FBI investigated song ‘Louie Louie’ for 2 years
An accusation of obscenity against a rock 'n' roll hit.
It was a citizen’s complaint that first called the FBI’s attention to “Louie Louie,” the rock 'n' roll staple that was a hit for The Kingsmen back in 1963.
In a letter of Feb. 7, 1964, addressed to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, an outraged parent (name withheld) exclaims, “My daughter brought home a record of ‘Louie Louie’ and I, after reading that the record had been banned from being played on the air because it was obscene, proceeded to try to decipher the jumble of words. The lyrics are so filthy that I can-not enclose them in this letter.”
So began a two-year investigation by the FBI, which to this day is involved in fighting obscenity. According to the FBI case file, The Kingmen’s record was sent to the FBI Laboratory for analysis to “determine its obscene character,” in part by playing the 45 rpm single at the slower speed of 33 1/3 rpm.
Page 14 of the report shares one listener’s determination of filthy lyrics, which is entertaining but can’t be shared on a nice family blog such as ours. However, the FBI apparently failed to contact Kingsmen singer Jack Ely, who committed the lyrics to tape. Neither did they ever reach Richard Berry, who wrote the original song in 1955.
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Singing along to “Louie Louie” continues to be a major challenge for any cover band, due in large part to Ely’s slurred performance. The vocalist has explained that he was yelling to be heard over other instruments in the recording session, and also that he was wearing braces at the time, which contributed to his infamously incomprehensible delivery. But when the record was banned by the governor of Indiana on accusations of obscenity, the continued popularity of the song and the band was guaranteed.
The parent’s letter to AG Kennedy rants on: “This land of ours is headed for an extreme state of moral degradation what with this record, the biggest hit movies and the sex and violence exploited on T.V. How can we stamp out this menace????”
Ultimately, the FBI couldn’t determine what the lyrics were, but the agency never charged nor exonerated “Louie Louie” for obscenity. Check the actual song lyrics here, and let us know who really had the dirty mind:
me gotta go.
me gotta go.
A fine little girl, she wait for me;
me catch a ship across the sea.
I sailed the ship all alone;
I never think I’ll make it home
Three nights and days we sailed the sea;
me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there;
I smell the rose, in her hair.
Me see Jamaica moon above;
It won’t be long me see me love.
Me take her in my arms and then
I tell her I never leave again.
Tip of the hat to Smithsonian.com for flagging this story.
Photo: Derek K. Miller via Flickr, http://aka.ms/louie
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