theme song?
History aside, some people say it’s time for a change, time to go with a new theme song for Washington, something more current or something that references the natural beauty and culture of the state.
Ben Schroeter, who sells alternative programs outside Mariners games, says Woody Guthrie’s “Roll on Columbia,” which is already the state folk song, might be more appropriate.
As for how it would it work as a sing-a-long during the 7th inning stretch instead of “Louie Louie”?
“That would actually be way cooler, in my opinion, although it wouldn’t be as danceable,” Schroeter said.
There are other suggestions, such as “Singin’ in the Rain,” or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
One group is pushing to have Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Not in Our House” declared the state song until an NBA team returns to Seattle. The song was recorded for the Seattle Supersonics for the 1992-1993 NBA season playoff.