It was with great sadness that I learned last night that Jack Ely, 71, had died. That name may not ring a bell for many of you. Ely was the lead singer for the Kingsmen, a rock and roll group whose 1963 hit "Louie Louie" was one of those tunes that kids sang endlessly and parents never quite understood. Of course we kids never quite understood most of the words but we did know that the mumblings were dirty words, and, geez, did we make up some really awful lyrics. For those of us now of a certain age and from that Age of Aquarius, we only need to hear the first few opening bars of Louie Louie and they magically transport us back to a different time . . . our time. In memory of Jack Ely, the Kingsmen, Louie Louie, and the Sixties, I offer this previously published BrokeAndBroker.com Blog:
Sometime in 1964, the full majesty of the United States of America was brought to bear via an investigation by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was no less a threat than the corruption of American youth. No, not communism. No, not drugs. It was the scourge of the song "Louie, Louie." I wish I could tell you that this was a joke but I've downloaded all 119 pages of a recently declassified FBI file so that you can read this silliness in all its hysterical glory.
Louie, Louie was written in 1955 by Richard Berry, but most Baby Boomers know it from the 1963 release by The Kingsmen. Purportedly, Berry's lyrics tell the story of a Jamaican sailor returning home to see his lady and includes such dialect as "me gotta go." In 1964 I had a new electric guitar, was set on a career as the fifth Beatle, and Louie, Louie was a really simple song for me to play; and, on top of all of that, no one really knew the lyrics, so I could fake whatever I wanted.
SIDE BAR: As a kid, I loved the The Kingsmen's version of "Louie, Louie;" but, to be candid, I don't know that I ever actually understood the lyrics beyond something like "Louie, Louie, oh, Louie, me gotta go. Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh." Of course, to be equally frank, I never quite understood a lot of what Stevie Nicks was singing with Fleetwood Mac, and I never quite figured out whether Iron Butterfly was singing innagaddavida or in the garden of eden.
It turns out that a Sarasota High School (Florida) teacher, whose name still remains a state secret, broke the lyric code and discovered that Louie, Louie was a pornographic song that was corrupting me, my friends, and every kid around the country. Moreover, we were all apparently passing dirty notes to each other in class and enforcing the ultra-secret teenage honor code. The Florida teacher advised the FBI that the "record is very popular with the high school students and he has been furnished lyrics for the song which are very obscene." See, page 3 and 13 of the FBI Report.
In 1963, a rock group named the Kingsmen recorded the song "Louie, Louie." The popularity of the song and difficulty in discerning the lyrics led some people to suspect the song was obscene. The FBI was asked to investigate whether or not those involved with the song violated laws against the interstate transportation of obscene material. The limited investigation lasted from February to May 1964 and discovered no evidence of obscenity.
Thus began an FBI investigation, replete with memos from J. Edgar Hoover. At one point, as the hysteria snowballed, we learn that the Federal Communications Commission, the United States Post Office, and the Justice Department all had received complaints:
All three governmental agencies dropped their investigations because they were unable to determine what the lyrics of the song were, even after listening to the records at speeds ranging from 14 RPM to 78 RPM. . ."
See, page 7 of the Report.
Among the many efforts to decipher the lyrics, we have some amazingly vulgar results, as demonstrated on page 22 of the Report (which I know that you are going to immediately look up!).
What a sight it must have been during the raging Cold War to have visited the inner sanctum of the FBI, only to learn that all those agents with the headphones were trying to crack the Jamaican code of Louie, Louie.
Alas, these federal audiophiles never seem to have tackled the even more important question of whether Paul was dead. And when, oh when, will the FBI or CIA or NSA finally decipher why semolina pilchard was climbing the Eiffel Tower and the elementary penguin was singing Hari Krishna? I may have been the eggman but me gotta go now because the walrus is coming!