12 June 2005

I'm sure this is filthy, just wait while I figure out what he's saying

For me, Gary Larsen's Far Side cartoon, in which one elephant is teaching another how to play Louie Louie by pounding on the keys, just about sums up the song.

Louie Louie was originally released in 1956 by its composer Richard Berry. He based it on the opening to a Latino dance number called El Loco Cha Cha. The Louie Louie history at The Originals website discusses the influences and lists other versions.

It is, unaccountably, one of the most recorded songs ever. As Arnold Rypens puts it, covering this rock 'n roll classic became a sport. The list is endless and exotic.

You can buy whole albums made up of nothing but versions of Louie Louie, and Dave Marsh has written a book about it, Louie Louie : The History and Mythology of the World's Most Famous Rock 'n' Roll Song. There is at least one Louie Louie website dedicated to telling us more than we'll ever need to know about it.

It was the 1963 hit version by The Kingsmen that inspired complaints about the obscenity of its largely incomprehensible lyrics.

At The Smoking Gun you can read some of the documents from the FBI's investigation into whether anyone could be prosecuted for obscenity. The FBI had complaints from parents and the Governor of Indiana, and they had transcripts of rude lyrics. In fact, they had differing rude versions, none of which matched the genuine lyrics.

In the end the FBI sensibly decided that they could hardly lay charges over lyrics that nobody, not even the experts in their own Laboratory, could make out.

As to the offensive lyrics that were submitted to the FBI, they were apparently a product of the moral campaigners' own imaginations. They'd managed to offend themselves.

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