One of my favourite songs is Richard Berry’s ‘Louie Louie’. It’s such a dumbass number – a three chord riff, three-note ostinato bass, and lyrics that were reputedly subject to CIA investigation on the basis of subversive content. But that was because Berry’s vocals were so muffled nobody could understand them. The lyrics, audible in both the Kingsmen and the George Duke/Stanley Clarke versions, are as dumb as the chords. Some guy at a bar wants to return to his girlfriend. Louie is the barman.
Of course all that makes it catchy as hell. What gets me is how versatile that three-chord riff can be. Play it one way and you get ‘Louie Louie’. Play it the same way and you get Frank Zappa’s ‘Plastic People’ (with one extra note) and ‘Ruthie Ruthie’. Play it backwards and you get Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’.
So – here are ten instruments on which I’ve played ‘Louie Louie’ (at least until I was stopped, usually about 3 milliseconds after I got the first 3-chord riff out):
1. Bosendorfer 91-note grand. Bosendorfer make the best pianos in the world, with richer tones than a Steinway Model D. Their standard grand has three extra notes at the low end of the keyboard. The owner perhaps imagined I was going to do the piano transcription of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which requires those sub-C1 notes. He was wrong.
2. Daneman 3’6” spinet. This was the piano my parents owned, on which I learned all sorts of music – Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor for instance. A whole plethora of Bach’s Two Part Inventions. And – why yes, you know the one.
3. Roland Alpha-Juno 2. One of my vintage analog synths, which I bought new at the end of 1986. Known in the rave scene for its ‘Hoover’ sound (a preset named ‘What the?’), this synth with its velocity-sensitive keyboard (the same as used in the later D-50) is perfect for playing Mr Berry’s little ditty.
4. Moog Micromoog. One of my vintage mono-synths. Did you know it’s possible to play ‘Louie Louie’ monophonically by manually playing the chords as arpeggios? Just saying.
5. Korg MS-10. Another of my 1970s-era vintage mono-synths. Again, requiring arpeggiation for Guess What – none of these old mono units has a built in arpeggiator.
6. Yamaha MU-80 tone generator. I bought this new in the early 1990s. As a tone-generator it needs a MIDI-compatible keyboard to be played, but of course that’s easy enough to do and, at 64-note polyphonic, there’s no problem playing that song (nb: by ‘That Song’ I mean You Know What, not the Amaranthe number).
7. Roland JX-3P. An early-80s Roland analog polyphonic synth belonging to a friend of mine, prized for its classic sound. I think he regretted letting me play it because – well, guess what happened.
8. Korg Poly 800. A vintage analog paraphonic synth belonging to the same friend, on which I inflicted the same piece of music. (‘Paraphonic’ means all the voices go through one envelope generator, as opposed to ‘polyphonic’ where each voice has its own, like a piano or guitar where the attack and decay characteristics of each string occur independently of each other).
9. Yamaha SY-1. This is a 1970s-vintage monophonic analog synth derived from the mono-keyboard section of the GX-1 mega-synth (think ELP and ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’). The SY-1 is also owned by my friend and did not escape Mr Berry’s number, again by manual arpeggio.
10. Challen 5’3” baby grand. A piano that belonged to my aunt. It was really nice to play – just the right amount of weight in the mechanism with a rich sound. That song (you know the one) brought out none of its virtues.
And now, here’s Amaranthe’s ‘That Song’, which is a lot more like Rhianna than Richard Berry. Er – you didn’t think I’d link to ‘Louie Louie’ did you?
Copyright © Matthew Wright