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May 19: Florence Greenberg and “Louie Louie”

May 20, 2013

greenberg200The Federal Bureau of Investigation paid a visit to Wand Records at 1650 Broadway in New York on this date in 1965 to ascertain whether the basically unintelligible lyrics to “Louie Louie,” a hit by the Kingsmen, were as obscene as rumored. The company was owned by Florence Greenberg, a housewife who had discovered the Shirelles through her daughter’s Passaic, New Jersey high school assembly and broke into the music business. Greenberg formed Tiara Records and recorded the Shirelles’ mega-hits “I Met Him on a Sunday,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Soldier Boy” (written by Greenberg) and “Tonight’s the Night” — as well as “Louie, Louie,” “Twist and Shout,” by the Isley Brothers, “Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick, and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” by B.J. Thomas, and numerous other hits. Wand Records and Scepter Records were her other labels. Based on the success of Dione Warwick, Gulf & Western offered $6 million for Scepter in 1965, but Greenberg declined the deal. By the time the company folded in 1977, however, big labels dominated the industry and Greenberg had lost her fortune. As for the FBI, it apparently determined that the Kingsmen’s version of the Richard Berry R&B classic was too garbled to be dangerous. To see Jack Ely, the lead singer of the Kingsmen, singing the lyrics to his horse — you can understand every word — look below.

“A white woman who was in a black business and who couldn’t carry a tune.” —Florence Greenberg