Those Jungle Drums Are Driving Me Mad
United States Government
February, 1964. Harry Carter sat in an uncomfortable chair facing his boss, Assistant Director Bob Dickinson. All the chairs in the Hoover Building were uncomfortable; it was probably policy. Dickinson cleared his throat as he handed Carter a thick file.
'Here, Harry, I think this assignment will be right up your alley. Didn't you minor in music at Fordham?'
Harry gulped. Had they heard about the Gilbert & Sullivan parodies? But he nodded, weakly.
'What instrument do you play? Not guitar, I hope? Or those bongle drums?' Harry shook his head.
'No, sir. Piano. And organ.' Dickinson nodded, satisfied.
'As you know, there's a lot of subversive music out there these days.' He looked grave.
Carter blinked. 'There is? Er, yeah, I guess there is.' Hard to know in '64. His mental catalog ran quickly through his home collection: 'Walk Like a Man'? Harmless. 'Busted' by Ray Charles? Mostly harmless.
Where do all the hippies meet?
South Street, South Street…
He looked at the file, puzzled. 'Sir? The Unsub is a 45 rpm record?' Dickinson nodded grimly. He pulled the disc out of the file and studied it. 'Louie, Louie,' it said. By The Kingsmen, it said. He looked up, even more puzzled.
'It's sure to be subversive,' said Dickinson. 'Bad for our youth. We're getting outraged letters from all over the country. They say the lyrics are obscene.'
Carter raised his eyebrows. 'And are they, sir?'
'Nobody can tell,'' growled Dickinson. 'The problem is, nobody can understand a word these subversives are singing – if you call that singing. I'm a Perry Como man, myself.'
Carter nodded understanding.
Dickinson gestured at the file. 'So it's your baby, Carter. Find out what those lyrics are. So we can prosecute those degenerates to within an inch of their rotten lives, and send them back to Russia or wherever they came from.'
Portland, Oregon, thought Carter, but he hefted the file and went back to his job at the FBI Laboratory. Which in this case involved finding out why the lyrics to 'Louie, Louie' were so dirty.
Carter's Work Diary
February 17, 1964.
I have now spent eight hours – minus an hour for lunch – listening to this record, such as it is. That's 420 minutes, or 25,200 seconds. The only thing I can say for sure is that the first words are 'Louie, Louie'. I have no idea who or what Louie is, but I wish he'd go away.
The lead singer appears to have something in his mouth. A potato?
At any rate, the '1-2-3, 1-2' rhythm is definitely bad for the nervous system.
Memo to Assistant Director: Don't the record company people have a lyric sheet we can see?
Later that day.
Lyric sheet from record company arrives. To my vague surprise, it reads like this:
Louie Louie, oh no, you take me where ya gotta go, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, baby
Louie Louie, oh baby, take me where ya gotta go
A fine little girl, she waits for me
Me catch the ship across the sea
Me sailed the ship all alone
Me never think I'll make it home…
That guy must really have a potato in his mouth. However, these lyrics, such as they are, are harmless. Dumb, but harmless. Recommend to the Bureau that they stop wasting everyone's time.
March 4, 1964
Returned report: Lyrics cannot be determined to be obscene. (Because I cannot hear the blasted lyrics. I can, however, hear dum, dum, dum, beat, dum-dum in my sleep…)
March 13, 1964
Case reopened due to forwarding of letter sent to Attorney General:
Dear Mr Kennedy:
Who do you turn to when your teen age daughter buys and brings home pornographic or obscene materials being sold along with objects directed and aimed at the 'teen age market in every City, Village and Record shop in this Nation?
My daughter brought home a record of 'LOUIE LOUIE' and I, after reading that the record had been banned from being played on the air because it was obscene, proceeded to try to decipher the jumble of words.
The lyrics are so filthy that I can-not enclose them in this letter....
Sigh. Back to listening.
April 14, 1964
Receive copy of obscene lyrics. Perhaps some mother or father had the courage to listen long enough – and, apparently, the imagination I lacked?
Louie, Louie, oh, no,
Get her way down low.
The rest reads like the ravings of a particularly unimaginative (but horny) fifteen-year-old boy. Suspect provenance of this lyric sheet. It could be what they're singing. On the other hand, they could be singing, 'You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent,' for all I know.
Double-check: the 'lyrics' provided by the Sarasota, Florida Office came from Sarasota Junior High School. They were circulating in samizdat form among the student body.
April 17, 1964.
Two more copies of the record have been supplied to us by the Waco Office. We now have them from Florida, Washington, DC, and points west. I have plenty of copies of this record. What I do not have is a Ouija board for these lyrics. I also do not have a vocal track. The producer thought she had a vocal track, because the record is in stereo. Upon inquiry, she found out that no vocal track exists. They recorded it in monoaural, and just doubled it to produce fake stereo – and this very muddled sound.
April 18, 1964.
Woke up from a nightmare. Had auditory hallucination of 'Louie, Louie'. Frightened my wife.
April 19, 1964.
Am now informed that the 'obscene' lyrics can only be heard if the 45 rpm record is played at 33 1/3 rpm. Spent all day trying that.
Conclusion: 'Louie, Louie' doesn't sound any better at 33 1/3 rpm than it does at 45 rpm. Still no joy with the lyrics.
April 22, 1964.
Dear Detroit Office:
For your information, the Tampa and Indiana DAs have refused to prosecute this record. The Lab cannot determine the lyrics to be obscene.
Please do not send any more copies of 'Louie, Louie'. We have plenty.
April 27, 1964.
Unsub, unsub, the record is the unsub, 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2….
June 21, 1964.
To: Director, FBI
Subject: UNSUB: 45 rpm
Recording 'Louie Louie'
...the New York Office that the FCC, Washington, DC, subsequently granted a clearance to the record 'Louie Louie'. She explained that for approximately two years her company has been receiving unfounded complaints concerning the recording. She advised that, to the best of her knowledge, the trouble was started by an unidentified college student who made up a series of obscene verses for this recording and sold them to fellow students. She further stated that it was her opinion that a person can take any 45 rpm recording and reduce its speed to 33 rpm and imagine obscene words, depending upon the imagination of the listener.
You tell it, sister. You're preaching to the choir, here. Case closed, closed, closed. Send the records back to Tampa, Detroit, and New York. Incinerate them. File them. I don't care! Just don't make me listen to them!
June 18, 1965.
In Mr Gubow's answer to us, he stated that in order for matter to be declared obscene, it must be 'objectively obscene.' I am confused. How can anything be objectively obscene? Obscenity is not indifferent – but has definite goals. It is not impersonal and unemotional – how can it possibly be. By its very nature, obscenity is SUBJECTIVE1.
Subjective, yes. But Justice Potter Stewart said last year that he 'knew it when he saw it.' Jacobellis v. Ohio. I wish Potter Stewart had to listen to this record. If he can endure Louis Malle films, he can stand this.
June 25, 1965.
Apparently, the Director has become interested in this. He's writing the crazy lady back.
Your interest in writing me is very much appreciated, and I share the concern you feel in the alarming increase in pornography...I am unable to make any comment concerning current investigations being conducted by the FBI...
I am enclosing publications which set forth this Bureau's jurisdiction in connection with obscene matter...
J Edgar Hoover
July 14, 1965.
Dear Mr Hoover:
...After reading your two enclosed publications ('Combating Merchants of Filth,' and 'Poison For Our Youth'), I feel more enlightened....
Getting back to our mutual friend – 'Louie, Louie', I can realize that you are unable to comment on your current investigations. But dauntless we are, and we now have in our possession a recording that was made directly from the Wand release of the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie.' The 45 RPM 'Louie' was played at 78 RPM, taped at twice the regular speed and then slowed down so that it now plays somewhere between 45 and and 33 1/3 RPM. At this speed the obscene articulation is clearer....
No! No, no, no, no, no, no…no-no-no, no-no, no-no-no, no-no…
October 10, 1965.
Field Office File145-420
45 rpm Recording
Character: POSSIBLE INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF OBSCENE MATTER
Synopsis: FBI Lab determined on 9.16.65, that a tape made from original recording of 'Louie Louie'...., when compared with a disc submitted previously by the Detroit FBI Office, contained no audible differences...
No. Audible. Differences. What a world of suffering the dry phraseology conceals…
December 2, 1965.
On December 2, 1965, Assistant United States Attorney ROBERT J GRACE, Detroit, stated that he thoroughly reviewed the results of investigation conducted in instant case and was of the opinion that there was no evidence of a violation of the Federal Interstate Transportation of Obscene Matter Statutes. He said that he, therefore, was recommending that no further investigation in this matter be conducted.
December 3, 1965.
Dear Assistant Director Dickinson:
Following the successful resolution of the case of UNSUB one 45 rpm record, 'Louie, Louie', I hereby tender my resignation from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, effective immediately.
I plan to return to my former occupation as harpsichordist for an early music ensemble.
It is to be hoped that no one ever objects to the lyrics of 'Unter der Linden'.
Here's wishing you, the Director, and the concerned public a joyful and blessed Christmas season, free of 'Louie, Louie'.