When The Kingsmen's 'Louie Louie' Topped FBI's Most Dangerous Song Chart

By | May 14, 2019

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Left: Rock and roll band "The Kingsmen" pose for a portrait in circa 1965. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images). Right: Text from the letter to Robert F. Kennedy that started the FBI investigation of 'Louie Louie.' Source: FBI

What gets a rock song investigated by the FBI?

"Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen is one of the great party anthems of all time. Featuring an ultra-groovy organ riff with slurred lyrics and a chorus that means next to nothing, it was the perfect tune for shouting at the top of your lungs at a college party back in 1964. It was ok if you didn't know the lyrics -- nobody did. But this odd party hit, almost a novelty song because of its ragged garage appeal, earned the scrutiny of the FBI in the mid-'60s. J.Edgar Hoover's crew, it seems, worried that it might be unwholesome, if not subversive.

In early 1964, the song sat at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the rival Cashbox chart. Something had to be done.

Before The Infamous Song, There Was The COINTELPRO

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'The Kingsmen In Person,' the group's debut album, released on Wand Records in 1963. Source: discogs.com

To understand why the FBI would investigate a pop song, it's important to understand the FBI's COINTELPRO. In 1956, J. Edgar Hoover formed the Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, in order to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” groups that threatened the status quo. The FBI had given itself license to invesitgate and harass virtually anyone or anything that it didn't like, and the history of COINTELPRO includes many shady activities that have been condemned in years since. One of its early targets, "Louie Louie" was a song.