For years, this classic party song by the Kingsmen (lead singer Jack Ely recently passed away) was rumored to contain obscene lyrics. Even the FBI thought so.
“Louie Louie” is widely considered to be one of the greatest rock tunes of all time, but the best and most famous is the one recorded by the Kingsmen in Portland, Oregon in 1963. It was in heavy rotation on every rock radio station in the country and dance clubs and fans alike couldn’t get enough of it despite the nearly indecipherable vocals.
When The Kingsmen recorded their “Louie Louie,” Ely was wearing braces on his teeth and they didn’t have a lot of time to get it right. To capture a “raw” sound that recreated the energy of their live performances, a microphone was hung from the ceiling and Ely had to shout over all the noise. This caused a lot of confusion as young fans debated exactly what Ely was singing about. Once their parents listened to the song, they assumed it was something raunchy. With nowhere else to turn, many sent letters to the FBI to investigate the supposed moral menace.
For various reasons (primarily because it was the early ‘60s, an era when a silly rock song could cause a gigantic moral panic), the bureau obliged. It launched a two-year investigation, and according to declassified federal documents, their agents sought further help with untangling the lyrics from everybody from the U.S. Postal Service to the FCC. The agents couldn’t come to a conclusion and closed the case. Then, sometime later, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover received a letter from another concerned parent and ordered it reopened. According to the letter’s author, the official, widely published lyrics of the song weren’t real. Worse yet, America’s teenagers could somehow hear the actual ones (and presumably be negatively influenced by them). Over the course of the two year investigation, FBI agents questioned the song’s original author, Richard Berry, and the Kingsmen’s’record label before giving up for good.
The rumors surrounding this version of the song resulted in it getting banned from several radio stations around the country but “Louie, Louie” continues to be an enduring classic….even if nobody knows what it’s all about.
For more cool history facts and music trivia, check out Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into Music.