Or Were We Really?
It was a great year, 1964. It was a leap year. I was officially a teenager. The world was a confusing place to grow up in, though. It was no longer the 50s of the Cleavers and the Nelsons and it was starting to show. The world was still reacting to the loss of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and the Gulf of Tonkin was about to become well known, but at least U.S. troops weren’t on the ground in Viet Nam. At least not officially.
A look back at the Billboard Hop 100 Singles list for the year shows a lot of light pop, like Gale Garnette’s We’ll Sing In The Sunshine, The Supremes’ Baby Love, The Shangri-Las’ Leader of the Pack, and the Dixie Cups’ Chapel of Love. Old favorites like Dean Martin, Al Hirt, Andy Williams, and Al Martino, were mixed in amongst something new called the British Invasion, including Peter and Gordon, The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and a mop-haired quartet called the Beatles.
Way down near the bottom of the list, in spot #99, was a song that had been recorded several times by a variety of groups. In 1963 it was actually recorded by two different groups, the Kingsmen, and Paul Revere and the Raiders, both Portland, OR, area groups. They recorded it only weeks apart in the same studio. But it didn’t make it to the Hot 100 chart for either of them that year.It wasn’t until 1964 that one of them would squeak onto the chart.
The lyrics to the song were pretty benign, certainly not what you would call lewd or provocative.
me gotta go.
me gotta go.
“A fine little girl, she wait for me;
me catch a ship across the sea.
I sailed the ship all alone;
I never think I’ll make it home
“Three nights and days we sailed the sea;
me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there;
I smell the rose in her hair.
“Me see Jamaica moon above;
It won’t be long me see me love.
Me take her in my arms and then
I tell her I never leave again.”
But somehow, somewhere, by someone, sometime early in 1964, a rumor was started that the Kingsmen version of the song had secret lyrics that could only be heard if you played the 45-RPM single at 33 1/3-RPM. Secret sexy lyrics! These alternate lyrics were apparently not on the LP cut even though both releases were from the same master. Hey, don’t try to confuse me with technical facts. I’m talking about a great conspiracy theory here, folks!
Anyway, it might have died a quick death, but that was not to be. Some concerned parent reported the lyrics thing to the FBI and it apparently got all the way to J. Edgar. He wasn’t having no commie pinko sex lyrics perverting American youth. He set his G-men on the scent. For two and a half years the FBI would spend tens of thousands of dollars (when that was real money!) investigating, interviewing, and listening to copies of the recording. They found nothing.
But it did boost sales. A little known, rather innocuous, song fought its way up from obscurity through the onslaught of the British Invasion, through the overwhelm of Beatles chart dominance (9 of the 100 spots), and made it onto the charts, and into our hearts and minds. I bet you can’t listen to this without having it stuck in your head for the next few hours!
1964 – What A Very Good Year