Louie Louie, me gotta go…Hunh?

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.

https://youtu.be/1RZJ4ESU52U

11 Comments

  1. Louie Louie has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. Maybe for that reason alone, I love it. I am not particularly proud of the fact, but I do love it. I mean it really is a nothing song. Melody and lyrics are unremarkable. It’s got a good beat and easy to dance to. In fact, I think it is one of the few songs from my youth that I actually remember dancing to.
    But it was really more than that. Of course, there was that naughty element. I remember being at a party with some friends, some of the people who contribute here in fact. There were a couple girls there, dresses in their party dresses, updo hair, mini skirts. And all of a sudden they started in on what they thought the Louie Louie lyrics were. I never heard such language, and coming out of such sweet smiles. What a turn on!
    And then a few years later Mr. Holland’s Opus comes out. There is a scene where the Richard Dreyfuss character, a high school music teacher, praises Louie Louie. So I think, “Maybe there is something here.”
    This morning after reading your post, I thought there are probably some really smart people on-line who have something interesting to say about Louie Louie. I found this guy: Enjoy . . .

    • Hey Jim!
      Don’t know how you do it, but when you contribute a comment, you never disappoint us! Jeeze that is so funny I laughed out loud
      Actually, I think that review may be the “Louie Louie” of record reviews! Ya get what I’m sayin’ ?
      Thank you James…
      Rick

      • Tiger the Frog is hilarious – I laughed out loud too – thank you again, James M. Gorman! Who is he? Does anyone know? I love him.

  2. Did it. In ’65-’66 my band, “the Beau Gentrys” did a Hang On Sloopy and Louie Louie combo, 10 minute version. These are the lyrics that I sang as the Louie lyrics.m ( you asked. apologies)
    “Louie Louie, oh baby, we gotta go
    Louie Louie Oh baby, we gotta go now
    Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
    Every night at ten
    I’d lay her again
    I’d f**** that girl all kinds of ways
    when I’d see her no we didn’t care
    I’d feel my bone runnin’
    through her hair”. I BELIEVED those to be the lyrics. Of course I mumbled as much as he did.

    Rumor has it, singer was so hammered, he was having trouble speaking much less singing the words.

    The Beach Boys did a much cleaner version of this Richard Berry classic, but nobody paid it any mind. Too clean I guess.

    • CS

      I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania and both the F-word and “boner” (the B-word?) were accepted as part of the lyrics there, too. At least they were back in the ’60s.

      Thanks for reminding me!

      NU

  3. I love this story so much I put it in my book, in the chapter about how censorship radicalized young America, with the conclusion that the two generations were unintelligible at any speed, even to each other.

    • Hey Aviva!
      First and foremost we’d like to welcome you to SMS! We appreciate you’re insightful commentary!
      Please don’t be a stranger, we hope you continue to join in future conversations!
      Rick Shoemaker

  4. This was a song we were often asked to play. I was so tired of it, but we played it for its ability to instantly fill the dance floor. A… D.. E… D.. (I think we played it in E instead of A). Our singer/drummer Mike H, purported the song was “filthy” and in an effort to magnify our mystique, faithfully advertised it whenever he could. I never knew what he was singing either. “Every night, in bed I ???? her again”. What did they do??? Someone just opened my door… gotta go!

  5. Hah! The only reason it took the usually (reasonably) competent FBI so long to “translate” the lyrics is that they were too busy surveilling and infiltrating the civil rights and anti-war movements.

    Of course, if they hadn’t been so busy with that, they might have picked up a clue or two about what was just around the corner and bought every dilapidated Victorian in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to surveil and infiltrate the nascent hippie/counterculture movement.

  6. Its a legend of many types. Animal House being best in some ways. Then, take into account that it was a hit every summer 64-66 PLUS a winter hit when it was out first in 63/4. Think about it being the lead in to Beatlemania too. Then, the lyrics. I can honestly say that I NEVER knew the lyrics as a kid and never heard about the controversy for a decade, yet it was on the radio constantly throughout my growing up years. Today, every school band still seems to play it. It’s easy to play and everyone knows it. Great versions all over the place, but I’ll lean to the Kingsmen as my go-to.

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