Let's start with this uncontroversial pronouncement: if you care anything at all about the power and splendor of early rock 'n' roll, you need to have some Little Richard in your collection. A true musical wild man, Richard Penniman opened up the music in ways that were essential for pop's evolution. In a world of blues shouters, Little Richard was the first great musical screamer. A lot of rock vocalists owe their shredded larynxes to the man.
Very Best of Little Richard is the latest in a line of best-of collections capturing this divine mad man at his peak: the years 1955-56 when he was recording for the Specialty label. As venerable r-&-r liner note writer Billy Vera reminds us, Richard resigned from the music biz in '56 to take up the ministry after a burning airplane propeller made him very aware of his own mortality.
Though the singer and pianoman would repeatedly return to playing the "devil's music" in later years, nothing quite matched the sheer lascivious power of the early Specialty cuts. As backed by the Upsetters (most memorably, saxman Lee Allen), this was the sound of horniness at its most unrestrained – even the bastardized attempts to refocus the youth of America toward Pat Boone's milk-safe covers couldn't tamp down the lusty truths that Little Richard was shrieking.
Take the man's first hit single, "Tutti Frutti." Even with the song's original ribald lyrics rewritten (depending on who you read, the song's original signature chorus was either "Tutti Frutti, good booty" or "loose booty" – and not "oh, Rudy"), there's no escaping the singer's intent. The singer's trilling whoops tell the story better than any words can.
Or consider our man's version of Bobby Troup's "The Girl Can't Help It," perhaps the greatest tribute to bimbodom ever sung. If you've ever seen the grandly stoopid Frank Tashlin comedy for which it was recorded, it's impossible to hear this track without visualizing a pneumatic Jayne Mansfield strolling down the city sidewalks.