The FBI Laboratory weighs in on the “dirty” lyrics of “Louie Louie” - HISTORY
Year
1965

The FBI Laboratory weighs in on the “dirty” lyrics of “Louie Louie”

Based on outcry from parents who bought into what may have started as an idle rumor, the FBI launched a formal investigation in 1964 into the supposedly pornographic lyrics of the song “Louie, Louie.” That investigation finally neared its conclusion on this day in 1965, when the FBI Laboratory declared the lyrics of “Louie Louie” to be officially unintelligible.

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 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 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.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Donna Summer, queen of disco, dies

On this day in 2012, singer and songwriter Donna Summer, who rose to fame during the 1970s with such disco anthems as “Love to Love You Baby” and “Hot Stuff,” dies at age 63 in Naples, Florida, after battling cancer. Also known for such 1980s hits as “She Works Hard for the ...read more

Televised Watergate hearings begin

In Washington, D.C., the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, headed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, begins televised hearings on the escalating Watergate scandal. One week later, Harvard law professor Archibald Cox was sworn in as special ...read more

Heyerdahl sails papyrus boat

On May 17, 1970, Norwegian ethnologist Thor Heyerdahl and a multinational crew set out from Morocco across the Atlantic Ocean in Ra II, a papyrus sailing craft modeled after ancient Egyptian sailing vessels. Heyerdahl was attempting to prove his theory that Mediterranean ...read more

Toyota announces plans for hybrid Camry

On this day in 2005, Toyota Motor Company announces its plans to produce a gasoline-electric hybrid version of its bestselling Camry sedan. Built at the company’s Georgetown, Kentucky, plant, the Camry became Toyota’s first hybrid model to be manufactured in the United States. ...read more

Brown v. Board of Ed is decided

In a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down an unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance ...read more

Henri Barbusse is born

Henri Barbusse, author of Le Feu (Under Fire), the prize-winning, best-selling novel based on his service during World War I, is born on this day in 1873 in AsniÈres, France. As a young man before the war, Barbusse became a member of Paris’s literary and artistic circles as a ...read more

Operations continue in Cambodia

A force of 10,000 South Vietnamese troops, supported by 200 U.S. advisers, aircraft and logistical elements, attack into what was known as the “Parrot’s Beak,” the area of Cambodia that projects into South Vietnam above the Mekong Delta. The South Vietnamese reached the town of ...read more

Islanders win fourth consecutive Stanley Cup

On May 17, 1983, the New York Islanders win their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, sweeping the Edmonton Oilers four games to none with a 4-2 win at home on New York’s Long Island.After struggling in their inaugural season as an expansion team in 1972-73, losing 60 games and ...read more

Andrew Johnson marries Eliza McCardle

On this day in 1827, future President Andrew Johnson marries a shy, quiet, 16-year-old daughter of a shoemaker named Eliza McCardle. He was 18 years old. Johnson met Eliza while looking for a job as a tailor in Greeneville, Tennessee. The couple married in Warrenton, Tennessee, ...read more

Geronimo flees Arizona reservation

For the second time in two years, the Apache chief Geronimo breaks out of an Arizona reservation, sparking panic among Arizona settlers.A famous medicine man and the leader of the Chiricahua Apache, Geronimo achieved national fame by being the last American Indian to surrender ...read more

Final episode of Beverly Hills 90210 airs

Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) and David Silver (Brian Austin Green) finally say their vows, and on-and-off couple Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth) and Dylan McKay (Luke Perry) reunites, as the curtain closes on the teen drama series Beverly Hills, 90210 after 10 seasons. The final ...read more

Fire engulfs Honduras prison

A fire in an overcrowded Honduras prison kills 103 people on this day in 1994. An overheated refrigerator motor sparked the horrible blaze that raced through the outdated jail. Only a year earlier, a gang fight at the same prison had left nearly 70 people dead. The prison, in ...read more

LAPD raid leaves six SLA members dead

In Los Angeles, California, police surround a home in Compton where the leaders of the terrorist group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) are hiding out. The SLA had kidnapped Patricia Hearst, of the fabulously wealthy Hearst family publishing empire, months earlier, ...read more