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Saturday, April 11, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Louie, Louie' May Mean Lots, Lots For Kingsmen

Seattle Times Staff: Wire Services

Let's make this clear: No one really understands a single word in "Louie, Louie," Washington's official rock song.

Except, perhaps, "Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay."

But two things are certain: "Louie, Louie" made a lotta money, and the Kingsmen, a Portland group that made the party song famous, never got a cent for it in more than 30 years.

Yesterday, a federal appeals court ruled the band should.

The Kingsmen signed a contract in 1968 to provide them with 9 percent of the profits or licensing fees from their 1963 recording. In 1993, the Kingsmen, some of whom are still on tour, sued Gusto Records and GML, which held the rights to the recording, saying they never got a cent.

A federal judge granted the musicians the right to all royalties from the time they sued, and held the companies in contempt when they refused to surrender the master recording.

In a 3-0 ruling yesterday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the judge's ruling in favor of the Kingsmen.

Rhythm-and-blues artist Richard Berry wrote "Louie, Louie" as a Jamaican love song in 1955. Since then, it's been recorded more than 1,000 times. The Kingsmen's version featured Jack Ely's almost-incomprehensible lead vocal. The group recorded the song in Portland for $50 as a demo for a club job. It didn't get the job, but the song scorched the charts.

Because no one could understand the lyrics, federal investigators thought the song was obscene and took the Kingsmen to court in 1964. The FBI even collected a 560-page study on the controversy before "Louie, Louie" went before a judge.

Even after listening to the song several times, the presiding judge said he couldn't tell what Ely was singing. He ruled the record could be played.

The lyrics were actually a sailor's lament to a bartender named Louie about his lost love. It didn't contain a hint of impropriety.

A proposal to make "Louie, Louie" the state's official song sprang from the Whatcom County Council in early 1985. The Legislature ultimately rejected the idea, keeping "Washington, My Home."

Nonetheless, "Louie, Louie" was eventually proclaimed the state's official rock song.

"Louie, Louie" has sold more than 12 million copies over the years. Recent sources of royalties include the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus," the television show "3rd Rock from the Sun," Coca-Cola commercials and compilation albums.

Total royalties due since 1993 are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Scott A. Edelman, attorney for the Kingsmen.

That makes the song almost comprehensible. Information from The Associated Press and The (Aberdeen) Daily World is included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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