The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has shown that, over the years and decades, the FBI has been involved in the investigation of a large number of topics of an unusual nature. We’re talking about (among many other issues) Cattle Mutilations, Flying Saucers, UFO Contactees, Extra-sensory perception (ESP), and much more besides. But, beyond any shadow of doubt, one of the weirdest of all was the Bureau’s investigation of the Kingsmen’s classic song “Louie, Louie.” Yes, you did read that right. Formed in 1959 the Kingsmen will forever be linked to their 1963 hit song (which was written back in 1955 by Richard Berry). But, what was it that led the FBI to open a 119-pages-long formerly secret file on the song? Let’s take a look.
On February 7, 1964, a worried mother contacted none other than the US Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy. Her letter stated, in part: “Who do you turn to when your teenage daughter buys or brings home pornographic or obscene materials being sold along with objects directed and aimed at the teen age [sic] market in every City, Village and Record Shop in this nation? My daughter brought home a record of ‘LOUIE LOUIE’ and I, after reading that the record had been banned from being played on the air because it was obscene, proceeded to try to decipher the jumble of words.”
The massively miffed mom continued with her rant: “The lyrics are so filthy that I cannot enclose them in this letter…This land of ours is headed for an extreme state of moral degradation what with this record, the biggest hit movies and the sex and violence exploited on T.V. How can we stamp out this menace?” Well, that was quite a letter! And that was only a portion of it. Were the Kingsmen really a countrywide “menace,” peddling “filthy” pornography and “obscene” produce to America’s kids? No, of course not! But, the fact that a complaint had been made meant wheels were soon set in motion. And, the FBI’s investigation duly began.
It was an investigation that, from the outset, was dominated by one big problem. Try as it might, the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet was unable to decipher the words to “Louie, Louie,” which was sung in the Kingsmen’s own unique style. But, that didn’t stop them from doing their best to figure out what on earth the Kingsmen were going on about. A May 25, 1965 FBI document, prepared by the Detroit, Michigan office states the following:
“For the information of the New York Office, the FBI Laboratory advised Detroit by referenced letter that the Department of Justice has [deleted] a copy of the record, ‘Louie, Louie’ with a request that it be reviewed to determine if it was an obscene matter. The Department advised that they were unable to interpret any of the wording in the record and, therefore, could not make a decision concerning the matter.”
The surreal image of who knows how many FBI personnel sitting at their desks, and carefully scrutinizing every word of “Louie, Louie,” almost boggles the mind. And, yet, that’s exactly what happened. FOIA files show that the FBI prepared several significantly different versions of the lyrics, all based on the analyses and conclusions of various FBI personnel. The “F-word” appeared in all of them. The FBI was not amused. Its special-agents even paid the members of the Kingsmen personal visits, as they sought to figure out the real lyrics. The Kingsmen denied any wrongdoing.
The bizarre controversy concerning what the Kingsmen were – or were not – singing droned on until the FBI finally gave up the chase. They conceded that, with the words still remaining undecipherable or open to significant interpretation, there was no chance of a case ever coming to trial, even if such action was considered warranted by the FBI. Of course, for the Kingsmen, it was a case of any publicity being good publicity – much like the situation involving the Sex Pistols, in 1977. The band’s utterly justified attack on the irrelevant and pointless British monarchy, “God Save The Queen,” incurred the wrath of the BBC and MI5, which is the UK equivalent of the FBI.
Finally, a word to all aspiring and upcoming bands: if you want to succeed in the music industry (A) pen a song that contains words that are vastly open to interpretation and (B) ensure that someone in a position of power knows about it. You are very likely to go a long way! But, let’s not hope to the slammer.