Flashback 1965: FBI Probes the Lyrics of “Louie Louie”

Almost a decade after Elvis Presley was dubbed “Elvis the Pelvis” for the “vulgar” act of gyrating his hips on national television, the FBI in reacting to an outcry from parents launched a formal investigation into the supposedly pornographic lyrics of the R&B standard “Louie, Louie,” written and recorded by Richard Berry in 1957 but popularized by The Kingsmen in 1963.

The probe, which began in 1964, concluded in May of 1965 when the FBI officially declared the lyrics to be “unintelligible.”

History.com recounts the story as follows:

No one will ever know who started the rumor that “Louie Louie” was dirty. As written by Richard Berry in 1955, the lyrics revolve around a sailor from the Caribbean lamenting to a bartender named Louie about missing his far-away love. As recorded in crummy conditions and in a single take by the Kingsmen in 1963, lyrics like “A fine little girl, she wait for me…” came out sounding like “A phlg mlmrl hlurl, duh vvvr me.” Perhaps it was some clever middle-schooler who started the rumor by trying to convince a classmate that those lyrics contained some words that are as unprintable today as they were back in 1963.

Whatever the case, the story spread like wildfire, until the United States Department of Justice began receiving letters like the one addressed to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and dated January 30, 1964. “Who do you turn to when your teen age daughter buys and brings home pornographic or obscene materials being sold…in every City, Village and Record shop in this Nation?” that letter began, before going on to make the specific assertion that the lyrics of “Louie” were “so filthy that I can-not enclose them in this letter.”

Over the course of the next two years, the FBI gathered many versions of the putative lyrics to “Louie.” They interviewed the man who wrote the song and officials of the record label that released the Kingsmen’s smash-hit single. They turned the record over to the audio experts in the FBI laboratory, who played and re-played “Louie Louie” at 78 rpm, 45 rpm, 33 1/3 rpm and even slower speeds in an effort to determine whether it was pornographic and, therefore, whether its sale was a violation of the federal Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material law.

“Unintelligible at any speed” was the conclusion the FBI Laboratory relayed to the investigators in charge on this day in 1965, not quite exonerating “Louie Louie,” but also not damning the tune that would go on to become one of the most-covered songs in rock-and-roll history.

Ironically, the song notably includes the drummer yelling "Fuck!" after dropping his drumstick at the 0:54 mark. Perk up your ears and listen here.

Check out The Smoking Gun’s account of “the lascivious Louie Louie.”

Just imagine…an FBI and “concerned parents” with nothing better to do.

hk2000's picture

" ... as unprintable today as they were back in 1963." What's worse than the F- word you just printed?

brenro's picture

Once they impeach Trump and Pence and the religious nutjobs take over.