Little Richard represents the most exciting and very best 1950s rock and roll. His appeal has stayed strong throughout almost six decades of making music. Now, Concord Music Group has re-released his first recording, originally on Specialty, Here’s Little Richard.
I believe this recording illustrates how one recording could change the face of rock and roll, by bringing various styles together and adding a powerful and untamed voice to the rock and roll roster. Richard was influenced by gospel, blues, and R&B, but he melded those influences in a way that no one ever had before.
Indeed, “Tutti Frutti,” the song that convinced Specialty to record Little Richard in the first place, was chosen by Mojo magazine for the number one spot on their 2007 list, “100 Records That Changed the World.” Rolling Stone magazine listed it as #43 on its list of “The Five Hundred Greatest Songs of All Time.”
No one had the fire and excitement of Little Richard in the early days of rock and roll. No one in early rock and roll looked or sounded like him. He was simply unique, untamed, unpredictable, and utterly exciting. With his pompadour, his thin moustache and eye makeup at a time when male musicians simply did not wear makeup, he was not like anyone we had ever seen, and he remains unique to this day.
The actual original recording presented here is only 28 minutes long, but what a memorable 28 minutes! Of the songs presented here, “Tutti Frutti,” “Rip it Up,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Ready Teddy,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” and “Jenny Jenny” were all hits, and all have continued to be recorded by other artists through the years. Three other songs here, “Miss Ann,” “She’s Got It,” and “True Fine Mama,” charted, but are not as well known today.
That leaves only three songs off the original recording that did not hit the charts. “Can’t Believe You Want to Leave,” which is a bit bluesier, “Oh Why?,” and “Baby,” all of which are strong songs just the same.
On this special presentation of the album, there are two bonus tracks that present demo versions of “Baby” and “All Night Long,” both very different from Little Richard’s recorded work. They are slow blues, and Richard’s voice sounds quite androgynous.
There are also two videos here, which were originally screen tests for The Girl Can’t Help It, one of the best early rock and roll films. They capture Little Richard’s unique style, energy, and wild dancing nicely.
I found the included audio interview with Specialty Records founder Art Rupe especially entertaining. He tells some interesting stories about how Richard came to be signed and how he found religion and left the label, temporarily giving up rock and roll.
I was amused by Rupe’s statement that if Richard could only have been tamed a bit–and if he would have taken instruction from the studio better–he could’ve sung the old classics so well, he could have become a star in Las Vegas like Frank Sinatra.
I personally thank the universe that Richard would not be tamed or directed. Instead of playing Vegas, he gave us music that changed the musical world and that still sounds just as exciting and invigorating today as it did 55 years ago.
Concord Music Group has done a great job with the packaging of this release, including a poster of Little Richard, the original liner notes for the recording, and a very informative booklet with lots of facts about Richard and his career and many fabulous photographs.