Today in History: FBI Finishes Investigation into The Kingsmen’s ‘Louie Louie’ (1965)

The Kingsmen. Wikipedia

“Louie Louie”, a song made famous by the The Kingsmen and written by (and originally performed by) Richard Berry, is an iconic song from the 1960s (originally released in 1955). If you read the lyrics, you’ll find that the song is about a sailor missing his sweetheart while he is deployed. The singer is telling this story to a bartender while he enjoys some alcoholic beverages.

The song reached the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963 when it was released and stayed there for six weeks. The original version of the song released by Richard Berry was largely ignored, and only sold 130,000 copies. The Kingsmen made the song very popular, and its influence on rock ‘n roll has been widely acknowledged.

During the 1950s and 1960s, music changed dramatically. Rock ‘n roll became popular, beats picked up, and dancing became much more risqué. Elvis Presley’s hips scandalized the older generation so much it was sometimes claimed he was the spawn of Satan.

Elvis Presley. UNE.edu

The older generation hated rock n’ roll with a passion. It was scandalous, sexualized, and anti-American.

When a song came out that had even a hint of sex, it usually caused a scandal. So it isn’t surprising that when there was a rumor going around that “Louie Louie” was really about sex, there was public outcry against the song. Supposedly, in order to hear the smutty parts of the song, you had to listen “just right”. In fact, you might even have to listen to it on your record player at a slower speed in order to hear the parts about sex. Some other rumors claimed, that the single release had hints of sexual exploits, but not the album version. Of course, none of these rumors were actually true.

Rock critic Dave Marsh writes: “In the viperous new generation arising in America’s schools, no greater sport could be had or imagined than making all repositories of respectability cringe and groan over the unprovable. Somebody, somewhere, came up with the idea of dirty “Louie Louie” lyrics not only as a way of putting on other kids and panicking authority, but as a way of creating something rock ‘n’ roll needed: a secret as rich and ridiculous as the sounds themselves.”

Dancing in the 1960s. Tumblr

With the outrage over the rumors of a hidden sexual meaning to the song, the FBI decided to get involved. In 1964, the FBI Laboratories launched an investigation because the United States Department of Justice was inundated with letters from parents who were concerned their children were being corrupted by the secret, unintelligible lyrics of “Louie Louie”.

While it seems ridiculous to us now, the FBI took this investigation very seriously. They interviewed Richard Berry who wrote the song in 1955, they interviewed the studio officials who were at the recording of The Kingsmen’s famous rendition of the song, they listened to the song at every speed imaginable, and they concluded on May 17, 1965 that the song’s lyrics were “Unintelligible at any speed”. Therefore, no hidden, dirty meaning within the popular song.

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