In 1964, two teens complained about "obscene" "Louie, Louie" lyrics to Indiana governor — 50 years later a reporter tracked them down and asked why

In 1964, a garage rock band's rendition of a 1956 rhythm and blues song by Richard Berry called "Louie, Louie" ignited a nationwide furor and prompted government investigations. Two priggish teenagers from a small Indiana town started it all by complaining to the Governor that the lyrics to "Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen were obscene.

After receiving their letter, Governor Matthew Welsh personally listened to the record at different speeds, becoming convinced it contained profanity, and urged radio stations to cease playing it. He also alerted federal agencies such as the FCC, FBI, and U.S. Postal Service.

From IndyStar:

Days after Gov. Welsh swung into action, both Frankfort teens sent follow-up letters to the governor, thanking him for getting on the "Louie Louie" case with such decisiveness. (The governor saved them; they're in the archives.)

"You should be given a round of applause for your strong stand against this record," wrote the male, a senior. The lad then defended youth: "Much is written about the declining morals of the American teen-ager. However, most people don't realize that if the morals are declining, and I doubt if they are, it is because of 'smut' such as this record, put out by adults whose only concern is in making a fast buck."

The female teen, in her junior year, wrote: "I hope the publicity does not harm you personally in any way. I doubt that this could be possible when the public must surely realize that you too are interested in protecting we young people from a flood of obscene records."

For weeks, those agencies meticulously scrutinized the notoriously incomprehensible lyrics and recording. Ultimately, they concluded that the words were unintelligible and dropped the investigations. However, the incident generated extensive publicity that propelled sales of The Kingsmen's version of "Louie, Louie" to over a million copies.

The two teens, now in their 70s, expressed some embarrassment in retrospect. One explained that her young self misinterpreted the real lyrics after encountering fictitious and vulgar versions circulating at school. The other dismissed it as a quirky incident stemming from his upbringing in a small town.

From IndyStar, which contacted the complainers in 2019:

We found the Frankfort teens — we located Ground Zero of a nationwide controversy — via Gov. Welsh's archived correspondence. Governors hang on to their mail when they leave office and turn it over to the Indiana State Archives. The archives are open to the public. Academics sometimes find governors' old letters handy in unwinding weighty matters of historical importance.

The Frankfort teens are now in their 70s. One is male, one is female. They've never spoken publicly about "Louie Louie." They've never been asked about it.

We called them up. They spoke haltingly and not at length. They seemed embarrassed, and who wouldn't be? What an uncool thing they did. But they were kids. They are wiser now. 

They insisted on anonymity — and got it. Why rat out two people who 55 years ago had, in good faith, tried to save the nation from moral degradation?

Listen to the song, and compare them to the published lyrics. What do you think? I've heard the song countless times, and I don't know what they are singing.

I've also never seen this fun video of The Kingsmen performing the song on television:

The YouTube description page has a good history of the song. Excerpt:

The song is based on the tune "El Loco Cha Cha" popularized by bandleader René Touzet and is an example of Afro-Cuban influence on American popular music. "Louie Louie" tells, in simple verse–chorus form, the first-person story of a Jamaican sailor returning to the island to see his lover. … Due to the lyrics controversy and supported by the band's heavy touring schedule, the single continued to sell throughout 1965 and briefly reappeared on the charts in 1966, reaching No. 65 in Cash Box, No. 76 in Record World, No. 97 in Billboard and cracking the Top 40 in the Washington market. Total sales estimates for the single range from 10 million to over 12 million with cover versions accounting for another 300 million. In July 2023, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) certified the song silver for sales and streaming figures exceeding 200,000 units.

Get ready for "International Louie Louie Day" on April 10!