Unfortunately, they didn't make a cent off the frat house standard. (In fact, it actually cost the Kingsmen 50 bucks to record what became their signature song.)
Now, thanks to a federal appeals court ruling, the band is finally going to collect royalties on their ubiquitous hit.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday that the Kingsmen were entitled to a percentage of the profits from their version "Louie Louie," recorded in 1963.
In 1993, the Kingsmen sued the companies that control the song rights (Gusto Records and GML) to collect what they were owed. A federal judge agreed, granting the band the musicians the right to all royalties from the time they sued, and ordering the companies to hand over the master recording.
On Friday, the San Francisco-based appeals court affirmed the earlier decision, which means the Kingsmen can finally cash in on the hundreds of thousands of dollars "Louie Louie" has earned them since 1993.
Born smack dab in the middle of flannel country (Portland, Oregon, to be precise) in 1958, the Kingsmen spent their early days as nothing more than a local garage band. Then, in '63, the five-piece group laid down "Louie Louie," transforming Richard Berry's Jamaican love song into a two-minute slab of proto-punk so raw and incoherent that many figured it had to be obscene, the FCC included.
But the boys in the band swore they were just singing the lyrics that Berry wrote in 1955--a lovelorn sailor's confession to his bartender buddy, named Louie. Still, the feds launched an investigation, but were unable to decipher any inappropriate words and deemed the lyrics as shouted by Kingsmen frontman Jack Ely simply incomprehensible.
Berry's three-chord classic, originally a reggae-flavored tune, has been covered by more than 1,000 musicians. But no other rendition has proven more successful than the Kingsmen's version, which hit No. 2 on the pop charts and has been a staple of film and TV soundtracks (Mr. Holland's Opus, 3rd Rock from the Sun) and compilation albums.
Berry himself sold the rights to all his songs for $750 in 1956, but got $2 million in royalties for "Louie Louie" 30 years later with the help of an artists'-rights group.