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January 23, 2014 5:06 PM   Subscribe

About fifty years ago, the governor of Indiana received a letter complaining about obscenity in the lyrics of a rock'n'roll song, and passed that letter on to the FBI. For the following two years, FBI agents examined potential lyrics of the song (which were incomprehensible on the recording, partly due to the singer's braces) to find grounds for an obscenity prosecution. They ultimately failed, but produced a 140-page report, listing numerous possible obscene readings of what the lyrics could be, and in doing so, turned Louie Louie by The Kingsmen from a footnote into a bona fide rock'n'roll rebel anthem.

Louie Louie was based on a song written in 1957 by a R&B singer named Richard Berry (of no relation to either Chuck Berry or what is now known as R&B), which in turn was based on a calypso song titled El Loco Cha Cha, written by a bandleader from pre-revolutionary Cuba. Berry had toured the Pacific Northwest, where his songs had inspired covers and imitations by local bands, a game of Telephone which eventually resulted in the Kingsmen's song of the same name.

The FBI investigation of Louie Louie, which occurred in an era of moral panic, coming in the wake of the McCarthy Red Scare and the early days of the parent-scaring phenomenon known as rock'n'roll, ironically, catapulted the song from imminent obscurity (soon after it came out, its sound would have been rendered obsolete by the tide of Beatlemania and the British Invasion) and had turned it into a bona fide rebel anthem. Over the years, interpreters such as Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins and The Clash would pick up this ditty from a more innocent age and record their own versions, filling in the blanks with mundane vulgarities of their own devising (and a few cribbed from the FBI report), to varying effects.
posted by acb (27 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Messy Paul Anka moons a dove
Ted Kennedy along, me like to shove
Take Bent-sen and qualms begin
Iran-Contra thing makes me phlegm

posted by Wolfdog at 5:27 PM on January 23, 2014 [9 favorites]

And for decades, ordinary people like my mom were convinced the song had to be extremely filthy and did not approve of it.

Yeah, I know. I still have to link her to Snopes now and then.
posted by Foosnark at 5:27 PM on January 23, 2014

Fucking INDIANA. Why can't my state do nice things?
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 5:27 PM on January 23, 2014

Man, I love this song. My favorite version has got to be the Black Flag one (mentioned in the article).
posted by 256 at 5:28 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Glad to know our tax dollars have always been so hard at work ferreting out evil in all it's myriad forms.
posted by nevercalm at 5:29 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Did they somehow miss the drummer shouting "fuck!!!" when he messes up a beat? About 2 minutes in?
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:45 PM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I love the Motorhead version, because, well, Motorhead.
posted by Cookiebastard at 5:47 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

The alleged lyrics from the FBI report:
Lou-Ai Lou-Ai Oh no. Grab her way down low.
(Repeat ) This line least clear

There is a fine little girl waiting for me.
She is just a girl across the way.
When I take her all alone,
She's never the girl I lay at home...


Tonight at ten I'll lay her again
We'll fuck your girl and by the way
And ... on that chair I'll lay her there.
I felt me bone .. ah.. in her hair.


She had a rag on, I moved above.
It won't be long she'll slip it off.
I held her in my arms and then
And I told her I'd rather lay her again

posted by laconic skeuomorph at 5:51 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by HuronBob at 6:07 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Todd Snider, Ballad Of The Kingsmen

The Kingsmen came together in a garage, They could hardly even play
But they practiced night And day
pretty soon they got to where they could really play that song Louie, Louie
So, they saved up all the money from the shows,
Went in to one of them studios and gave their version of the song a try

Now, I don't know the words to that song Louie, Louie
and I'm pretty sure the singer for the Kingsmen didn't know ‘em either,
If he did know ‘em he didn't get ‘em right on the record
Cause on the record they sound jumbled in his jaw? It says,
Me think of me girl oh so constantly
Ahmayaaah makaaaah aahh ooohoooh aaaaah
Well, that last part scared everybody from the PTA to the FBI
You see, the kids had been going kind of crazy lately
And it seemed like nobody could figure out why,
So they decided to form a coalition,
Launch an investigation, you know for the children, they at least had to try
To figure out the words to Louie, Louie
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:12 PM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

And let us not forget the importance of "Louie, Louie" to the Frank Zappa canon. I still break up laughing when they quote "Louie, Louie" during "Welcome to The United States" off The Yellow Shark, right after Herman Kretzschmar drops the line "and terrorist activities!"
posted by SansPoint at 6:20 PM on January 23, 2014

This was during the period between COINTELPRO and ABSCAM when the FBI had a lot of extra time on it's hands.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:24 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

They threw a Stroh's...
posted by AJaffe at 6:30 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

"The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of moral quality control programs based on things certain Christians do not like. What if the next bunch of Washington wives demands a large yellow "J" on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?"
-- Frank Zappa, Statement to the Senate Hearing on "Porn Rock," 1985
Lots of people forget that Al and Tipper were at the forefront of censorship in the 80's.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:42 PM on January 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

There are apparently a bunch of records containing nothing but different versions of Louie Louie (including this one, containing a cover by the my alma mater's Marching Owl Band). I knew about the first one, but poking around on Amazon, there are several others.

Louie Louie and I Fought the Law are always on the list when we play the "what is the rock song every band should cover?" game at our house.
posted by immlass at 6:45 PM on January 23, 2014

... the list when we play the "what is the rock song every band should cover?" game at our house
I assume this is also on the list?
posted by dg at 7:06 PM on January 23, 2014

Ee fi li curl way fra nee [REVEALS A SIMPLE HONESTY]
Ee cat-ta shi fro kra-see
Ne sait a shi auuuu lome
Ee newa fwo ma-make I ome

Ree nie (garbled) ail zee
Me tink (garbled) ee (garbled)
(garbled) dwee li'l friskies
(garbled) ack!
(guitar solo)

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:38 PM on January 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't know if this was mentioned in the previous thread about The Kingsmen or not, but a funny piece of trivia and connection: the bassist and his brother ended up creating a bass amp so that The Kingsmen could play and output enough sound at big concert halls on their tour. The two brothers ended up creating Sunn Musical Equipment, who have created some of the most legendary amplifiers used by stoner metal and doom metal bands worldwide. Most people know about Sunn because of the band, SunnO))) (a song of theirs), who named themselves after the company.
posted by gucci mane at 7:38 PM on January 23, 2014 [11 favorites]

Back in the olden days, a local junior college station, the legendary KFJC had a Louie Louie marathon where they played any version even if you just recorded it with your drunken friends. It lasted a whole weekend plus. Our version, with no drunken friends, was played something like 2:35 AM on a Sunday morning. Needless to say I was asleep.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:37 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

The correct version of Louie Louie is by The Sonics. Dropped to a minor key and played with such ferocity that many (me, mostly) claim that The Sonics really invented punk rock.
posted by Random Person at 9:42 PM on January 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Random Person, you are absolutely correct. I first heard the Sonics version in 1984 and was absolutely floored by it -- it sounded so current and so ferocious.

I think I've mentioned it here before, but my mom says, re: the dirty lyrics controversy: "That's just stupid. Every kid in the Pacific Northwest knew what the real words to Louie, Louie were."
posted by litlnemo at 3:37 AM on January 24, 2014

Seriously, how did they miss the drummer yelling fuck? The FBI spent hours and hours listening to this, how did they miss it?
posted by marienbad at 5:06 AM on January 24, 2014

"Seriously, how did they miss the drummer yelling fuck? The FBI spent hours and hours listening to this, how did they miss it?"

I couldn't help but hear this in the voice of Vern, during the campfire scene in Stand by Me. I suspect your next question is going to be about Pluto and Goofy.
posted by HuronBob at 5:26 AM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love this song. Maybe the FBI loved it too, and that's why they listened to it so much.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:57 AM on January 24, 2014

Messy Paul Anka moons a dove

Oh, thank god someone else remembers that. Now I have a place where I can tell people that Mrs. Example and I talk to our cats at mealtime (when they precede us into the kitchen) with "Kitty he/she lead me everywhere" without sounding crazy.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:03 AM on January 24, 2014

That bandleader from pre-revolutionary Cuba was the great Rene Touzet, who lived in the US when Berry heard him perform "El Loco Cha Cha" in LA. The song was written by Rosendo Ruiz, Jr., another Cuban bandleader, and son of the great Rosendo Ruiz Suarez, the great early Cuban guitarist-singer. It is most certainly not a calypso, but a cha-cha-cha mambo; calypso is Afro-French and from Trinidad & Tobago, not Cuba.
posted by Fnarf at 12:41 PM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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