Because it contains my favourite moment in the entire history of recorded sound.
Whole books have been written about Louie Louie. Every garage band worth their garage have recorded a version of it. More than any other song on this list, my choice for 'L' was never in any doubt. If you want to understand what this A-Z is about, and by extension what I think all the best pop music is about, listen to this record. There's probably absolutely nothing I can add to Louie Louie-ology that has not been already said by many others a million times, but, if we are to learn anything from The Kingsmen, it is that a lack of having anything original to say, or even the talent to make a reasonably accomplished copy of something wholly unoriginal, should not dissuade you from Giving It Your Best Shot Anyway.
My Favourite Moment In The Entire History Of Recorded Sound
Throughout Louie Louie, drummer Lynn Easton has potentially sounded the most clueless and deranged of all the Kingsmen, clattering wildly, exploding crazed rolls and breaks underneath the melody apparently at random - it's unconventionally effective, but you definitely wouldn't be surprised if this was the first time he's ever heard this song, or sat at a drum kit.
At 1:58, following the middle eight guitar break, the singer, Jack Ely, comes in a line too early. Recognising the error, he panics, and cuts himself short after just one word. Up until this point, the performance has been as error-free as The Kingsmen are ever going to manage. They can't get this take again. This is THE TAKE. History has reached a crossroads. Planets stop turning. ...And then, as if suddenly possessed by the holy drumming trinity of Buddy Rich, Max Roach and Elvin Jones, Lynn Easton does something remarkable - he improvises, somehow cobbling together a stumbling, but absolutely crucial, fill, vamping out of his mind for the few crucial seconds until Ely can rejoin the song at the correct point. And They Left This Epochal Moment In Western Civilisation On The Actual Record.
Often when this moment is written about, it is from the perspective of Louie Louie being the godfather of Punk Trash Pop. By leaving the 'mistake' at 1:58 in the final recording, the band are perceived as exhibiting a lack of concern with getting the 'perfect take' - indeed, perhaps the Kingsmen were incapable of a perfect take. This establishes Louie Louie as belonging to a canon that is in opposition to the classical / jazz / prog rock canon of lifeless, schooled musicianship. And while I think that this analysis is entirely fair, it's also more than that. What's incredible about this moment is not the mistake, but the correction by Lynn Easton of it. It's about triumphing over the odds, and about people transcending their limitations, for the benefit of others. The drummer summons from nowhere the ability to do something contrary to everything else he's done throughout the song - the ability, presence of mind, and skill to do exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time. This moment isn't remarkable because it's unusual to hear such an obvious blunder in a pop record - it's remarkable because Easton, in a moment of true inspiration, snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, enabling his band mates to clatter their way successfully to the finishing line. It's the raw, exhilarating humanity of this moment that makes it special.
The Kingsmen's Louie Louie is an exquisitely charming and loveable record - it is the sound of a band struggling to achieve mastery over the world's most basic song structure, wailing and faliling, persevering, and ultimately succeeding. Succeeding not because they nail a technically perfect game, but because they make it to the end, together, and having absolutely stamped their own mark on a standard - infact, against all the odds, they have recorded the Definitive Version of that standard. It is a cinema verite recording bursting with humanity. It is Alive.