Review Summary: It's Saturday night and I'm feelin' fine.
As of this writing, "Little" Richard Wayne Penniman is one of the very last surviving members of the original wave of rock & rollers from the mid-late 1950s. How appropriate it is, then, that one of the final relics of such a bygone era just happens to be the greatest of them all.
You see, if one were to ask the average person about who the greatest rock & roller of all-time was, you would likely get answers ranging from Chuck Berry, to Gene Vincent, to Bo Diddley, and to Elvis, of course. But ask anybody about who exemplified the movement
of rock & roll, the energy
that was so integral to the genre, and the stardom
that came with everything else, and it's difficult (if not impossible) to come up with an answer better than Little Richard.
Here's Little Richard
, the singer's debut record, is 28 minutes' worth of dynamite. A compilation of previously released singles and newly recorded material, the record is nothing if not staggeringly consistent in spite of that, with Richard dropping blistering track after blistering track as if his musical soul was freshly graced by divinity (the funky and soulful kind, you feel"). Compared to the intensity and at-times-extremely-blatant sexual drive that Richard lays down on the grooves of this record, the supposed sensuality and promiscuity of Elvis Presley's TV appearances of the era feel like G-rated entertainment. The King rarely strayed past coy hints of sexual acts; the Georgia Peach was happy to describe the act itself and the individuals performing it.
The intensity of Little Richard's music is created by most every facet of it, but particular attention should be paid to Richard's voice, by far the greatest of the early rock & rollers (yes, including Elvis). Most singers of the era utilized a more casual delivery, either because it fit better with their style (Berry, Fats Domino) or because they simply did not have the pipes capable of consistent strong belting (in particular Vincent and early Elvis suffer from this weakness, try as they might). While he could sing ballads very well when he wanted to, Richard made his bread and butter on his sheer lung power, whether it be screaming out the choruses of "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Jenny Jenny" or throwing out some of his trademark falsetto woos in "Long Tall Sally". All three of these tracks, along with "Ready Teddy", "Rip It Up", and others, became almost-immediate rock & roll standards, and it was from songs like these that up-and-coming artists such as a then-15-year-old Paul McCartney would learn from and use to mold their own singing style.
To listen to Little Richard's music is to experience the very essence of rock & roll music, a primal charge of energy that courses through your nerves like an electrical shock. I don't know of many other artists who typify a genre in such a grounded, real
way. And with the recent passings of other rock & roll icons such as Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, there is perhaps no more important time than the present to acknowledge the significance of Little Richard's contributions to music, before he too saunters down that golden road where all great rockers must go one day.