April 11, 2015

It Happened on April 11th

Louie Louie Day

If you grew up in the 60's, like me, you probably spent considerable time and effort trying to decipher the allegedly "dirty" lyrics to Louie Louie. I know I did. To no avail, however -- try as I might, I never could understand what the heck those guys were saying.

"Those guys" were The Kingsmen, but the song wasn't written by them. And I feel a little bit better about the time and energy I wasted, considering that the FBI spent over two years on the same project, interviewing everyone they could think of and playing the recording over and over again at a variety of speeds. Their conclusion: the lyrics were "unintelligible at any speed."

April 11th is the birthday of the man who wrote Louie Louie, a singer-songwriter named Richard Berry. He recorded the song in 1957, to a modest, local success in Los Angeles. Later he sold the copyright to the song for $750. The lyrics in his version were completely understandable, a ballad about a Jamaican sailor talking about his lady love.

Another group, Rockin' Robin Roberts and the Wailers, came up with a variation of the song, and, in turn, this version was copied by The Kingsmen when they made the recording that became a phenomenal success. The recording was quickly done, with errors, and the microphone was positioned high above the group, perhaps causing lead singer Jack Ely to somewhat strain his voice. The group considered the song pretty much a throwaway, and were put out that they had to pay $50 for the session.

Louie Louie has been recorded over 1500 times, making it possibly the most covered song ever. (It's believed that it even surpasses Yesterday by The Beatles.) If you're a die-hard Louie Louie fan, you may want to join the Louie Louie Advocacy and Music Appreciation Society. You can even get your own LLAMAS button or sticker.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the real lyrics to Louie Louie, you can read them here.

Current Headquarters of the Barbershop Harmony Association

Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America Established, 1938

If someone tries to convince you that Barbershop Quartets originated in Elizabethan England, don't listen to them. There was a type "barbershop music" sung in Elizabethan times, but it was basically a type of lute plucking, and had nothing in common with modern barbershop quartets.

The origin of barbershop quartet music seems to be a type of African-American a cappella music of the late 19th century. The style was later associated with minstrel shows, but it got its big boost when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. The phonograph's popularity created a big demand for recordings, and conditions in the early recording studios were cramped. It wasn't possible to record a big orchestra effectively, and the singers needed to sing directly into the microphone. Barbershop quartets were ideal.

The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America originated when Owen C. Cash, a tax lawyer, and Rupert I. Hall, an investment banker, decided to do something to prevent a cappella singing from falling by the wayside. They organized a festival and invited 14 singers that they knew, asking them to bring guests. About 40 men attended the event, and within two months they were having weekly meetings of 75 to 150 men. Today, about 80,000 men and women from all over the world belong to Barbershop Quartet societies.

The English kept the Stone tucked into their Coronation Chair.

The Stone of Scone Returns to Scotland, 1951

The Stone of Scone is a piece of red granite, about 26 inches by 17 inches by 10 inches. It weights 336 pounds. Its origins are shrouded in mystery, but most claim it was brought from Ireland by Fergus, the first King of Scots. At any rate, it was used for centuries as the place of coronation of the Kings of Scotland. It is also called the Stone of Destiny.

In 1296, it was captured by Edward I of England and taken to Westminster Abbey. There, it was installed into a wooden chair, and the chair became the traditional coronation chair of the English monarchs. When the First War of Scottish Independence ended in 1328, the terms of the treaty stipulated that the Stone of Scone would be returned to Scotland -- after 600 years.

In 1603, James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of a united England and Scotland, and the Stone once again was used for a Scottish coronation. Apparently, the Throne considered this good enough, because the Stone wasn't returned to Scotland in 1928, when its return date came up.

On Christmas Day, 1950, some Scottish students decided to take matters into their own hands. They stole the Stone, and in doing so discovered that it had been broken into two pieces, apparently hundreds of years ago. They took both pieces, smuggling them separately into Scotland, and took them to a Scottish politician who had the Stone repaired.

On April 11, 1951, the Stone was left on the altar of Arbroath Abbey, the site of the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish declaration of independence. The perpetrators may have hoped that the Church of Scotland wouldn't return it to England, but such was not the case. English authorities were notified, and the Stone was returned to Westminster.

The Stone of Scone remained at Westminster until November 30, 1996, when it was returned to Scotland. It is to be returned to Westminster for any future coronations, but in the meantime, it resides at Edinburgh Castle.

Or does it? Some believe that the actual Stone of Scone was never taken by Edward I in the first place. That theory holds that Scottish monks actually hit the real Stone, either in the River Tay, or buried on Dunsinane Hill, and that a fake was provided to the English troops. Another set of rumors posits that the stone returned to Westminster in 1951 was a fake. If the real stone was hidden, either in the 17th or the 20th century, someone did a good job of it. No other stone matching the description has ever been found.

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