What I’ve Been Listening to: Little Richard/Here’s Little Richard

After having published this blog for more than six and a half years, a post on Little Richard’s debut album may seem to come out of left field, given my previously expressed longtime love of ’50s rock & roll. Moreover, it’s not the first time I’m writing about Richard and some of the songs on that album, Here’s Little Richard. In this case, the trigger was a cover of Long Tall Sally I heard yesterday by Delbert McClinton, who was on my radar screen thanks to fellow bloggers Max (PowerPop) and Cincinnati Babyhead, aka CB. As such, blame them if you don’t like it! 🙂

McClinton’s above rendition of Long Tall Sally appears on his most recent album Outdated Emotion from May 2022, a great covers collection of old blues, rock & roll and country songs. While he does a nice job with this rock & roll classic, it made me think of the incredible original and that nobody I know has done it better than Little Richard – not even my all-time favorite band The Beatles, though I dig their rendition as well. One thing led to another, and I found myself listening to Richard’s original, followed by the entire record – and, holy cow, what an album!

When Here’s Little Richard was released in March 1957, it was advertised as “six of Little Richard’s hits and six brand new songs of hit calibre.” ‘Okay,’ you might think, ‘so it’s more of an early greatest hits record combined with a few additional tunes.’ True, though putting previously released singles on a record was quite common back in the day. Plus, in any case, this doesn’t change the fact it’s a record packed with amazing music I’m thrilled to write about!

In September 1955, Richard signed with Specialty Records after he had sent a demo there and the label’s owner Art Rupe loaned him money to buy out his contract with his current label Peacock. Rupe also hooked up Richard with producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. Wikipedia notes that apart from overseeing Richard’s early hits, Blackwell is best known as grooming Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson, Lloyd Price, Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert, Larry Williams and Sly and the Family Stone at the start of their music careers.

In October 1955, Tutti Frutti backed by I’m Just a Lonely Guy became Richard’s debut single for Specialty Records and his first-charting song in the U.S. Five more singles followed prior to the release of Here’s Little Richard, including three that were included on the album: Long Tall Sally/Slippin’ and Slidin’ (March 1956), Rip It Up/Reddy Teddy (June 1956) and Heeby-Jeebies/She’s Got It (October 1956). The album, which was recorded in New Orleans and Los Angeles, was Specialty’s first 12-inch LP. Let’s take a closer look at some of the goodies!

First is Tutti Frutti, a song I had first heard and come to love by Elvis Presley. Written by Richards in 1955 while working as a dishwasher at a Greyhound bus station in his hometown of Macon, Ga., the tune was credited to Richard Penniman (Richard’s birth name was Richard Wayne Penniman) and Dorothy LaBostrie who had been asked by Blackwell to revise some of Richard’s original lyrics, which Blackwell felt were too racy. “Awap bop a lup bop a wop bam boom” was kind of his catch phrase, something he would reply to folks who asked him how he was doing, according to Songfacts.

True, Fine Mama was one of the six “brand new tunes”. Solely penned by Richard, it didn’t become a hit, as far as I know. It also wasn’t released as a single. That said, the tune’s beginning sounds exactly like Good Golly, Miss Molly, which first appeared as a single in January 1958 and became another hit for Richard. Both tunes are great examples of his frenetic piano playing. You can literally picture him beating the crap out of the piano keyboard.

On Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave, written by Leo Price, Richard sounds like Fats Domino. It’s safe to assume this wasn’t a coincidence. Richard liked Domino’s sound and also thought of him highly otherwise. In October 2027 in the wake of Domino’s death, he told Billboard that “He’s the greatest entertainer that I ever known. Black, white, red, brown or yellow, he’s a just good guy and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to know him. I love him.”

Next up is the song that inspired this post, which I simply couldn’t skip. Long Tall Sally, another tune Richard wrote during his time as a dishwasher for Greyhound, was credited to him, Blackwell and Enotris Johnson. It became his biggest hit, topping the R&B chart and climbing to no. 6 on the pop chart in the U.S., while reaching no. 3 in the UK. Songfacts notes There really was a “Long Tall Sally,” but she was not a cross-dresser as sometimes reported. Little Richard explained that Sally was a friend of the family who was always drinking whiskey – she would claim to have a cold and would drink hot toddies all day. He described her as tall and ugly, with just two teeth and cockeyed. She was having an affair with John, who was married to Mary, who they called “Short Fat Fanny.” John and Mary would get in fights on the weekends, and when he saw her coming, he would duck back into a little alley to avoid her. Man, that tune is cooking – I simply can’t listen to it without starting to move. And if I ever do it means I’m probably dead!

Miss Ann, credited to Penniman and Johnson, is another example of a brand new tune. According to Songfacts, Some of Little Richard’s songs are based on real experiences, and this one is about a woman named Ann Johnson. Along with her husband Enotris Johnson, Ann, who was a white woman from Macon Georgia, took in Little Richard after he was kicked out of his house for what Richard once claimed was because of his homosexuality. The Johnson’s ran the Tick Tock Club, where Richard first performed. I wonder whether the personal connection is a reason why Entrois Johnson received a writing credit for the tune.

The last song I’d like to call out is Jenny Jenny, which if I see it correctly still was new when the album appeared. It was credited to Penniman and Johnson as well. Unlike the other new songs, Jenny Jenny also became one of Richard’s highest-charting tunes, similar to Long Tall Sally. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 2 on the R&B chart and climbed to no. 10 on the mainstream chart. In the UK, it reached no. 11.

Here’s Little Richard is a breathtaking record full of energy, which still sounds great nearly 66 years after its release. I recall I previously wrote Chuck Berry’s 1959 album Chuck Berry Is On Top might as well be titled ‘The Greatest Hits of Classic Rock & Roll’. Frankly, I think Little Richard’s debut belongs in the same category. So perhaps Berry’s album could be called ‘The Greatest Hits of Guitar-Driven Rock & Roll’, while an alternate title for Richard’s debut could be ‘The Greatest Hits of Piano-Driven Rock & Roll’. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

I should also call out the dynamite musicians who backed Richard on the album. Some include Lee Allen (tenor saxophone), Alvin “Red” Tyler (baritone saxophone), Edgar Blanchard (guitar), Frank Fields (bass) and Earl Palmer (drums), who were all leading figures of New Orleans rock and roll and R&B. Allen later became a member of The Blasters. Palmer was one of the most prolific session musicians who played on thousands of albums. His obituary by The Associated Press from September 2008 noted Little Richard said that Palmer “was probably the greatest session drummer of all time,” citing Richard’s autobiography and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s website rockhall.com.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify link to the album. Hope you dig it as much as I do!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Billboard; Associated Press/New York Times; YouTube; Spotify

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Shine On, John Lennon

I much prefer to write about birthdays of my favorite artists than days when they passed away, especially when the circumstances were as tragic as in the case of John Lennon. Exactly 40 years ago, on December 8, 1980, Lennon was shot to death by a disturbed individual in the archway of The Dakota, his residence in New York City, after he returned with Yoko Ono from a recording session.

I’m not going to recount the details, which have been told many times. Instead, I’d like to focus on what remains: John’s great music. Following is a collection of some of his songs from his solo career. I took this from a previous post.

Cold Turkey (Single 1969)

Cold Turkey was Lennon’s second solo single released in October 1969. Written by him and credited to the Plastic Ono Band, the tune was recorded right in the wake of their appearance at the Toronto Rock & Roll Festival, where it had been performed in public for the first time. In fact, the song had been so new that Lennon hadn’t memorized the lyrics yet, so Ono held up the words on a cheat sheet! Unlike Live Peace Toronto 1969Ringo Starr played the drums on the studio recording. In addition, Ono’s wailing sounds were absent – frankly, something I don’t miss in particular.

Instant Karma! (Single 1970)

Instant Karma! was the third Lennon tune that appeared as a non-album single credited to the Plastic Ono Band. Peaking at no. 3 and no. 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and UK Single Charts, respectively, it became the first solo single by a former Beatles member to sell one million copies in America. In addition to Lennon, Ono, Voorman and White, it featured George Harrison (guitar, piano, backing vocals), Billy Preston (Hammond organ, backing vocals) and Mal Evans (chimes, handclaps, backing vocals).

Mother (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 1970)

Mother is the opener of Lennon’s first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which came out in December 1970. The painful cry to his parents, who abandoned him as a child, is one of the most powerful tunes he wrote. The relative sparse instrumentation of just piano, drums and bass, combined with Lennon’s screaming voice, still gives me goose bumps every time I listen to the song.

Jealous Guy (Imagine 1971)

Jealous Guy first appeared on Lennon’s second studio album Imagine released in September 1971 in the U.S. While that record is best known for its beautiful and timeless title track, which became the top-selling single of his solo career, to me Jealous Guy is an equal. Interestingly, it didn’t come out as a single until November 1985, four and a half years after Roxy Music had scored a no. 1 hit with their great cover.

New York City (Some Time In New York City 1972)

To me, Lennon was one of the greatest rock & roll singers. I just love this original tune from Some Time In New York City, his third solo album from June 1972, credited to John & Yoko, Plastic Ono Band and American rock band Elephant’s Memory, best known for backing Lennon and Ono in the early ’70s. The autobiographic track is both an anthem to the city, which had become Lennon’s and Ono’s home in September 1971, and a middle finger to the Nixon Administration. Concerned about their political activism, President Nixon was looking for ways to kick Lennon and Ono out of the country. Instead, he turned out to be a crook and was forced to resign. Maybe another Lennon would come in handy these days!

Mind Games (Mind Games 1973)

Mind Games is the title track and lead single of Lennon’s fourth solo album from October 1973. According to Wikipedia, he started work on the song in 1969, which originally was titled Make Love, Not War. Lennon finished the tune after he had read the 1972 book Mind Games: The Guide To Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston. The track was recorded around the time Lennon separated from Ono and with her encouragement had an 18-month relationship with May Pang. Let’s just leave it at that!

Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (Walls And Bridges 1974)

Included on Lennon’s fifth solo album Wall And Bridges from September 1974, Whatever Gets You Thru The Night also was the record’s first single. It became his first no. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, a chart success that was only achieved one more time with (Just Like) Starting Over from the Double Fantasy album in the wake of his death.

Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin’ (Rock ‘N’ Roll 1975)

As previously noted, I’ve always thought Lennon was great at singing rock & roll. He also loved the genre, and this record is an homage. The medley of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me and Send Me Some Lovin’, co-written by John Marascalso and Leo Price for Little Richard, is one of my favorites on the album. Rock ‘N’ Roll was Lennon’s last studio release prior to his five-year family hiatus, following his reunification with Ono and the birth of their son Sean.

Watching The Wheels (Double Fantasy 1980)

Watching The Wheels is from Double Fantasy, which came out in November 1980 – the first studio album after Lennon had reemerged from secluded family life. Credited to him and Ono, it is sadly the last release that appeared during his life time. The tune also became the record’s third single in March 1981, following Lennon’s death in New York City on December 8, 1980. While the song couldn’t match the chart success of the album’s first two singles (Just Like) Starting Over and Woman, I like it just as much.

Borrowed Time (Milk And Honey 1984)

I’ve always dug the cool groove Borrowed Time Lennon’s last studio album Milk And Honey that appeared postmortem in January 1984. According to Wikipedia, the song was inspired by a frightening sailing trip through rough seas from Newport, R.I. to Bermuda in 1980. After pretty much everybody else on board had become incapacitated due to sea sickness, Lennon who wasn’t impacted ended up taking the yacht’s wheel for many hours by himself. It’s crazy if you think about it – the man survived what clearly were much lower odds than being shot to death by some nutcase!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Happy Birthday, John Lennon

Today, John Lennon, one of my all-time favorite artists, would have turned 80 years old. He was born John Winston Lennon on October 9, 1940 in Liverpool, England. The former Beatles member’s life was tragically cut short on December 8, 1980 when he was shot to death by Mark David Chapman. A mentally unstable Beatles fan, Chapman had turned against Lennon over his lifestyle and public statements, including his comment during a March 1966 interview that the Fab Four were more popular than Jesus. Lennon was only 40 years old.

Instead of writing yet another biographical post, I’d like to celebrate the occasion with Lennon’s music by reposting a playlist I originally published in January 2018. It’s focused on his solo career.

My Playlist: John Lennon

I’m introducing a new feature to the blog with the ingenious name “My Playlist.” Why? Coz I write the bloody blog, so I can!😀

On a more serious note, there are many different ways how to enjoy music. Apart from listening to entire albums, I like creating playlists for my favorite artists. Oftentimes, they include tracks from multiple records and span their entire recording career. Typically, it’s a combination of popular tunes and deeper cuts. That’s really the basic idea behind what I envisage is going to become a recurrent feature.

First up: John Lennon, one of my biggest music heroes!

John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Following his marriage to Yoko Ono in March 1969, Lennon quietly left The Beatles in September. Around the same time, he and Ono were contacted by the promoters of the Toronto Rock & Roll Festival, and hastily put together a band to perform there. The result was the first incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band, which in addition to Lennon (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Ono (vocals) included Eric Clapton (lead guitar, backing vocals), Klaus Voorman (bass) and Alan White (drums). Their performance at the festival was captured on the album Live Peace Toronto 1969, which appeared in December 1969.

After the official breakup of The Beatles in April 1970, Lennon recorded his first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and released it in December that year. Until his death in December 1980, six other solo records followed: Imagine (1971), Some Time In New York City (1972), Mind Games (1973), Walls And Bridges (1974), Rock ‘N’ Roll (1975) and Double Fantasy (1980). Milk And Honey (1984) was recorded during the final months of his life and appeared postmortem. Let’s get to some music!

Cold Turkey (Single 1969)

Cold Turkey was Lennon’s second solo single released in October 1969. Written by him and credited to the Plastic Ono Band, the tune was recorded right in the wake of their appearance at the Toronto Rock & Roll Festival, where it had been performed in public for the first time. In fact, the song had been so new that Lennon hadn’t memorized the lyrics yet, so Ono held up the words on a cheat sheet! Unlike Live Peace Toronto 1969, Ringo Starr played the drums on the studio recording. In addition, Ono’s wailing sounds were absent – frankly, something I don’t miss in particular.

Instant Karma! (Single 1970)

Instant Karma! was the third Lennon tune that appeared as a non-album single credited to the Plastic Ono Band. Peaking at no. 3 and no. 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and UK Single Charts, respectively, it became the first solo single by a former Beatles member to sell one million copies in America. In addition to Lennon, Ono, Voorman and White, it featured George Harrison (guitar, piano, backing vocals), Billy Preston (Hammond organ, backing vocals) and Mal Evans (chimes, handclaps, backing vocals).

Mother (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 1970)

Mother is the opener of Lennon’s first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which came out in December 1970. The painful cry to his parents, who abandoned him as a child, is one of the most powerful tunes he wrote. The relative sparse instrumentation of just piano, drums and bass, combined with Lennon’s screaming voice, still gives me goose bumps every time I listen to the song.

Jealous Guy (Imagine 1971)

Jealous Guy first appeared on Lennon’s second studio album Imagine released in September 1971 in the U.S. While that record is best known for its beautiful and timeless title track, which became the top-selling single of his solo career, to me Jealous Guy is an equal. Interestingly, it didn’t come out as a single until November 1985, four and a half years after Roxy Music had scored a no. 1 hit with their great cover.

New York City (Some Time In New York City 1972)

To me, Lennon was one of the greatest rock & roll singers. I just love this original tune from Some Time In New York City, his third solo album from June 1972, credited to John & Yoko, Plastic Ono Band and American rock band Elephant’s Memory, best known for backing Lennon and Ono in the early ’70s. The autobiographic track is both an anthem to the city, which had become Lennon’s and Ono’s home in September 1971, and a middle finger to the Nixon Administration. Concerned about their political activism, President Nixon was looking for ways to kick Lennon and Ono out of the country. Instead, he turned out to be a crook and was forced to resign. Maybe another Lennon would come in handy these days!

Mind Games (Mind Games 1973)

Mind Games is the title track and lead single of Lennon’s fourth solo album from October 1973. According to Wikipedia, he started work on the song in 1969, which originally was titled Make Love, Not War. Lennon finished the tune after he had read the 1972 book Mind Games: The Guide To Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston. The track was recorded around the time Lennon separated from Ono and with her encouragement had an 18-month relationship with May Pang. Let’s just leave it at that!

Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (Walls And Bridges 1974)

Included on Lennon’s fifth solo album Wall And Bridges from September 1974, Whatever Gets You Thru The Night also was the record’s first single. It became his first no. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, a chart success that was only achieved one more time with (Just Like) Starting Over from the Double Fantasy album in the wake of his death. The above clip shows Lennon joining Elton John live at New York’s Madison Square Garden in November 1974, his last major concert appearance. While the quality of the video is poor, not including it would have been a great miss. John also played piano and provided harmony vocals on the studio version.

Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin’ (Rock ‘N’ Roll 1975)

As previously noted, I’ve always thought Lennon was great at singing rock & roll. He also loved the genre, and this record is an homage. The medley of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me and Send Me Some Lovin’, co-written by John Marascalso and Leo Price for Little Richard, is one of my favorites on the album. Rock ‘N’ Roll was Lennon’s last studio release prior to his five-year family hiatus, following his reunification with Ono and the birth of their son Sean.

Watching The Wheels (Double Fantasy 1980)

Watching The Wheels is from Double Fantasy, which came out in November 1980 – the first studio album after Lennon had reemerged from secluded family life. Credited to him and Ono, it is sadly the last release that appeared during his life time. The tune also became the record’s third single in March 1981, following Lennon’s death in New York City on December 8, 1980. While the song couldn’t match the chart success of the album’s first two singles (Just Like) Starting Over and Woman, I like it just as much.

Borrowed Time (Milk And Honey 1984)

I’ve always dug the cool groove Borrowed Time Lennon’s last studio album Milk And Honey that appeared postmortem in January 1984. According to Wikipedia, the song was inspired by a frightening sailing trip through rough seas from Newport, R.I. to Bermuda in 1980. After pretty much everybody else on board had become incapacitated due to sea sickness, Lennon who wasn’t impacted ended up taking the yacht’s wheel for many hours by himself. It’s crazy if you think about it – the man survived what clearly were much lower odds than being shot to death by some nutcase!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube