In April of 1963 a Portland, Oregon, rock and roll band decided to cover what had originally been a sweet ballad about a Jamaican sailor meeting his sweetheart while on shore leave. What would happen is an almost fifty-year history of a song that has been dubbed “The Worst Song of the Week” and the song that gave birth to modern rock & roll.
For years after its release rumors abounded that the Kingsmen purposely slurred the lyrics to hide a profanity-laden, sexually explicit story. The FBI spent whatever the FBI spent on things like this back in the day, and after more than two and a half years concluded they were “unable to interpret any of the wording in the song.” Nevertheless, radio stations across the country banned the song. In spite of – or because of – all the furor, the song became the single most recorded song in rock & roll history.
Here’s some help in case the FBI ever decides to re-open the case: the band was originally planning on recording the song as an instrumental, so a single mic was set up in the middle of the room very high up on a boom stand to capture the live essence of the performance. At the last minute, twenty-year-old lead singer Jack Ely decided to have a go at the vocals. With the mic as high as it was, Ely had to stand on his tip-toes and crane his neck upward as high as he could in order to be heard. That fact, combined with the bulky braces he was sporting, resulted in a nearly unintelligible vocal performance. With only fifty bucks to spend, the song was recorded in one take, so it was what it was.
The band does make a pretty major mistake coming out of the guitar break at the 1:58 mark. You can hear Ely start the verse coming out the break (on the turn-around) but the band continued to play the signature riff one more time, forcing Ely to stop and start over. Drummer Lynn Easton saves the whole thing with a fabulous rock and roll drum fill but the whole thing is so sloppy its perfect! Bands who covered the song (its been recorded over 1600 times) now replicate the error presumably thinking it’s the way the song goes.
Easton has admitted to dropping a loud f-bomb at the 0:54 mark after missing a drum break. It’s there, it’s loud and it’s clearer than any of the actual lyrics of the song. Apparently, the FBI, the governor of Indiana who made a huge stink about the song, radio programmers and parents all over the 60s missed it.
And now that you’ve heard it you can shout it along with him every time you hear the song.