Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Pharaoh, Pharaoh

Pharaoh.jpg (12243 bytes)
There are many versions of Louie Louie in which new or alternative lyrics have been used.  But none of those other variations have taken on a life of their own in the way that "Pharaoh Pharaoh" has.  The lyrics of Pharaoh Pharaoh tell the biblical story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt.  The song has become widely used within religious (Christian and Jewish) activities, especially those focusing on youth - summer camps, Sunday schools, youth ministries, etc.  A recent search of the Internet found over 25 different recorded versions available. 

The History of Pharaoh Pharaoh

Pharaoh Pharaoh was based on the song Louie Louie, written by Richard Berry in 1955 and released as a single in 1957.  Coincidentally, the band with which Richard Berry recorded the song was called "The Pharaohs."  The 1963 recording of the song by the Kingsmen is the most well-known, and was the version that Tony Sbrana had in mind when he wrote new lyrics for it and created a version he called "Pharaoh Pharaoh."  As Tony tells the story:

In 1971, as seniors in high school, two friends and I decided that the way to get an 'A' on our Bible As Literature final project was to write and perform a 'Rock Opera.'  [editor's note - Tony assures me that they did, indeed, receive an A.]  It was, after all, the era of Godspell and JC Superstar. One of the songs I brought to the mix was Pharaoh Pharaoh. It was really just for laughs, but everyone liked it so we kept it in. It was the only parody in the project.

At the time I was also doing music with a friend named Rick Riso. He's gone on to have a career in the realm of Christian music. We had met in Young Life, the organization I now work for, and we performed a lot for youth groups and churches and camps and such. We called our duo 'Brothers.' Anyway, at one point we were going to be performing at a retreat somewhere, and we decided to bring in Marj Snyder, a recording artist we knew, and perform the Rock Opera. Everyone loved it, and Marj's producer suggested we put it on an album. So we did. One side was 'Brothers' tunes, and the other was the Rock Opera now called Journey of Faith. The problem was this: none of us knew how to get parody rights to record Pharaoh Pharaoh. So we just left it off the album. We'd perform it in concert, but it never officially got recorded.

After 1972 or 73 we stopped doing Journey of Faith, and as far as I was concerned, that was that. But apparently somebody at one of our shows had heard Pharaoh Pharaoh and started doing it in their youth group. Others heard it and started doing it as well, and before long it had developed a life of its own. I had no idea.

In about 1987 I was doing music at a church in Santa Barbara, and one of the guys on my music team came in and said "check out this song I just learned." He proceeded to play Pharaoh Pharaoh. I was flabbergasted. I hadn't thought about the song in 15 years. Anyway, he had no idea I had written it...he just thought it was a song I'd enjoy. When he told me it was extremely popular in youth groups and such I couldn't believe it.

The song even appeared in a songbook that was widely used at that time (and still is) with a 'contributed by' credit rather than an author's credit. Interestingly enough, the guy who publishes the songbook was a friend of mine. So I let him know that I wrote it, and I agreed to let him continue handling the song through his company Songs and Creations. At least now my name generally appears as the author.

Anyway, when I wrote the song it was pretty much a dead rip-off of the Kingsmen's version of Louie Louie. (There were also two more verses...but I don't think they're any better than the verses some other people have added.) Over the years the tune of the verses has mutated so that it sounds more like the chorus. I guess it's easier to sing as a group that way. The song also grew to include hand motions and various grunts and 'yeah, yeah' variations. Lots of fun...none of my doing. It still amazes me to think that crazy little parody has had such a life.

Pharaoh Pharaoh continues to to be widely performed and recorded.  In fact, in recent years, the song has appeared on a number of different CDs, as the chart below demonstrates. 

Interestingly, this song that began as part of a musical has been incorporated into another musical.  "Christmas in Egypt" by Kathie Hill, was published in 1995.   According to the author's website, the play tells "a story of the possible relationship Mary, Joseph and the Christ-child might have had with their Egyptian neighbors."   The lyrics to Pharaoh Pharaoh have been substantially rewritten by Kathie Hill to tell the a story of the Pharaoh's desire to kill the baby Jesus who has come to Egypt, and those in his court imploring: "Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Oh Oh, Let this baby go!"  The play has been performed by children in numerous churches and other religious settings.  Although the music is clearly derived from Richard Berry's original composition, and the lyrics are based in part on Tony Sbrana's (as is the song's title, obviously), the credits for the song state only that the words and music are by Kathie Hill! 

The following chart lists the recordings identified so far.  However, there are surely others.  If you have any recordings not listed here, please contact me and send me a copy, and I'll add it to the list.

Versions of Pharaoh Pharaoh Available on CD

Artist CD Title Label & Catalog # Time Year Notes
Brentwood Kids Hallelujah Hop 2 Brentwood Music, CD5592J 2:41 1995  
Butterfly Kids Sunday School's Greatest Hits Vol. 1   3:37 2003 CD also contains a "split track" version (vocals in one channel, instruments in the other)
Camp Geneva Live at Geneva!   2:27 2000 Christian youth camp in Michigan. Recorded live at Camp Geneva by seventh to ninth grade campers.
Camp Ozark Celebrates Lifeline   2:49 1999 Christian youth camp in Arkansas. 
CCJam Praise Songs for Kids   3:30 2002
Choirs of Mother Seton Finishing the Dream     2004
Colleen & Grace Now is the Time   2:55 2002 from Canada.
Daffy Dave Get Down & Funny ?, 112461 3:01 2000
The Dogma Dogs Songs of Catholicism for Kids     2005
Steph France To His Glory ?, 347499.08 3:18 1999
Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp Holiness       CD sold out.  [N] 
John Gunden Shock Therapy   3:04 1994
Kathie Hill Christmas in Egypt     1995 Lyrics rewritten to tell a different story, as part of the children's musical "Christmas in Egypt".
Bryan Hitch Songs You Know By Heart HFM Productions, 63093-2   1993 Recorded on location at Hillcrest Baptist Church.
Billy Jonas What Kind of Cat Are You?! Bang-a-Bucket, BAB 1004-2 3:32 2002
King's Kompany Let's All Sing! Inspirational Songs for Kids, vol. 1   2:19 2003 Not sure I would really consider this to be a version of Pharaoh Pharaoh.  The credits state that it's composed by Laurie deJong Gartland, and performed by the Gartland children.  It takes Tony Sbrana's lyrics from the chorus ("Pharaoh, Pharaoh . . . Let my people go"), but adds new lyrics for the verses and new music.  Of all the versions listed here, this is probably the farthest away from the original Louie Louie.
Doug Larson Jesus Just Hold Me   3:59   Medley of Cast Your Burdens / Pharaoh Pharaoh.  Incorporates a Norwegian theme into the song.
Lutherlyn Singin Out Loud!     2004 Recorded at Lutherlyn on December 19-20, 2003.
Mah Tovu Pharaoh, Pharaoh (CD single)   4:02 1999 One of the most well-known versions out there.
Heather May & Nuf Respect Heather May & Nuf Respect       Affiliated with the singer Eddie Coffee.  Warning:  I tried to purchase this CD from the Eddie Coffee website. Over two years and dozens of e-mails later, no CD has been sent and no refund has been given (despite numerous promises). These folks are not to be trusted. [N]
Mister Bill Mister Bill Mister Bill Music, BM9757 3:46 2000
Men of Faith My God       [N]
Not For Sale Stand!      
Ounga Bounga Kids Hippos, Pharaohs and Praise   2:27 2001 CD not currently available.  [N]
Wesley Putnam Songs for the Quest   2:45 1997 Includes a 45 second spoken intro / bible lesson.
Renewal The Soul Cafe   2:45  
Rhythm & News Get With the Rhythm Image 7, 701 7850 432 2:51 1990 a-cappella version.  from Canada. 
Righteous Pop Music (RPM) Volume 1   2:40  
Alan Root Popcorn & PJs!   4:07 1998 The chorus is the same, but the verses are somewhat rewritten. Also on the CD "Fortunate Recipient of Another New Day!"
Simonhouse Rock!     2003
Sprout & Shout No Doubt About It ?, 16596CD 3:31 1999
Teen Ranch (Australia) Teen Ranch Greatest Hits   2:50 2003
Tetrella The Best of Rosthern Junior College 1996-1997   2:26 1997 a-cappella version.
YPP Band (New Creation Ministries) Youth Power Praise Vol. 1 New Creation Ministries, 701 7507 509 2:51 1999 from Canada

Interestingly, of all the recorded versions I've seen, the only two that accurately credit the writers are those by the Choirs of Mother Seton and by John Gunden.  Some credit the music to Chuck Berry (who, by the way, is not related to Richard Berry), some credit Tony Sbrana for both the music and lyrics, some mistakenly credit someone else entirely, some say the author is unknown, and some just credit the song as "traditional."  So to set the record straight, the music is by Richard Berry, and the lyrics are by Tony Sbrana.

Finally, on the Christian music CD "Prazy Worship" by Dan Cutchen, there are two instrumental versions of the song - with the song listed as "Louie Louie" and properly credited to Richard Berry, but with the lyrics to Pharaoh Pharaoh included in booklet.  This is another example of correctly acknowledging the origin of the song.  Since Pharaoh Pharaoh is Louie Louie with different lyrics, if you take the lyrics away and do an instrumental version, it is Louie Louie.


Pharaoh Pharaoh Lyrics

As described above, the lyrics for this Louie Louie variation were originally written by Tony Sbrana in 1971.   Originally, the song had five verses and the chorus varied in some cases to match the preceding verse.  The version that eventually made it's way into a published songbook dropped the last two verses and used a single version of the chorus.  Since that time, others have made small modifications to the lyrics and/or added entirely new verses.  Two such additions are listed below.

Here are the original lyrics as written by Tony Sbrana:

Pharaoh Pharaoh, Oh baby, Let my people go! (yeah, yeah, yeah . . .)
Pharaoh Pharaoh, Oh baby, Let my people go!

Well, the burning bush told me just the other day
That I should come over here and say
Got to get my people out of Pharaoh's hand
And lead them on over to the promised land.

Pharaoh Pharaoh, Oh baby, Let my people go! (yeah, yeah, yeah . . .)
Pharaoh Pharaoh, Oh baby, Let my people go!

Well, all of God's people came to the Red Sea
With Pharaoh's army coming after me
I raised my rod, stuck it in the sand
And all of God's people walked across dry land.

Pharaoh Pharaoh, Oh baby, Let my people go! (yeah, yeah, yeah . . .)
Pharaoh Pharaoh, Oh baby, Let my people go!

Well all of Pharaoh's army was coming too
So what do you think that I did do?
I raised my rod and cleared my throat
And all of Pharaoh's army did the dead man's float.

Pharaoh Pharaoh, O Babe, you shoulda let us go. (yeah, yeah, yeah . . .)
Pharaoh Pharaoh, O Babe, you shoulda let us go.

A few months later we decided to stop,
Moses climbed up on the mountaintop,
So we pitched our tents and set up our cots,
And Moses came back with lots of 'Thou Shalt Nots'

Pharaoh Pharaoh, O Baby, why'd you let us go?  (no, no, no . . .)
Pharaoh Pharaoh, O Baby, why'd you let us go?

Forty years later, it's comin' to an end;
The promised land was just around the bend.
So Moses climbed up on the mountainside,
And after he saw it, ol' Moses died.

Here is the "standard" published version that dropped the last two verses:

I say Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Oh baby
Let my people go! Huh
Yeah yeah yeah... (2x)

Well, the burning bush told me just the other day
That I should come over here and say
Got to get my people out of Pharaoh's hand
And lead them on over to the promised land.

(chorus)

Well, all of God's people came to the Red Sea
With Pharaoh's army coming after me
I raised my rod, stuck it in the sand
And all of God's people walked across dry land.

(chorus)

Well all of Pharaoh's army was coming too
So what do you think that I did do?
I raised my rod and cleared my throat
And all of Pharaoh's army did the dead man's float.

(chorus)

Additional verse (inserted at the end) by Brodsky/Chasen/Zweiback of Mah Tovu:

Well that's the story of the stubborn goat.
Pharaoh should've know that chariots don't float.
The lesson is simple, it's easy to find,
When God says, "GO!" you had better mind!

Additional verse (inserted after first verse) by John Wilke of Sprout 'N Shout:

The Nile turned to blood! There were darkened black skies!
Gnats and frogs! There were locusts and flies!
The first born died, causing Egypt to grieve,
Finally Pharaoh said, "Y'all can leave!"


Back to the Louie Louie Web Home Page

Last Updated 23 April 2007
Copyright 2003-2004  Louie Louie Web