The Kingsmen are best known for their first and biggest hit “Louie, Louie”, an iconic rock song that is one of the worst recordings ever. So bad in fact that it sparked an FBI investigation.
Seriously, it did.
The song “Louie, Louie” was released as a b-side in 1957 by session musician Richard Berry. His original version was a mid-tempo Island sailor’s lament about longing to see his girlfriend. Not a dirty song at all. In the early ’60s, the song was revived in a more raucous garage rock style by a few groups trying to make a hit out of it. It looked like Paul Revere and the Raiders were going to have the best luck with it. That is, until a Boston DJ featured “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen in his “Worst Record of the Week” segment … and the kids loved it!
The Kingsmen recorded “Louie, Louie” in one take with one microphone hung high in the middle of the room. It made all the instruments sound muddied together and left Jack Ely’s vocals muffled and indecipherable. You literally can’t understand half the words he is singing. That’s what prompted the FBI investigation.
Rumors began to circulate that the lyrics to The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie, Louie” were recorded muddied and muffled to hide their profane, dirty lyrics. Parents complained to the authorities about the radio stations constantly playing this dirty song. The complaints eventually made it all the way up to J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI who launched a 30 month investigation into the song’s lyrics. In the end, they determined that Jack Ely was probably singing the correct lyrics to “Louie, Louie” and that the reason the words were unintelligible was because it was one of the worst recordings ever.
The really funny thing about this is that after spending 30 months trying to figure out if The Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” was obscene, the FBI never noticed there is actually an F-bomb on the recording. Just before going into the second verse, drummer Lynn Easton apparently dropped one of his drumsticks and blurted out the expletive and the one microphone hung high in the middle of the room captured it. It’s one of those things that isn’t immediately noticeable, but once you hear it the first time, you can’t not hear it every time. You would think that after a 30 month investigation someone at the FBI would’ve heard it.