In the spring of 1963, the Kingsmen, a high school rock band from Portland, recorded an off kilter and lyrically unintelligible rock and roll version of Richard Berry's calypso tune in a Portland studio for reported $36 dollars. At almost the same time, "Louie Louie" was recorded by another Portland band, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and these starkly different versions battled it out on Portland radio to determine which was most popular. (Imagine something that cool and spontaneous happening on radio today. That's right, you can't.)
The Kingsmen's version was released nationally in the fall of 1963 on a small label and stiffed, but somehow caught the attention of an East Coast disc jockey who plucked the record from obscurity and began playing it. Listeners when nuts for the song and it quickly became a Billboard smash in December of 1963.
Then in 1978, the frat comedy classic Animal House starring John Belushi (filmed in and around Eugene) featured "Louie Louie" in several immortal scenes that have since passed into drunken cinematic legend. How many you of reading this blog actually dressed in a toga and attended an Animal House party? This writer can remember at least three.
In 2004, an outdoor plaque marking the site of the studio where the Kingsmen recorded "Louie Louie" was stolen and has never been recovered.
There you have it — the "Louie Louie" Oregon story that many older Oregonians know.
But the much better "Louie Louie" story is the bizarre tale of how the Kingsmen's version became the subject of a two-year FBI investigation into the alleged obscenity of the lyrics.
What follows are excerpts from the FBI's farcical investigation. For the complete "Louie Louie" tale, I suggest readers check out Dave Marsh's highly entertaining 1993 book Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World's Most Famous Rock 'n Roll Song; Including the Full Details of Its Torture and Persecution at the Hands of the Kingsmen, J. Edgar Hoover's F.B.I., and a Cast of Millions; and Introducing, for the First Time Anywhere, the Actual Dirty Lyrics.
File# 145-2961 (Tampa)
SAC Tampa to FBI lab 2/17/64
Subject: UNKNOWN SUBJECT
"LOUIE LOUIE" DISTRIBUTED BY
LIMAX MUSIC, N.Y.C., NY
Transmitted herewith are the following items for examination by the FBI laboratory:
Lyrics of "Louie, Louie" as published by Limax Music
Record of "Louie, Louie" (under obscene cover)
Reported obscene lyrics for "Louie, Louie" (Under obscene cover)
On 2/10/64 [long black out] advised SA [blacked out] his department received complaint from [long black out] advising that captioned record is very popular with high school students, and has been furnished lyrics for the song which are very obscene. [blacked out] determined that this record is very popular, is a best seller in the area, and is played by the local radio stations. He said the record is a calypso-type song, and the words are hard to recognize. However, with a copy of the obscene words to refer to it sounds like hidden lyrics are identical with the enclosed obscene lyrics.
[longest black out of all] furnished what Limax Music company claims to be the actual lyrics of the song, which is Enclosure #1. However, [blacked out] said the lyrics of the song do not seem to be the same.
Laboratory is requested to determine if enclosed record, "Louie, Louie" can be considered obscene for purposes of prosecution under ITOM statute.
Chorus: Oh Louie, Louie, oh no
Get her way down low
Oh, Louie, Louie, oh, baby
Get her down low
A fine little girl a-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
At night at ten I lay her again
Fuck you, girl, Oh, all the way
Oh, my bed and I lay her there
I meet a rose in her hair
Okay, let's give it to them, right now!
She's got a rag on I'll move above
It won't be long she'll slip it off
I'll take her in my arms again
I'll tell her I'll never leave again
Get that broad out of here!
Another FBI "transcription" of alleged obscene lyrics:
Fine little girl waits for me get your thrills across the way
Girl I dream about is all alone she never could get away from home
Every night and day I play with my thing I fuck your girl all kinds of ways. In all night now meet me there I feel her low I give her hell.
Hey youth bitch. Hey lovemaker now hold my bone, it won't take long so leave it alone. Hey Senorita I'm hot as hell I told her I'd never lay her again.
Excerpt from a March 27, 1964 FBI memo from Indianapolis:
"about November 1963, she purchased a record under Wand label at Blanchard's, a record shop in Crown Point Indiana….Record was public displayed, was routinely priced, and was not suspected of being obscene when purchased.
"Sometime after buying the record [blacked out] heard from various acquaintances the record had obscene lyrics of the 'Louie Louie' side were played at a speed of 33 1/3 instead of the normal 45 rpm. About 1/29/64, a co-worker gave [blacked out] a typed sheet of lyrics, which were allegedly transcribed from the record when played in this manner, and which appear obscene.
She said the record was widely played in the area and was once ranked first on the WLS Radio (Chicago) record survey. "She said she played the record in the manner described above and the lyrics seem to follow very closely to the words on the typewritten sheet. She said the typed page was a transcription by some unknown person in Crown Point area and was not furnished with the record."
As you might imagine, the FBI investigation turned up nothing and J. Edgar Hoover went on to much worse things, like bugging Martin Luther King Jr.'s hotel rooms and sending his wife the transcripts of extramarital sex, hoping King would commit suicide.
You talk about obscene.
So what are the actual lyrics of "Louie Louie?" Here you go:
Louie Louie, oh no
Me gotta go
Yeah-ya-ya-ya, I said
Louie Louie, oh baby
Me gotta go
Fine little girl waits for me
Catch a ship across the sea
Sail that ship about, all alone
Never know if I make it home
Three nights and days I sail the sea
Think of a girl, constantly
Oh that ship, I dream she's there
I smell the rose in her hair.
Okay, let's give it to 'em, right now!
See Jamaica, the moon above
It won't be long, me see me love
Take her in my arms again
Tell her I'll never leave again
Let's take it outa here now
Really, with all this incredible history, shouldn't "Louie Louie" replace the boring and outdated "Oregon My Oregon" as the state's official song? In this Sesquicentennial year, shouldn't the state legislature take the opportunity to modernize things a bit? (And also change the state drink from milk to beer?)
Sure, "Louie Louie" is pushing 50 years old, but it still rocks a thousand times harder than most of the crap kids listen to today, and I would know because I teach at Newport High School and hear that crap.
Still not convinced of the song's staying power? Go to YouTube. There you will see this writer and a teenage rock band called We Bring the Sirens performing "Louie Louie" for Newport High School's Oregon Sesquicentennial assembly. I invited the Governor, but he said he was too busy to attend.
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Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain