Courtesy of Specialty Records
The year was 1957. Elvis Presley broke out and popularized music as a whole the previous year, with several others. Little Richard started his release of singles in 1955 and continued into 1956. The flamboyancy and flashiness of the next big star took the form of Mr. Richard Penniman in his explosive debut album (containing many of his previously released singles), Here’s Little Richard.
The album garnered so much attention that Mr. Penniman even took his place in movies singing (or lip-syncing) his own songs. The album, which took a place as number 13 on the Billboard charts, housed six top 40 Billboard hits from the previous year. The brilliant vocalist and pianist had a voice to vent the American teenage frustration with a hop to his steps from jazz and blues influences. He would (and continues to) influence many artists from Elton John to James Brown, the Beatles, and many more.
The album explodes off with the scatted “Wop bob a doo-op, a wop bam boom,” that makes
everybody want to kick off with their dance shoes in the 1955 national hit, Tutti Frutti. This hit made the charts at number 17 on the Hot 100 and went to number two on the R&B charts. People will get down to any part of this song. Dancing into the album as the second track and number 68 on the Billboard charts (the following year) is Little Richard’s True Fine Mama. In this track, Mr. Richard (as with many of his other songs on the album) is about his, well, “true fine” girl. Another track you can dance to, the track starts with a rolling piano and ends with a “Wow” factor.
The third track, Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave is (surprisingly) one of the slower songs. For Little Richard, that doesn’t say much. His screams and wails mesh perfectly with the bluesy-ness and foot-stomping effect of the song. “The joint is really jumpin’, the cats are going wild,” is a strong understatement to the up tempo song, Ready Teddy. The song that reached number 44 on the Billboard chart and number eight on the R&B charts sends people into a feeding frenzy on the dance floor, proving Little Richard’s lyric, “The music really sends me, I dig that crazy style,” right on all levels.
Baby shows Penniman’s piano and singing abilities that can rival even Ray Charles. Another piano challenging song comes next with Slippin’ and Slidin.’ Lee Allen’s saxophone was in competition with Richard’s piano playing to add together the single that reached number 33 on the Billboard charts and number two on the R&B charts. Little Richard’s style triumphs over content in the scandalous Long Tall Sally. One of Richard’s (and Rock music as a whole) best known songs, Long Tall Sally climbed up the charts to number six in the U.S. and number one in the R&B charts. Penniman’s fast piano playing and fast vocals complement each other finely with a sax solo by Lee Allen.
The next track, Miss Ann is another scream-singing song for the over-the-top performer. A great song to be played after is, Oh Why? A jazzy song that is slower, yet still danceable in an upbeat way. Another monumental song is Rip It Up, Richard sings about it being Saturday and he just got paid, so he’s “gonna ball tonight.” A great and influential song, it reached number 17 on the Hot 100 charts and number one in the R&B charts. He sings what everybody should be doing at any time: “go, go and have a time.” Well, everybody in America followed his lead and into the next song, Jenny Jenny. Starting off with Little Richard’s signature piano, it’s arguably the hardest song, singing-wise, that is on the record. More saxophone solos lead straight into the final song, She’s Got It.
Little Richard’s “got it.” All of it! His style of playing and preforming is arguably more energetic and louder than the man who is referred to as “The King.” Richard Penniman can rival Elvis Presley any day of the week and it’s up to you to decide who you like better. Buy the album and give it a listen to get the full effect of the huge impact of THE Little Richard. You will not be disappointed.