Here’s Little Richard
Available on CD, LP and digital download.
To the casual fan, this reissue of Little Richard’s first long-playing album might be a little redundant, especially if they already have a legit CD of the original Specialty recordings of his greatest hits, like The Georgia Peach (all of the songs on this album are also on this collection, albeit in an obviously different sequence). But why buy this album in the first place, especially when it’s coming from an era – the rock and R&B markets of the 1950’s and pre-Beatles 1960’s – when singles were the dominant format and albums were pretty much an afterthought?
Simple: Because this album – and thus a good chunk of the Reverend’s classics – are sounding the best they have ever sounded. These are almost sixty-year-old tapes – and I don’t know what kind of stock Art Rupe and Bumps Blackwell, Richard’s producers, were able to get their hands on at the time (1955-early 1957) of the sessions, but either it held up well over these years compared to reel-to-reel analog tapes of the Eighties and beyond (when a company called Ampex was selling studios some of the shittiest formulations of recording tape ever to be wrapped around a flat plastic spool) or Specialty’s previous owners, Fantasy, took very damn good care of the tapes in their vaults.
The star of the show here, of course, is many of Little Richard’s classic A-sides: “Tutti Frutti”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Slippin’ and Slidin’”, “Rip It Up”, “Jenny Jenny” – and many of their B’s. These songs, of course, are part of the backbone of rock and roll (Elvis Presley covered four of Richard’s songs on his first two RCA albums, but he could only better Pat Boone’s whitewashed and pathetic treatments of those same songs, and barely see Richard’s taillights himself); The rest is fine R&B that Specialty was hoping their answer to Ray Charles would be putting out.
As further bonuses, there is some revealing material on this release. Most important is the demo that got Richard signed to Specialty – more to the R&B side that Specialty was looking for rather than the rock and roll he would spontaneously invent at his first session, but with his own backing band rather than the session musicians that supported him on the original album’s recordings. Less important is an interview with Specialty owner/producer Art Rupe (edited down, obviously, from an existing finished radio program) that one will find themselves listening to only once. And then there’s two film clips of Richard performing for a screen test for The Girl Can’t Help It – which this review couldn’t review because of how his otherwise new laptop was set up.
As mentioned at the beginning of the review, singles, not albums, were the predominant format for rock and R&B music and albums were an afterthought – meaning, in this instance, that the sessions took place between 1955 and early 1957 and were all meant for single releases. By then, Specialty had enough material to compile an album. Here’s Little Richard was first released in March of 1957; a few months later, Little Richard would have an epiphany, leave the music business in favor of Bible study and later becoming an ordained minister, and vault back and forth between rocking and preaching for the rest of his life until he eventually concluded that God wanted him to be Little Richard in the first place. Even if he had disappeared completely from music after this first album and the rest of his recordings for the label were issued (the rest of his available sessions would be released by Specialty as a second, eponymous album over a year later – which I hope Specialty will also remaster and reissue soon, since there’s some classics on that album that didn’t make this long player), his place in history was already assured – and in the case of this reissue, history is clearer than ever.
(Collector’s alert: A colored vinyl reissue of this album is being released by Specialty/Concord this Saturday, April 21 – Record Store Day.)