Louie Louie, an FBI investigation and probably unintentional misdirection


(For some reason, YouTube is no longer giving me Embed codes on my IPad.)

Earlier this evening I played rock n roll. How it works here is a local bar has a house band on Thursdays that you can sign up to play with - or sometimes a whole band comes and plays a few songs. I started a few weeks back and because keyboard players are rare I often sit in for most of the evening. My connection with the place is that a colleague of my wife goes with her husband, a guitarist and singer who has a band. He contacted me yesterday or the day before and asked if I knew Louie Louie. 

Sure. But I went and reviewed it on YouTube, listened to exactly how it was played, and found the piano sound in my keyboard that most closely resembled the recording. And notes below the video led me to go read more about this, which I did in a few online places. The song, at least the original national hit recording, has an odd story. (The song has a story past that in that there is an insane number of recorded versions, but this is not the topic of the post.)

It was written in the 1950’s. In about 1962, a Washington State band recorded it and had a regional, in this case meaning statewide, hit with it. There was another area band called the Kingsmen. They were playing local gigs and noticed that whenever Louie Louie came on the jukebox, everyone got up and danced, so they concluded they should learn it, which they did, and it made them quite popular. They were the house band for a bar and the owner of the bar became their manager. 

One day in April of 1963 they played a Louie Louie marathon, nonstop for an hour and a half. The next day, their manager brought them into a local studio to record it. Jack Ely, the singer, had a hoarse voice from the marathon, he was wearing braces, and when they went into the studio there were three mics hanging from the ceiling, one of which was over the singer’s head. He had to look up (try looking up and see how it makes your throat feel) and essentially shout at the mic to be heard over a live rock n roll band. The band thought they were doing a run-through but their manager liked the first take and released that take. He liked the raw quality. He turned out to be right and they had a national hit on their hands.

The result of all these factors affecting the singer during the recording is that the words are unintelligible. Someone started a rumor that the lyrics he was singing were obscene and came up with a mildly plausible set of lyrics. By "plausible" I mean you might be talked into thinking that's what Ely was singing, not that releasing anything with those lyrics was plausible. These lyrics spread like wildfire through college campuses. Eventually, parents got wind of this and started complaining to authorities about this obscene song on the radio. The Governor of Indiana banned it (plus ca change) and the FBI, by request of a lot of parents, investigated the song. It took them about two years. They listened, they interviewed the guy who wrote the song, Richard Berry; they interviewed the recording company guys. The only guy they didn’t interview, utterly inexplicably, was the singer. 

After two years the FBI concluded that the recording was not obscene and could be played anywhere. 

However, it turns out that the FBI was wrong. They missed an obscenity. How could they miss it after going through this recording for two years?

It isn’t in the lyrics. 

Remember that this was supposed to be a rehearsal take, not the final product. The drummer dropped a stick at just before the one minute mark. His reaction to dropping a stick during a performance was pretty much the same as any drummer’s reaction to dropping a stick during a performance. He shouted “Fuck!” It’s audible on the recording, and I don’t mean you need a good set of speakers, I mean you can hear it on a cellphone. 

I just find it a very interesting example of presumably unintentional misdirection. It worked kind of like a magic trick - keep the marks’ attention in the wrong place. The FBI didn’t notice it and the public didn’t either. I assume it can still be broadcasted. 

Views: 214

Comment by Ron Powell on June 22, 2018 at 5:08am
Comment by Rodney Roe on June 22, 2018 at 5:14am

I was a college student, 1960-64, and remember the flap.  Except for folk songs which we dissected with tweezers looking for some deeper meaning, we weren't much interested in lyrics.  Our biggest concern with Louie Louie was we couldn't decide to sing "we gotta go" or "me gotta go" in the chorus.  Parents were so concerned about the deleterious effects of rock 'n' roll then and for a decade after.  Remember that there was supposed to be a subliminal satanic message in "Stairway to Heaven" only revealed if it was played backwards?

Comment by alsoknownas on June 22, 2018 at 5:19am

The Kingsmen were from my area. We'd laugh ourselves silly at the new fake lyrics we'd swear that we heard. It made us think we started Rock 'n' Roll. 

But it never really was that.

It was something of its own.

Frank Zappa played a college gig in the early 80's nearby. Snooty sort of place . He opened with a 45 minute version of "Louie Louie". After the boos began he stopped, said he had something else, changed the tempo slightly and did it again. That was the last time he played there.

Comment by Rodney Roe on June 22, 2018 at 5:24am

Also, none of us heard the drummer's expletive.

Comment by Rodney Roe on June 22, 2018 at 5:33am

I never quite got Zappa.  As far as lyrics went I remember one song about moving to Montana where he would grow dental floss and ride his pygmy pony picking the dental floss with zircon encrusted tweezers.  I don't think I was using the same drugs he was. 

Comment by Steel Breeze on June 22, 2018 at 6:18am

during a good drunk,we made up our own lyrics.......R&L..

Comment by alsoknownas on June 22, 2018 at 6:19am

Zappa wasn't a user. That was him.

Comment by Rodney Roe on June 22, 2018 at 6:22am

Interesting. I wasn’t either. His music was very creative as it seems we’re his lyrics.

Comment by koshersalaami on June 22, 2018 at 6:23am

Thanks Ron.

I was never into Zappa either though I had college roommates who were. He was both totally too sophisticated and lyrically too sophomoric for me to be into. Once in a while I liked something. Black Page, The Easy Version. Whatever that German thing was with Ich Bin Der Krom-Dinette in it. 

I don’t remember the backward thing being Stairway, I remember it being Revolution #9 with the backward playing supposed to play the car crash that killed Paul. You remember the Paul Is Dead rumor, right? Paul is I think recording new music nearly half a century later. Oops. 

A friend and I actually managed to play Revolution #9 backward. I had a pair of tape recorders available, one a small cheap two track and one a decent four track. The two track recorded one track in each direction, the four track recorded stereo but in separated alternate tracks, one and three in one direction and two and four when you turned the tape over. By recording on the two track and playing back only track three on the other if you turned it over (or something like that, it’s been a while), you’d get a backward result. It sounded scary at night but nothing discernible - of course, that track sounds kind of scary frontward. 

Comment by Rodney Roe on June 22, 2018 at 6:35am

Robert Plant about Satanist theory; “You’ve got to have a lot of time on your hands to even consider something like that.”


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