When I was in elementary school in the early 1980’s, a family friend gave my dad a few boxes of 45s spanning from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. I remember spending hours in our basement with those records and an old automatic changer record player. Most of the fun of playing them was just discovering what would be on each one.
There was a wide array of music in those boxes, everything from Joe Tex to Perry Como, but for me this was an education on a lot of older rock music and doo-wop, and my first time hearing things like “Book of Love” by the Monotones and “Get A Job” by the Silhouettes. These were considered “oldies” at the time, and now unfortunately they may be considered ancient. (I’ve noticed a lot of music fans dismiss doo-wop these days, but the truth is it’s still great music.) The records that really caught my attention back then were the rock and roll singles like “Palisades Park” by Freddie Cannon and “Good Golly Miss Molly” by Little Richard.
Some people like to poke fun at Little Richard these days for his flamboyance and sexual preference. I remember comedian Jeffrey Ross called him a “queen” to his face when he made a surprise guest appearance on a talent show called Next Best Thing a few years ago. Bill Maher also makes a joke about him in the film Religulous while discussing homosexuality.
The bottom line is, people can smugly criticize Little Richard all they want. But in the 1950’s he scared the hell out of parents. His abrasive, raw approach to rock and roll still packs a punch today and has influenced a ton of artists from The Didjits to Motorhead. “Keep A Knockin'” must have been the closest thing to teenage angst kicking around in the 1950’s.
Record Store Day releases tend to be a hit or miss with me, but one of my favorites has been this limited reissue of the 1957 debut LP Here’s Little Richard. All the ones you know and love are on here: “Tutti Frutti,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “She’s Got It.” It’s a blazing record with a contagious energy. Artists in every medium strive for work that elicits a reaction in their audience; you feel these songs.
European label Doxy released a beautiful reissue of Little Richard Volume 2, his 1958 follow-up for the Specialty label. Another solid record with more hits like “Keep A Knockin’,” “The Girl Can’t Help It,” “Lucille,” and (one of my personal favorites) “Heeby Jeebies.” For some reason Doxy packages many of their albums with a companion cd so that you have both the vinyl and the cd for quick ripping. Kind of a strange marketing strategy. You would think someone buying a 180 gram reissue of Little Richard would prefer to just have the vinyl and not want the digital.
Little Richard’s Grooviest 17 Original Hits is a compilation from 1968 with psychedelic artwork in attempt to market the older material to a younger generation. The disclaimer on the front “Beware of imitations ….. ” is the same one used for the Record Store Day reissue of Here’s Little Richard. But this is truth in advertising, the recordings Little Richard did for Specialty are the best and the re-recordings he did for other labels just don’t have the same fire. Unfortunately for purists, the original mono recordings have been re-processed for stereo on this comp. Sometimes that can be a disaster but this one sounds fine.
“Back in the 1950’s, people didn’t need drugs to get high. We had Little Richard.” reads the back cover of another compilation from Specialty. Another gem from the back cover: “if everybody could groove on Richard like we do, wouldn’t it be a better world?” With statements like that, and the pop-art graphics on the cover, Well Alright! is a 1971, post “summer of love” attempt to reach a younger, hipper audience that probably thought of Little Richard as music that mom and dad listened to. There are a couple of nice surprises on this record though such as two unreleased (at the time) songs “Poor Boy Paul” and “Well Alright!” and alternate takes of some other minor singles.
Little Richard is an innovator, an American original, a larger-than-life stage presence, and a genius. Along with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, he is one of the founding fathers of rock and roll.