It's that time again, time to roll out another edition of Rock Myths and Urban Legends! Rock and pop music is full of strange people and even stranger stories, many of which have been circulating for years. Let's take a look at four more, and get to the truth behind them.
4. THE LYRICS TO "LOUIE LOUIE" ARE OBSCENE
In 1963, "Louie Louie" was an enormous hit for the Kingsmen, although it had been written by a musician named Richard Berry in 1955 and covered by several other performers before them. Parents responded predictably when they discovered their kids liked something that scared them, and decided that the song's difficult-to-understand lyrics were coded obscenities. As ridiculous as it sounds today, this moral panic resulted in a two-year FBI investigation trying to decode the sleaze "Louie Louie" allegedly contained. The Kingsmen's version of the song is muddy-sounding and garbled, and recording technology was extremely primitive at the time, making the lyrics hard to understand under the best of circumstances.
It was also written in the style of a Jamaican love song, using a pidgin that sounds a bit odd; after that two-year investigation, the FBI's verdict was that the lyrics were indecipherable. The Kingsmen's singer was a guy named Jack Ely (who died at age 71 earlier this year), and apparently no one at the FBI ever thought to just ask him what the lyrics to their version of the song were. Despite the fact that a lucky group of agents probably had one of the easiest two-year assignments in FBI history, it is certain that the Kingsmen's famous version of the tune didn't have slurred or coded obscenities in it. On the other hand, the Kingsmen's drummer admitted to dropping an F-Bomb when he made a small mistake around the 58-second mark, and it can faintly be heard in the background. We'll have to assume that the FBI investigators in charge of this case weren't the best or brightest the agency employed at the time.
3. LED ZEPPELIN STOLE THE MUSIC FOR "STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN"
Have you ever heard two songs that sound suspiciously similar? The Ghostbusters theme and Huey Lewis & the News' "I Want a New Drug" is a good example, but there have been many others over the decades through the whole "Blurred Lines"/Marvin Gaye flap earlier this year. Occasionally a song will become an enormous hit, and a less famous band will claim that it was plagiarized. Such is the case with Stairway to Heaven, a tune that's considered to be one of the best rock songs ever recorded by one of the best rock bands ever to have existed. Led Zeppelin's epic is as iconic as it gets for rock music, and it would shock some younger listeners to know that since its release, there have been accusations that Jimmy Page and company ripped the melody off of Taurus, a 1968 song by the band Spirit.
Listening to the two songs back to back, it's impossible to deny the obvious similarities, and the heirs of Spirit songwriter Randy California are currently suing Led Zeppelin. It will be interesting to see what happens now that the long-discussed rumors are reaching the courts, but outside of possible financial restitution, does it matter? Even if Jimmy Page "borrowed" ideas from "Taurus," Led Zeppelin's song isn't any less great. In any case, a long-running rumor may be decided as truth by the legal system.
2. THE SCREAM ON "LOVE ROLLERCOASTER" IS A WOMAN BEING MURDERED
The funk/R&B band Ohio Players were chugging along and doing well during the mid-1970s, and after the 1975 release of their album Honey, rumors started circulating that the strange female scream that is heard during the song "Love Rollercoaster" was a lady being murdered on tape. Now that's the kind of stuff great rock urban legends are made of! Different versions of the story are floating around, including one claiming the nude model on the album's cover was injured somehow by the honey she's seen ladling over her body. According to legend, she then interrupted the band's recording session threatening to sue, before being stabbed to death by their manager while tape was rolling.
So what's the truth? That scream does sound kind of weird and out of place on the track. Could the rumors have a grain of truth to them? Fortunately, no. The feminine-sounding scream wasn't even uttered by a woman, but was voiced by the male band member Billy Beck. Soon after Honey came out, some listeners began asking the band if they'd killed someone to get that scream; they chose not to discuss the matter, deciding that rumors like this one fuel record sales.
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1. FRANK ZAPPA ATE SHIT ONSTAGE
Frank Zappa was an enigmatic man and a genius musician whose music was often "weird" enough to give some people the idea he must be a wild and crazy guy, to quote Steve Martin. At some point in the 1960s, rumors began to spread that Zappa had engaged in an onstage "gross-out contest" with Captain Beefheart to determine which performer would stoop to the worst act of degradation. Sometimes the legend changed Zappa's opponent in this horrifying performance to Alice Cooper or some other famous musician instead of Beefheart, but the end result was always the same — Frank Zappa won by eating either his own feces or the excrement of his opponent. A dubious victory for sure.
It's almost certainly not true, as most people who knew Zappa claimed that he was a fairly serious guy who didn't do drugs and would have never entertained the idea of eating shit, whether his own or someone else's. Zappa himself once addressed the story, famously saying, "The closest I ever came to eating shit anywhere was at a Holiday Inn buffet in Fayetteville, North Carolina."
I hope you enjoyed this edition of Rock Myths and Urban Legends. More to come shortly.