Monday, November 7, 2011
Here's Little Richard, by Little Richard (July, 1957)
It's hard to imagine a greater contrast between two records than between the last one we reviewed, the soundtrack from "Around The World In 80 Days," and this one by the "architect of rock and roll," but the juxtaposition of these two records shows how schizophrenic the popular music charts were in 1957, as rock and roll started to dominate but still shared chart space with more traditional musical forms.
Victor Young's classical film score, heavy on the strings as it is, just can't match the excitement Little Richard's manic piano-driven rock and roll. It's clear which one is better music by traditional definitions, but the kids who were buying the records didn't care about traditional definitions. They wanted fun and excitement and enjoyed shocking their parents. Reviewing these two records back to back is about as detailed a definition of the 1950s generation gap as you're likely to find anywhere.
Few of the fifties icons shocked like Little Richard, this noticeably effeminate screaming black man. My mom tells stories of how her parents reacted to her Little Richard records, stories that include a certain very impolite N word that's hard to imagine coming from my grandparents, but apparently did.
This record starts with the iconic "womp bomp aloombomp a womp bam boom" and never lets go. There's screaming, sex, "jungle beats," and everything the aging white post-war culture feared, but that the kids absorbed and emulated in a way that never happened again until the hip-hop revolution 30 years later. Here's Little Richard is almost a greatest hits record, with great songs like "Tutti Frutti," "Ready Teddy," "Slippin' and Slidin'," "Rip It Up," "Jenny Jenny," and "Long Tall Sally." Those well-known songs are padded with R&B ballads and other fun stuff.
The mixed quality of the recordings makes it clear that this is a collection of music that was recorded over time in different studios. It also makes it obvious that the copy of this album we found online was actually cobbled together from different sources, rather than from the original record. A couple songs were the wrong versions. As a result, there's no uniform production value, and sometimes that can be a little distracting. But it doesn't change the fact that this is a kick-ass record (or a re-creation of a kick-ass record). I'm going to have to find the real thing.
It's easy to find what attracted the kids to this music. "Ready Teddy, for example," starts with a traditional swing sound and kicks out the jams. It's fast, fun, dirty, rebellious dance music that pissed off the parents. What's not to like?
Very few people influenced the future of popular music like Little Richard did, but nobody knew that when this record came out. Listen to it in the context of its time and it's exciting, scary, and more than a little naughty and dangerous. In 1957, this was about as edgy as anything could be. When Aunt Mary almost catches Uncle John with bald-headed Sally and they duck back in the alley, everything decent is turned on its head. That's the stuff of greatness. That's the stuff that changes the world.
After listening to the The Girl Can't Help It soundtrack, it made me excited that we'd eventually get to Little Richard's debut album Here's Little Richard. This is the first time I recall listening to a full official Little Richard album, and I am far than disappointed.
The energy this man has is just out of control. You can hear how much fun he must have been having in the studio recording his first album's set of songs. Whether it's a fast song like "Tutti Frutti" or a slower song like "Can't Believe You Wanna Leave", he puts 120% of himself into the songs and gives them maximum energy. The energy is totally contagious too. I found myself air-drumming to a lot of the songs.
This might as well be a greatest hits record because it includes so many Little Richard favorites, such as "Tutti Frutti", "Ready Teddy", "Long Tall Sally", and many others.
Besides the Frank Sinatra album that we reviewed, Here's Little Richard is my favorite album that we've reviewed so far. It's just straight up fun and energetic. It's an amazing debut album from an artist that is a couple years shy of 80 years old and still rocking these songs like it was 1957 again.