The story of “Louie Louie,” The Kingsmen and an Indiana governor known for reforming the state’s approach to taxes is one almost as murky as the famous song’s lyrics. For one, the date of the issue is noted as starting in 1963 by some sources, but others list it as 1964, shortly after the song was released. The controversy surrounding the song revolves around allegedly dirty lyrics. Because Gov. Welsh called the song “pornographic,” “Louie Louie” was made the focal point of a federal investigation. Literally, a federal case was made out of a rock song with difficult to understand lyrics.
The problem with “Louie Louie”
It seems as though the problem with “Louie Louie” is that its mostly unintelligible lyrics left the song open to incorrect interpretation. The “dirty” lyrics allegedly originated from college students who created obscene lyrics to sing in place of the original ones.
Presumably once rumors of the dirty lyrics spread, coupled with the poor quality recording and murky delivery of the original, the song was deemed “pornographic” or “dirty.”
According to various websites, the FBI investigation went on for two years. It seems that the ban on the song might have lasted that long.
Ultimately, “Louie Louie” was deemed not pornographic, but not before newspapers such as the Indianapolis Star printed an article that read in part: “The Governor did not act as a censor because he can’t…Few people dump trash in the living room. There should be little place for musical garbage in the American home.”
The timeline for the controversy is not exactly clear. On music history websites, the date for when Gov. Welsh “banned” the song is Feb. 1, 1964. However, it is clear that Welsh and his assistant, Jack New heard a version of the song that might have been bootleg. The song was slowed down and the problematic lyrics were made clear. Allegedly. But Gov. Welsh and New started paying attention to the song in late January.
The FBI did reach out to Kingsmen, drummer and band leader, Lynn Easton, who denied that the band sung lyrics other than those recorded by original performer Richard Berry (www.agecon.purdue.edu).
As a result of the ban, or lack of one, the Purdue University band plays the song at games. Another fun fact: given The Kingsmen hailing from the Pacific Northwest, efforts were underway in the 1980s to get the Fabulous Wailers’ version of the song listed as Washington State’s official song. As yet, the movement has not been successful.
“Louie Louie” aside from the controversy
The Kingsmen attempted to follow up on the success of “Louie Louie” (which made it to No. 2 on US charts) with other “Louie” themed songs, such as “Louie Louie 66,” but they failed to generate the momentum of the original.
But the original stands as an engaging example of garage rock. It proves that a song need not be slick and overproduced to be meaningful. The song’s verve and energy is infectious and people often cannot help but dance or sing along to it.
Even if people are not aware of the controversy surrounding the song, “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, most people associate the song with the changing style rock ‘n’ roll styles created in the 1960s.