New Historian

FBI Reports It Just Can't Understand 'Louie, Louie'

Louie Louie (2)

<![CDATA[FBI scientists came to the conclusion on 17th May, 1965, that the lyrics of the song Louie, Louie by the Kingsmen were ‘unintelligible’. It marked a massive anti-climax in the middle of one of the most famous, yet surreal obscenity investigations of the twentieth century. “…the lyrics of the song on this record was not definitely determined by this Laboratory examination, it was not possible to determine whether this recording is obscene.” read the final report from the FBI laboratory. Louie, Louie, or the Kingsmen version at least, had caused a nationwide controversy, accused of containing pornographic lyrics intent on corrupting young minds. For two years the FBI investigated the song, but the report of the laboratory to investigators on 17th May 1965 gives an insight into just how bizarre the whole process was. The song itself was not a Kingsmen original but in fact written and first recorded in 1957, by Richard Berry, an R & B singer from Los Angeles. A regional hit on the US’ West Coast, the song really grew in popularity when Berry toured the Northwest Pacific region, exposing the track to a wider audience and inspiring a slew of cover versions. Berry’s original was written in an approximation of a Caribbean dialect, possibly in an attempt to take advantage of the trend for Calypso themed music which dominated the US charts in 1957. However, this thickly accented language could also explain the growing confusion toward the content of the song’s lyrics. In 1963, the Kingsmen took to a studio in their native Portland, Oregon, to record their cover of Louie, Louie. Forced to rush their session, leading to a final, shambolic performance on record; the Kingsmen’s version of the song was nevertheless released as a single in May 1963. The often chaotic, discordant performance somehow resonated with people, and the song slowly ascended the charts, peaking at number two in December. The Kingsmen seemed set to follow the trajectory of so many other one hit wonders from the early sixties as their single started to plummet down the charts following its December peak. That was until a single complaint launched the song toward nationwide notoriety. In January 1964, an anonymous letter from somebody connected to Sarasota High School in Frankfort, Indiana was sent to governor Matthew Welsh, complaining the lyrics to Louie, Louie were obscene. “The lyrics are so filthy that I can-not enclose them in this letter,” the complainant wrote. “We all know there is obscene materials available for those who seek it,” the letter, which can be found in the publicly available FBI report, continued, “but when they start sneaking in this material in the guise of the latest teen age rock & roll hit record these morons have gone too far.” Investigating obscenity claims is a responsibility of the FBI, and the law enforcement agency soon set about exploring the accusation from Indiana. Welsh, meanwhile, quickly had the song banned in the state. Scandal spread across the USA, as rumours of the song’s supposedly sordid lyrics reached more and more parents who wrote letters to local politicians claiming the song was corrupting the minds of the USA’s teenagers. For months the FBI laboratory tried to find conclusive evidence of the record’s obscenity. Copies of Louie, Louie were sped up, slowed down and reversed, while expert witness testimony was gathered to try and find out what exactly the band were singing. Ultimately however, the laboratory was unable to gather anything conclusive. On 17th May 1965, they had to admit defeat, reporting that it was simply impossible to decipher the song’s lyrics. In September 1965, the FBI investigators finally interviewed members of the Kingsmen to discuss the song’s lyrics. The band declared that the lyrics were not obscene or pornographic, and weren’t an attempt to corrupt young minds. A few months later, close to two years after the initial accusation had been made, the FBI officially closed the investigation. ]]>

Exit mobile version