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Oh, baby, “Louie Louie” did not have to go

Oh, no

45 rpm record ‘Louie Louie’ by The Kingsmen Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Traditions are important, especially in baseball. You knew this post would start like this, but that’s because it’s true. Baseball isn’t just any hobby. It’s been passed down from parents to children for generations. There’s a reason that the platonic ideal of (if far from the best of) baseball movies stages its crescendo on this speech:

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again.

So it’s devastating to discover that one of the only uniquely Mariners traditions has been broken. We speak, of course, of the replacement of “Louie Louie” during the seventh-inning stretch with Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us.” The Mariners have some other traditions too, sure. Finding the hidden ball, the hydro races, Rick giving us our “happy totals.” But if asked to name a Mariners tradition, the average fan (after a sarcastic “losing”) would almost certainly point to “Louie Louie.” It’s iconic. It’s perfect. And it must be returned.

For myself (Zach), most of my baseball memories from childhood have my dad as a central figure. But the one memory I have of baseball with my mom will always, always be dancing to “Louie Louie” at the Kingdome. It breaks my heart to think that if I have a child, I couldn’t recreate that with them. Not that it would be at the Kingdome. We can’t keep a stadium, much less a stadium’s name. The capitalistic constraints (which are themselves a baseball tradition) have seen to that. So too have they seen to sponsoring the boats in the hydro race and associating Terence Mann’s speech with a Chrysler.

“Louie Louie,” by contrast, was pure. It was entirely about fun. It turned 60 seconds of the game into a family-friendly kegger. There was no sponsor and no tie-in to a brand. It wasn’t a Jock Jam, there to try to pump us up for a comeback or to keep the boot on the neck of an opponent being thrashed. And that’s a good thing. Every year there are baseball games where a team is down 12-3 in the seventh. A hype song feels inauthentic when a position player is about to pitch. But “Louie Louie” lifted our spirits regardless, giving us a moment just about being silly together.

Los Angeles Angels v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

What’s more, “Louie Louie” is quintessentially Mariners. It’s about a sailor, for Pete’s sake. And it’s quintessentially Northwest music. Claiming the world’s most recorded rock song, especially one of Afro-Cuban inspiration, as a piece of Pacific Northwest heritage seems iffy at first glance, but ask a member of an older generation and they’ll corroborate such a lofty assertion. Louisianian Richard Berry wrote the song to the tune of the Cuban calypso-esque standard “El Loco Cha Cha” in 1955, but it was his performance as an opener in the Seattle metro area around September 1957 that began its ascension to the legendary status it holds today. The song became an instant radio hit around the Sound and a set list staple for many of the most prominent local artists of the era (including Dave Lewis, the Wailers, the Frantics, and future star Jimi Hendrix).

Almost a decade after its original composition, in 1963, “Louie Louie”’s most famous recording would emerge from a small Portland studio, but only after a great deal of intra-Northwest controversy. Two bands recorded versions of their own in April of ‘63: Oregonian outfit the Kingsmen and Boise band Paul Revere & the Raiders, each one drawing on an amalgam of the original Berry recording and the versions played in garages from Eugene to Bellingham. Local, and eventually national, media hotly debated whether the Raiders’ straight-laced sound and raunchy backing track or the Kindsmen’s murky, almost garbled performance would ultimately become the gold standard of the song. Despite a schism over vocals and an FBI obscenity inquisition, the Kingsmen recording found its way to the top of the charts, remaining an international hit for the remainder of the decade.

Kingsmen Touring Group Performing
The Kingsmen perform in 1964
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The 1980s saw a resurgent interest in “Louie Louie” in Washington State, marked most notably by the infamous series of campaigns to replace “Washington, My Home” as the state song (a story oft-repeated at Mariners games, a tradition almost as venerable as the song itself). It may not have been until the (very) early ‘90s that it became the seventh-inning stretch anthem in the Kingdome, but its roots in the region run deeper than such a “recent” (scare quotes necessary, apologies to the oLLds —Addie) advent. The song evokes almost nothing of the PNW, in contrast to nearly any track by, say, Nirvana, early Modest Mouse, or Sleater-Kinney, but it could nevertheless be convincingly argued that the song is the most singularly and globally enduring piece of our musical legacy, and one which stems from a tradition spanning up and down I-5 (even out to Idaho!) in a way that Macklemore does not. (For more on the history of the song, check out Dave Marsh’s 1992 book on the subject, which has the enticingly juicy title Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World’s Most Famous Rock’n’Roll song; Including the Full Details of Its Torture and Persecution at the Hands of the Kingsmen, J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I., and a Cast of Millions; and Introducing, for the First Time Anywhere, the Actual Dirty Lyrics)

To the Mariners entertainment team, we want to assure you that this is not about a generic resistance to change. Change can be great! It was a lovely gesture to play “Sweet Caroline” instead as a one-off after the Boston Marathon bombing. And there’s plenty else to change as a way to freshen things up. By all means, rename the Hit It Here Cafe. Remember when the Sunday alternates got released and there was a huge positive reaction? It’s simply not the case, as branding experts insist, that with any change there will be an initial negative reaction and then people will get used to it. The seventh-inning stretch is special. Why do we have a seventh-inning stretch at all? That’s not rhetorical. Really ask yourself what we’re doing here. Do you know what song is tired and objectively not good? “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” But you’d never dream of getting rid of it. This is precisely why that’s the perfect moment for “Louie Louie.” This is the part of the game that we lean into our history, and hard. It’s where we let people share an experience with their children that they’d shared with their parents.

Seattle Mariners vs New York Yankees, 1995 American League Division Series Set Number: X49322

It must also be noted that Macklemore, whatever his association to Seattle, is a particularly bad choice. This is a guy who had one hit and a novelty song ten years ago. He’s reached the playing-Emerald-Queen-Casino phase of his career at a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speed. The people are not clamoring for more Macklemore in their lives, not even the young people the M’s are presumably attempting to appease and entice. Speaking (Addie here) as a Gen Z’er, there are very few artists as memed to hell and back as Macklemore, almost universally regarded as the cringe white rapper par excellence. The PNW simply has more to offer.

Besides, why make this change now? The Mariners finally have Adam helming second base, and Frasier loves “Louie Louie.”

In the spirit of service journalism, here are some suggestions about what you can do help bring “Louie Louie” back. Here, for instance, are some fans taking things into their own hands:

You could also up the ante and bring a Bluetooth speaker to the game and play “Louie Louie” at full volume when it’s supposed to be played. You could tweet using the hashtag #WHEREiROOT with a sign noting your position, and see if you can get featured on the air. Or contact the Mariners directly at (206) 346-4001 or FanCare@Mariners.com. If you’re really ambitious, rent a set of professional speakers and blast it outside the stadium during business hours. (Get whatever permits are necessary, of course. We do not condone law breaking, even in the name of the Kingsmen.)

Poll

Should the Mariners bring back "Louie Louie"?

This poll is closed

  • 89%
    Yes
    (1725 votes)
  • 5%
    No, keep "Can’t Hold Us"
    (99 votes)
  • 5%
    No, but find something besides "Can’t Hold Us"
    (108 votes)
1932 votes total Vote Now