UPI WIRE SERVICE - FEBRUARY 12, 1964
WASHINGTON - THE GOVERNMENT HAS DROPPED INVESTIGATIONS IT HAD BEEN CONDUCTING INTO COMPLAINTS THAT A POPULAR ROCK-AND-ROLL RECORD HAS OBSCENE LYRICS.
THE COMPLAINTS CHARGED THAT THE RECORD "LOUIE LOUIE" AS RECORDED ON THE WAND LABEL BY THE KINGSMEN HAD OFF-COLOR LYRICS WHICH COULD BE DETECTED WHEN THE 45 R.P.M. PLATTER WAS PLAYED AT 33-1/3 RPM.
INVESTIGATIONS OF THE RECORD WERE STARTED BY THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION (FCC), THE POST OFFICE AND JUSTICE DEPARTMENTS WHEN COMPLAINTS WERE RECEIVED FROM ABOUT A HALF DOZEN PERSONS, INCLUDING INDIANA GOVERNOR MATTHEW E. WELSH.
ALL THREE GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES DROPPED THEIR INVESTIGATIONS BECAUSE THEY WERE UNABLE TO DETERMINE WHAT THE LYRICS OF THE SONG WERE, EVEN AFTER LISTENING TO THE RECORDS AT SPEEDS RANGING FROM 16 RPM TO 78 RPM.
report was accurate, as far as it went, but it did not mention the FBI
, which was to go on for almost two more years. The 121 pages of documentation
released under the Freedom of Information Act
tell a tale of staunch perseverance
in the face of frustration, and disciplined uniformity in duplication of effort
The problems started when some waggish rock and roll fan, possibly in Detroit or Sarasota, created a "dirty" version of the lyrics which was a phonemically feasible alternative to Jack Ely's garbled rendition of Richard Berry's lyric. Various handwritten versions began to circulate in schools, and they soon came to the attention of local authorities, who were already in a state of outrage over the licentious and degraded attitudes being fostered by... Well, here is an excerpt from one of the letters sent to J. Edgar Hoover's office during that time:
June 18, 1965
(...)As a member of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, dedicated in the fight against pornography, this is how we --specifically in the Flint Junior Women's Club --became involved in a war of legal semantics. It all began this winter when a group of vocalists called the "Kingsmen" appeared at a local hall. They plugged their million dollar record, "Louie Louie". In a matter of weeks their record was selling like hotcakes and rising on the "Top 40 Show". We became aware of the dual set of lyrics and that without a doubt, someone had masterminded an "Auditory Illusion". Our prosecuting attorney who we consulted said, in his opinion, there was nothing legally that can be done since he believed you cannot prove which set of lyrics they are singing. This seemed rather irrelevant since they were capitalizing on its obscenity, and when every teenager in the country "heard" the obscene not the copywritten lyric.(...)
The FBI annotate
d Hoover's brief letter of reply in its own files with this note:
NOTE: Correspondent is not identifiable in Bufiles. The record "Louie Louie" is subject of investigation under character of Interstate Transportation of Obscene Matter. Bufiles 145-2961 and 145-2972 contain complaints from numerous individuals, including (redacted) regarding this record recorded on the Wand label by the Kingsmen. It has copyrighted lyrics but off-color lyrics are being circulated, which allegedly can be detected when the 45 r.p.m. platter is played at 33 1/3 r.p.m. It has become popular in certain areas including the Detroit area, and Detroit airtel 5-25-65 advises that the AUSA in Detroit has deferred his prosecutive opinion in this case until completion of investigation by the New York Office, where Wand is located. The AUSA's at Tampa, Florida and Hammond, Indiana have declined prosecution and when
the field it was presented to the Department in early 1964, the Department advised that they were unable to interpret any of the alleged obscene wording in the record.
Poison for our Youth
Combating Merchants of Filth: The Role of the FBI
Hoover's FBI was deadly serious
about this matter, and offices around the country pressed on, poring over assorted obscene
versions of the lyrics, tracking down the original master
, and interviewing everyone remote
ly connected with the record. (everyone, it seems, except Jack Ely
, the singer
, who had left the Kingsmen immediately after recording the song). In the FBI labs, technician
s strained the limits of their playback systems and their hearing, trying to make dirty words come out. The lady from the Flint Junior Women's Club wrote back with a helpful
suggestion, typical of the rituals used to summon
the demons of obscenity:
(...)But dauntless we are, and we now have in our possession a recording that was made directly from the Wand release of the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie". The 45 RPM "Louie" was played at 78 RPM, taped at twice the regular speed and then slowed down so that it now plays somewhere between 45 and 33 1/3 RPM. At this speed the obscene articulation is clearer.(...)
In the end, which finally came in December of 1965, the Bureau
came to the same conclusion that the FCC, the Justice Department, and the Post Office
had reached in February of '64 - you can't tell what
that guy's saying.
Of course this furor worked a kind of magic that no publicist could invent, and "Louie Louie" is now purportedly the second most recorded song in rock history, behind Paul McCartney's "Yesterday". One estimate places the number of recorded versions around 1600, and growing. In 1983, when it was only about half that number, radio station KFJC in Los Altos Hills, California played "Louie Louie" for 63 consecutive hours, never repeating the same recording twice.
This writeup has concentrated on the Kingsmen's version, to the exclusion of many, many interesting facts about the song.
For more see:
Louie Louie By Dave Marsh - Hyperion Books
The blockquotes above are from the FBI file, online at