Writer(s): Richard Berry (see lyrics here)
Released: August 8, 1963
First Charted: November 9, 1963
Peak: 2 US, 12 CB, 11 GR, 11 HR, 1 CL, 26 UK, 13 CN, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, 8.0 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 11.69 video, 131.95 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Covered over 1500 times, TC this “bar band/ garage band/frat house staple” AMG is “a monument” AMG to rock and roll’s D.I.Y. spirit “and crappy recording techniques.” AMG Its “simplistic riff played over the standard three-chord rock & roll format” AMG made it a favorite for beginning guitarists. DJ It became a symbol of rock & roll’s subversiveness TC and “provided a blueprint for every garage-rock band that followed.” TB It is hailed by some as “the definitive rock ‘n’ roll song.” SJ
R&B singer Richard Berry wrote the song, adapting “the dominant rhythmic figure from a Mexican song,” PW “El Loco Cha Cha Cha” by Los Angeles-based bandleader Rene Touzet. SS The lyrics and basic melody draw heavily from Chuck Berry’s (no relation) “Havana Moon.” SS Berry’s modified cha-cha was released on Flip Records in 1956. DM It was “a calypso ditty sung by a sailor at sea yearning for his girl back in Jamaica.” SS About five years later, Rockin’ Robin Roberts & the Wailers had a regional hit with it in the Northwest. During a break at a local dance in Portland, Oregon, the Kingsmen noticed their audience gathered around a juke box, dancing to the record and decided to include the song in their act. SJ
Using just three microphones, TB they recorded it in less than an hour at a session that cost $36.00. TC Singer Jack Ely had to stand on tiptoe to reach the one mike from the studio’s fifteen-foot ceiling that also had to pick up the rest of the band. TB The primitive recording techniques made the lyrics, about a homesick and lovesick sailor regaling his woes to a bartender, unintentionally unintelligible. This led to rumors about what the song was about and Indiana even banned the song TC when Governor Matthew Welsh decided it was “pornographic.” SF The FBI even investigated, TC but could not decipher the song. DJ Ely told Rolling Stone, “I always though the controversy was record-company hype.” RS500 Dwight Rounds, author of The Year the Music Died, 1964-1972, called it “the most ingenious marketing scheme ever.” SF
Nothing happened with the record until about six months after its release when it was picked up by a Boston DJ and became a national hit. PW It has gone on to become “the international anthem of local bands…surely the rock song that has been performed the most, at the grass roots level.” PW
First posted 8/8/2012; updated 9/28/2023.