Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Jack Ely - one hit wonder

The death at 71 of Jack Ely, who sang lead on the Kingsmen's 1963 hit Louie Louie, has attracted considerable interest. Certainly the record was a great one - an early example of grunge perhaps - and it topped my personal top ten for four weeks in January 1964. But in Jack's case he was the archetypal one hit
wonder. Before Louie Louie was even a hit he fell out with the leader of the group Lynn Easton, who wanted to take over as singer, and left. When he tried to return he was turned down and all future Kingsmen records were fronted by Easton. On the Kingsmen's first LP, The Kingsmen In Person, which includes Louie Louie, Jack isn't even mentioned in the sleeve notes. As the song had been written by Richard Berry several years earlier Jack didn't even get writing royalties. He formed another version of the Kingsmen, but had to change its name to the Courtmen, and never had another hit.
The record itself gained notoriety because of its unintelligible mumbled lyrics. Whether this was because Jack was straining to get a 'live' sound with a microphone above his head (it was recorded in a single take), the effect of the braces he had on his teeth or because he just didn't know the words I'm not sure, but it's certainly part of its charm. It was enough to attract the interest of the FBI who suspected that the lyrics were obscene. After a lengthy investigation they concluded that it was in fact unintelligible with no discernible meaning, which a single listen could no doubt have confirmed.
As I've been away I haven't had an opportunity to pay tribute on The Vinyl Word to Percy Sledge, who died recently aged 74. Percy had one of the most effective and deeply moving soul voices of all time and When A Man Loves A Woman was the first deep soul record to become a major hit in the pop charts and one of the biggest hits to come out of Muscle Shoals. Follow ups such as Warm And Tender Love, Heart Of A Child, It Tears Me Up, Out Of Left Field (my personal favourite), Take Time To Know Her, Pledging My Love and Any Day Now were equally effective. Percy was a modest, unshowy man but possessed such a fantastic voice that he didn't need to be a showman. He could just stand still, with his eyes tightly closed, and let the words come out and the audience would be mesmerised. I saw him a number of times and my photo shows him at the Jazz Cafe in 1997. RIP Percy.


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