03 February 2020

"Louie Louie" Was Investigated by the FBI Because No One Understands the Lyrics

My name is Louis. My dad’s name is Louis. His dad? The same. Do you know how many times I’ve heard this godforsaken song? I’ve grown mad and drunk with anguish. The 1963 hit was almost too sexy for US airwaves…because no one knew the words. And then it got probed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 31 months (almost three years). Mmm, tasty tax dollars. Here's the article, my Louies. 

According to louielouie.net, "Louie Louie" is the most recorded song of all-time, with over 2,000 such entries. It was written in 1955, by doo-wop artist Richard Berry, based on the R&B tune "El Loco Chacha". It contains a repeated backbeat that Berry began to sing the name "Louie" over top of and it stuck. This version contains more elements of musical ballad and is certainly less raucous. After some small success, particularly in the Seattle area, Berry sold the rights to the song to Flip Records for just over $700. 

The Kingsmen hailing from Portland, Oregon recorded the most famous cover of the song in April of 1963. They had been raised in the Pacific Northwest, the hotbed for the early success of Richard Berry's original. The recording cost the band approximately $50, split from each member. It was finished in part by Ken Chase, who had been booking the Kingsmen in his own club as the house band. The group had rehearsed for the recording by performing the song for an uninterrupted hour and a half at a local club the night before. 

The wild nature of the recording is marred by several mistakes, some of which have altered the way the song is now heard and played. It was finished in a singular take. 

A later video recording of The Kingsmen used to promote the song

This rock anthem's famous facts and miscues:

  • The microphone had been situated several feet above singer Jack Ely's head, and he had recently had his braces tweaked. He stood with his head turned back and shouted upwards. Shortly after his death in 2015, Ely's son admitted that his father told him that he had decided to sing it just earlier that day, after the band initially decided upon recording an instrumental version. 
  • After the guitar solo, Ely accidentally begins too soon. Drummer Lynn Easton then entered in an attempt to catch up, leading Ely to end the verse prematurely. The other band members zoom to the chorus. Many groups now choose to perform the song this way. The band also subconsciously changed the beat pattern, now a standard in covers. 
  • Easton later admits that upon close inspection you can hear him scream the word "fuck!" at the 54 second mark. 
  • The song is performed in Animal House, chronologically taking place a year before this version was actually recorded, 1962. 
  • While attempting to learn the song's riff, the Davies brothers incorrectly created the groove of "You Really Got Me", the group's breakthrough hit
The band had broken up in no time, but the song had achieved success after famous DJ Arnie Ginsberg played the song to ridicule it on air, calling it the worst single of the week. The song became a party anthem and teenage groove that swept the youth, becoming a chant for anti-authoritarian culture in the U.S. It later surged to the no. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune also gained popularity in the form of controversy, where rumors of dirty lyrics and improvised sexual references became a part of the song's culture and a staple of underground covers. The song reached #1 on the Cashbox pop charts and R&B charts until it was dethroned by "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" when Beatlemania grabbed the world in a stranglehold. These songs are almost fifty years old.

Anyway, someone's angry mom wrote a letter to acting attorney general Robert Kennedy (gone too soon) and the FBI proceeded to investigate the song for traces of obscenity. The exact offense sought to determine whether "those involved with the song violated laws against the interstate transportation of obscene material." This continued for the better part of three years.

A transcript of the letter, written anonymously by "a concerned parent"

The government's main strategies were repeated listening of the song through slowed down and isolated points of interest, as well as interviews with the band. The FBI never even considered requesting response from the song's writer Richard Berry, or even reading the actual lyrics that were already on government file with the U.S. Copyright Office. lol. After 31 months of careful consideration, the FBI concluded that the lyrics were not found to be obscene on the grounds that a majority of the words are "entirely unintelligible". The release report was over 100 pages long. Unfortunately, in many places the damage had been done. The hit had been banned from countless radio stations, and the governor of Indiana personally denounced it. 

Government officials c. 1960s

Have you heard this song before? Of course, you have. That's the uplifting ending here today. This controversy began almost sixty years ago, and everyone still knows the song. Is it a dumb song? Also yes. "Louie Louie" has been covered in nearly every genre, by influential artists. It has spawned musical sequels, listening marathons, holidays, festivals and parades. April 11th, Berry's birthday, is international Louie Louie day. A high school principal tried to ban it as recently as the mid-2000s.

Here are some of the most famous such recreations:

  • Paul Revere & The Raiders, 1963. This version was recorded merely days following the Kingsmen, in the exact same studio. They often fought back and forth while climbing the charts. 
  • Rick and the Ravens, 1965, where Jim Morrison makes his live voice debut with fellow bandmate Ray Manzarek. 
  • The Beach Boys, 1964.
  • Motörhead, 1978. Record producer Gerry Bron called it the worst record he ever heard. It reached #68 on the U.K. singles chart. 
  • Blondie, 1980.
  • Black Flag, 1981. New singer Dez Cadena improvised the lyrics, "Who needs love when you've got a gun?" He was soon replaced by Henry Rollins and delegated to rhythm guitar. 
  • Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, 1981. 
  • Jack Ely, 1990. Original singer of the famous version released three new dubs of the tune, including a ska remix. 
I'm sure you and I are both exhausted at this point, so here I will wish you an excellent life and for you to go and make merriment. The night is still young...And remember to fight censorship wherever you see it. But not physically. G'night everybody. 

Louie Louie, oh no
Sayin' we gotta go, yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah
Said Louie Louie, oh baby
Said we gotta go

A fine little girl, she waits for me
Catch a ship across the sea
Sail that ship about, all alone
Never know if I make it home

Louie Louie, oh no no no
Sayin' we gotta go, oh no
Said Louie Louie, oh baby
Said we gotta go

Three nights and days I sail the sea
Think of girl, all constantly
On that ship I dream she's there
I smell the rose in her hair

Louie Louie, oh no
Sayin' we gotta go, yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah
Said Louie Louie, oh baby
Said we gotta go
Okay, let's give it to 'em, right now!

See, see Jamaica, the moon above
It won't be long, me see me love
Take her in my arms again
I'll tell her I'll never leave again

Louie Louie, oh no
Sayin' we gotta go, yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah
Said Louie Louie, oh baby
Said we gotta go

I said we gotta go now
Let's take this on outta here
Let's go!


Attig, Rick (August 4, 1987). "Ex-Kingsman brings act to C.O." The Bend Bulletin.

"Band Banned From Performing 'Louie Louie'". Fox News. Associated Press. May 5, 2005. Archived from the original on October 25, 2012.

Blecha, Peter (2009). Sonic Boom! The History of Northwest Rock: From Louie Louie to Smells Like Teen Spirit. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-8793-0946-6.

Hasted, Nick (2011). You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks. Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-1849386609.

Hoffmann, Frank (1983). The Cash Box Singles Charts, 1950-1981. Metuchen, NJ & London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 835.

"The Lascivious 'Louie Louie'". The Smoking Gun.

"Louie Louie (The Song)". FBI. Retrieved April 28, 2019.

Manzarek, Ray (1998). Light My Fire - My Life with The Doors. New York City: Berkley Boulevard Books. p. 86. ISBN 0-425-17045-4.

RocKwiz, broadcast July 31, 2010.

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