Here’s Little Richard
OMG. Little Richard, the true king and queen of rock n roll, is back, and sounding better than ever. Here’s Little Richard, his game-changing debut album for Specialty Records, is now beautifully remastered and enriched for CD with significant bonus material and an illuminating essay by Lee Hildebrand. For vinyl lovers, there’s also an LP version from Concord Records with sound that puts the original pressing to shame.
Once more, the man whose LPs I used to play at top volume to drive my mother out of the house is whooping it up, hollering, and having a ball. As Little Richard sings "Tutti Frutti," "Ready Teddy," "Long Tall Sally," and the nine other classics he recorded in 1955 and 56 for his Specialty Records debut, it’s impossible not to be caught up by his youthful, all-gonads-loaded energy. The lyrics may be repetitive, and the piano’s even-eight-note patterns very even indeed, but Little Richard’s seemingly boundless elation gives notice that a new music is about to seize and transform entire generations of listeners in ways their parents and preachers, babysitters and teachers desperately warned them about.
Eventually, it was Little Richard who heeded the warning. In October 1957, after cutting his final track for Specialty Records, boyfriend threw in the towel for the Gospel, and gave up rock n roll for Jesus. His renunciations - there were more than one - didn’t last that long; as the saying goes, it’s easier to rout the devil than rout the devil out of rock n roll.
You may have seen Little Richard’s many later appearances on TV, including the most recent, the 78-year old’s wheelchair-bound 2011 performance on the nationally televised A Capitol Fourth. You’ve probably also heard his frequent denunciations of how he was cheated out of royalties by many of the major artists (Elvis Presley, Pat Boone, Bill Haley) who subsequently recorded his music. But to hear him in his early-20s prime, with every falsetto yelp, raspy hoot, and high-flying holler intact, there is nothing better under sun and sin than Here’s Little Richard.
Especially important is the CD’s bonus material. The two audio demos of "Baby" and "All Night Long" that he sent to Specialty Records - the demos that secured his contract - show him in far lighter voice. And the bonus screen-test videos, one shot with his eyes darting this way and that as someone was probably shouting things at him while he was lip-synching, prove that it wasn’t only Elvis Presley’s pelvis that Ed Sullivan and the censors had to be concerned about.
Equally revealing are audio excerpts of a curious interview with Specialty Records founder Art Rupe, who offhandedly discusses his singer’s gifts and limitations in ways that reveal both admiration and regrets. Don’t miss Hildebrand’s illuminating history, which reveals that the original lyrics to "Tutti Frutti" were far more juicy than Mom and the masses were prepared to accept.