Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 14: Little Richard, "Here's Little Richard"

Artist: Little Richard
Album: Here's Little Richard
Year: 1957
Label: Specialty

Power, energy, intensity, and pure joy are just a few terms that are regularly used to describe the awesome rock music created by one of the true originators of the style, Little Richard. One of the first musicians to fuse together the sounds of gospel with R&B, Little Richard remains one of the most recognized figures in the history of music. With his trademark wails, scat singing, and fiery piano playing, Little Richard is responsible for some of the biggest, most enduring hits ever, as well as serving as the influence for nearly every artist since his time. Though many of his peers were working with the same musical elements, it was his over-the-top personality, and far faster tempos that set Little Richard far above his contemporaries and catapulted him to stardom. After releasing six top forty hits in the previous year, Little Richard released his first full length record in 1957, Here's Little Richard, and the album remains the greatest of his career, and contains many of his biggest hits.

One very important thing to note right away is that in 2006, Here's Little Richard was re-mastered and re-released by Mobile Fidelity Sound. The label, which usually does amazing work, released it as a single disc, though it also contains Little Richard's entire second album as well. However, the truth of the matter is, they absolutely destroyed everything that was great about Here's Little Richard, and the re-release is a truly miserable representation of the sound. MFS make the vocals far to forward in the mix, to a point where they even distort at points, and the amazing piano of Little Richard is nearly inaudible at times. So, when you go to get a copy of this record, do NOT purchase the 2006 re-release.

That being said, Here's Little Richard truly "blew the doors open" for rock style music, because although many artists had been mixing gospel sounds with R&B, the energy and sheer power of Little Richard's sound set him far above his peers. Here's Little Richard was recorded late 1956 (though the albums' lead track was done well over a year earlier) at the legendary J&M Studios in New Orleans. Having worked with the likes of Fats Domino, Dr. John, and Big Joe Turner, J&M owner and engineer Cosimo Matassa produced the entire record, and it was one of the many that made Matassa one of the most important figures in the history of music. The record features Richard in his prime, with Matassa giving him all the room he needs to craft what were, at the time, sounds and styles that had never before been heard. Here's Little Richard produced six top twenty hits, with five cracking the top ten, three top three hits, and a pair of singles going all the way to the top spot on the singles chart. The albums' lead song, and perhaps most famous track, "Tutti Fruti, was not technically a single from the album, as it had been released as a 45 nearly two years previous. With a fantastic backing band, Little Richard powers through a dozen amazing, rocking songs that have forever changed the landscape of recorded music.

The band backing Little Richard throughout Here's Little Richard are one of the finest, tightest musical units of the time. Easily one of the most recognizable figures in the band, and a man who played on nearly every one of Little Richard's hits, tenor saxophone player, Lee Allen, remains regarded as one of the best at his craft, and a true innovator of style. Taking duties on baritone sax is Alvin Tyler, who made his name by playing on Fats Domino's smash single, "The Fat Man" (which was also recorded at J&M). Few artists have even remotely as impressive a musical resumé as drummer Earl Palmer. Playing with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Ike & Tina Turner to Glen Campbell to Tom Waits, reading Palmer's list of recordings is truly stunning. Palmer is largely credited with creating the "back beat" that serves as the foundation for nearly every rock song in history with his playing on "The Fat Man." Earl Palmer's impact on music was solidified as he was one of the first, and only, "session musicians" to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as a "solo" performer. Though they would both achieve later fame, bassist Frank Fields and guitarist Edgar Blanchard play up to the amazing talent level of their already famous bandmates throughout Here's Little Richard. The album also features a number of guest musicians, and the bright, swinging mood makes the record nothing short of perfect.

Obviously, it goes without saying that the album would be nothing without the talent and personality of Little Richard. Born Richard Wayne Penniman, he has earned nicknames like "The Originator" and "The Architect" due to the enormous impact of his songs and style on every incarnation of rock and R&B music that formed after he first appeared on the music scene. Easily one of the most energetic and high octane performers and personalities, the way in which he presents and performs the songs are often equal in power to the music itself. The "wooo!" of Little Richard has truly become an iconic sound, and it has always been the way in which he made the soul and gospel of his songs "swing" that made them such enduring works of music. Truth be told, most people are unaware that Little Richard was originally sent to J&M Studios to record blues songs to rival Ray Charles and B.B. King. As the legend goes, during a recording break, Little Richard began an impromptu performance of "Tutti Fruti," and the rest, as they say, is history (though the original lyrics of the song were changed so it would be more commercially "acceptable.") Yet, if you listen to the lyrical format of many of Little Richard's most famous songs, they are in blues formation, and the sole difference is the speed and tone in which they are being delivered. Though they may appear as "dated" or "old fashioned," the truth of the matter is, many of the current hits of today bear a striking resemblance to the songs found on Here's Little Richard. For example, the opening lines of "Rip It Up" become a true "weekend anthem" when he sings, "Saturday night and I just got paid, I'm a fool about money I don't try to save." The song itself is basically about going out and having fun on the weekend; hardly an unfamiliar theme. Furthermore, songs like "She's Got It" is as stereotypical a song about a guy checking out a girl as has ever been written. The main difference between these early incarnations on the themes and the modern re-workings is that the originals are far more classy, well written, and enjoyable by people across all musical tastes.

The name "Little Richard" has become synonymous with high energy rock music, as well as some of the most timeless songs that have ever been recorded. It is nearly impossible to accurately measure the impact that his sound and style have had on music, and one could make the case that without him, rock music may have never evolved as it did. Finding his own, unique style of singing and playing and never compromising on that sound, Little Richard is a truly one of a kind performer, and he remains a phenomenal live talent well into his sixth decade of performing. Though they are rather tame by today's standards, one must try and imagine what it was like to first hear his rapid-tempo, suggestive songs in a time when even slight pelvic movement was thought to be risqué. Little Richard's recorded catalog is massive, containing countless songs that were beyond pivotal in the shaping of modern music. Coming to prominence with a string of iconic singles in the mid-1950's, the swinging rock that he created was just as enjoyable and irresistible then as it is to this day. Truly a legendary record, and one of the most influential of all time, Little Richard's 1956 debut, Here's Little Richard, is an extraordinary landmark in the history of recorded music.

Standout tracks: "Tutti Fruti," "Long Tail Sally," and "Rip It Up."

No comments: