"Louie Louie" - Was It Obscene Or Potentially The Downfall of America?



Many years ago, we passed hour after hour on watch in the Control Room of the USS Barb listening to a salty Auxiliaryman who entertained us with “sea stories.”  We were Cold War warriors and shipmates in a steel tube designed to spend weeks or months stealthily cruising the depths of the Pacific Ocean.  Our principal mission was to follow Soviet nuclear submarines.

The Auxiliaryman often asked, “Do you know the difference between a sea story and a fairy tale?”  Even though we knew the answer, he always cut us off and said,  “A fairy tale begins with ‘once upon a time,’ while a sea story begins with ‘this is no s**t.’”  That inevitably was followed by a hearty laugh.

J. Edgar Hoover, who was alive at the time, and the FBI also were Cold War warriors.  When they were not fighting the Communist “plague” or denying the existence of the Mafia, they were protecting us Americans from obscenity, immorality, or worse.  They kept dossiers on legislators, judges, politicians, union leaders, the NAACP, professors, perceived “radicals,” celebrities, and each other.  Because Mr. Hoover did not believe that organized crime or the Mafia existed, the Gambinos, Genoveses, Colombos, other "families," and their soldiers were not subject to scrutiny for years.

In its role in protecting us from obscenity, the FBI investigated the rock classic “Louie Louie” as recorded by The Kingsmen.  The investigation was sparked in part by rumors that the lyrics were slurred intentionally to cover up profanity.  The song was banned from radio airplay in various markets.  The Governor of Indiana embarked on a personal crusade against "Louie Louie."  Of course, the need of politicians to distract their constituents from important matters with so-called "morality" issues was -- and is to this day -- nothing new.

More than two years were spent by the FBI listening to the record over and over and at differing speeds.  The FBI interviewed Richard Berry, who wrote and originally recorded “Louie Louie,” and members of the Kingsmen.  Rather than find obscenity or immorality, the FBI concluded that the song was “unintelligible at any speed.”

You may think that this should have begun with “once upon a time” or “this is no s**t.”  But the FBI’s investigating “Louie Louie” is not a fairy tale or sea story. 

Weren’t we lucky to have such assiduous guardians of the American way?

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