The unlikely hit that was ordered by J Edgar Hoover

THE FBI and its director, J Edgar Hoover, investigated one of America's most famous pop songs for two years in a vain effort to prove its lyrics were obscene. Copies of 'Louie Louie' were sent in a package, marked 'Obscene', to the FBI laboratory in Washington to be played backwards and forwards at different speeds, and run through a computer to see if the words were as dirty as informants claimed.

Agents turned up at concerts by the Kingsmen, who recorded the most famous version of the song in 1963. But the investigation foundered because neither the agents nor the FBI's technical experts could make out the words.

A 120-page dossier, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows how the FBI examined claims that the dirty lyrics could be heard if the 45rpm record was played at 33 1/3 rpm.

In 1964, a woman in Crown Point, Indiana, told the FBI a friend had given her a list of what were claimed to be the obscene words. When she played the record at the slower speed, 'the lyrics seemed to follow very closely the words on the typewritten sheet'. On such flimsy evidence, the song was banned in Indiana, and the dirty lyrics myth persisted, despite the original's bland words:

Louie Louie . . . Oh yea, away we go,

Yea, yea, yea, yea, yea.

Louie Louie . . . Oh baby, away we go.

A fine little girl - she wait for me

Me catch the ship - across the sea.

I sailed the ship - all alone

In the version recorded by the Kingsmen, however, most of the words are incomprehensible. 'They were an amateur band just out of high school,' says the rock journalist David Marsh, author of Louie Louie, to be published by Hyperion in August.

The Kingsmen produced only a thousand copies of the record, and it took several months to sell the first 600. By the end of the year it was a hit. Marsh says: 'The energy level of that record is astonishing, and if there is ineptitude, there is also a certain grace.'

The record's sales were also boosted by the constant rumours about the lyrics. The FBI dossier, obtained by Eric Predoehl, who puts out a newsletter called the Louie Report, shows that the agents and their informers shared the assumption that rock 'n' roll and pornography have a lot in common. Hoover wrote to one informer (whose name is blanked out in the documents released by the FBI): 'Such material cannot help but divert the minds of young people into unhealthy channels, and negate the wholesome training they have already been afforded by their parents.'

A teacher in Sarasota, Florida, reported on 10 February 1964 that the record was popular with his students, who had given him a copy of the dirty words. He found that 'it sounds like the lyrics are identical with the enclosed obscene lyrics'. The FBI office in Tampa sent the record and the alleged lyrics to the laboratory:

Oh, Louie Louie, oh, no,

Get her away down low.

Oh, Louie Louie, oh, baby,

Get her down low.

A fine little girl waiting for me

She's just a girl across the way.

Well I'll take her and park all alone.

She's never a girl I'd lay at home.

No amount of scientific expertise applied to the original recording could make sense of the words, however, or show that they matched those circulating among Florida students.

The FBI continued to interview systematically any person connected with the song, but no evidence of obscenity could be found. A frustrated correspondent asked Hoover whether this mattered: it was what people thought they were hearing that was important. To the informer, the actual words sung by the Kingsmen 'seemed rather irrelevant' since they were capitalising on its obscenity, and every teenager in the country was 'hearing' the obscene, not the copywritten lyrics.

At the end of 1966, the investigation petered out. The Kingsmen never had another hit, but the group still exist and still play 'Louie Louie'.

Ironically, Marsh says there is an obscenity on the record that the FBI missed. He found it after listening with sensitive equipment at the highest volume. It is a single swear-word uttered by the band's drummer at the beginning of the record . . . when he drops his drumstick.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable