It all began in 1964 and reached an uneventful and silly conclusion 51 years ago this week! Based on an outcry from parents who bought into what may have started as an idle rumor, the FBI launched a formal investigation in 1964 into the supposedly pornographic lyrics to the song “Louie, Louie.” That investigation finally neared its conclusion on May 17, 1965, when the FBI Laboratory declared the lyrics of “Louie Louie” to be officially unintelligible. Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill ? They did it!
No one will ever know who started the rumor that “Louie Louie” was dirty. As written by Richard Berry in 1955, the lyrics revolve around a sailor from the Caribbean lamenting to a bartender named Louie about missing his far-away love. As recorded in less than perfect conditions and in a single take by the Kingsmen in 1963, lyrics like “A fine little girl, she wait for me…” came out sounding like “A phlg mlmrl hlurl, duh vvvr me” Perhaps it was some clever middle-schooler who started the rumor by trying to convince a classmate that those lyrics contained some words that are as unprintable today as they were back in 1963. Whatever the case, the story spread like wildfire, until the United States Department of Justice began receiving letters like the one addressed to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and dated January 30, 1964. “Who do you turn to when your teen age daughter buys and brings home pornographic or obscene materials being sold…in every City, Village and Record shop in this Nation?” that letter began, before going on to make the specific assertion that the lyrics to “Louie Louie” were “so filthy that I can-not enclose them in this letter.”
Over the course of the next two years, the FBI gathered many versions of the putative lyrics to Louie Louie. They interviewed the man who wrote the song and officials of the record label that released the Kingsmen’s smash-hit single. They turned the record over to the audio experts in the FBI laboratory, who played and re-played “Louie Louie” at 78 rpm, 45 rpm, 33 1/3 rpm and even slower speeds in an effort to determine whether it was pornographic and, therefore, whether its sale was a violation of the federal Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material law. “Unintelligible at any speed” was the conclusion the FBI Laboratory relayed to the investigators in charge on this day in 1965, not quite exonerating “Louie Louie,” but also not damning the tune that would go on to become one of the most-covered songs in rock-and-roll history.
And now: “The rest of the story,” In 1965, everyone we knew was in a band, (we were) and every band HAD to play “Louie, Louie” (we did) Nearly every gig we played featured multiple bands on the bill, and everyone of them played their version of Louie, Louie! We can honestly confirm we never heard even two versions with the same lyric! For that matter, we never heard one version where we could understand the lyrics. There really was a universal unspoken joke among young bands, it didn’t matter if you didn’t know the words, you just made them up and when you couldn’t do that, you sang gibberish throwing in an occasional male or female body part (…we did ) “A Louie, Louie yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah baby, me gotta go now”!
But, what about you? Did you hear it ? Did YOU sing it ? Did you sing the dirty words…Will you share them….Please ?
Well, we should all have one more listen! But! Better close the door to your room.