How Louie, Louie Became one of Rock's Most Influential Songs
Posted 1/23/2014 1:24:00 PM

Today in 1997, Richard Berry died in his sleep at 61.  You might have heard of a little song he wrote called Louie Louie.

With the exception of Paul McCartney's Yesterday, Louie Louie has been covered more times than any other pop song (over 1,000 versions and counting). A college radio station in California once played it for 63 hours straight without repeating the same version twice. It was the subject of obscenity investigations by the FBI and the FCC, culminating in an airwave ban on many radio stations and in the entire state of Indiana.

"It's been called everything from a musical joke, pure garbage, the dumbest song ever written, to the quintessential pop single, the first punk record and the missing link between fifties rock n' roll and sixties hard rock." (Richard Predoehl,

The song was originated in 1957 by a Jamaican-born singer in Seattle named Richard Berry and became a regional favorite with a kind of calypso beat. Eventually the song made it's way to a Portland teenage band called The Kingsmen and was recorded in one take with vocalist Jack Ely. Not entirely familiar with the lyrics or impeded by his new braces depending on who you ask, Ely mumbled his way through most of it.

The Kingsmen's Louie Louie entered the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for December 7, 1964 and peaked at number two the following week. And the national outrage exploded. The FBI and FCC were flooded with letters from outraged parents.

Wrote one parent, "The lyrics are so filthy that I cannot enclose them in this letter! How can we stamp out this menace????"

Triggered by the complaints, none other than the infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to get to the bottom of this threat to American morals. It's amusing to imagine a smoke-filled room full of G-men playing it over-and-over, but that's what happened. Unable to decipher the lyrics at normal speed, they slowed it down to 33 1/3 but still couldn't be certain of any obscenity (although they did submit a couple of nasty lyrics to Hoover that might be heard if you hold your head just right).

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation spent 31 months looking for evidence of obscenity in a 2 minute and 24 second song sung by a kid with braces, finally concluding they were "unable to interpret any of the wording in the record."

So. What are the lyrics to Louie, Louie? Really?

Louie Louie, oh baby, me gotta go.
Louie Louie, oh baby, me gotta go.
A fine little girl, she waits for me.
Me catch the ship across the sea.
I sailed the ship all alone.
I never think I'll make it home.
Louie Louie, me gotta go.
Three nights and days we sailed the sea.
Me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there.
I smell the rose in her hair.
Louie Louie, me gotta go.
Me see Jamaican moon above.
It won't be long me see me love.
Me take her in my arms and then
I tell her I never leave again.
Louie Louie, oh baby, I said we gotta go


Ironically, drummer Lynn Easton later admitted that he yelled "F***" when he accidentally dropped a drumstick at 0:54 on the record.  Guess he never told that to the FBI.

Posted By: Spencer  

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