on 12 February 2010
A new Little Richard, who knows that Richard made his career mark (and the mark of a new form of music) with Specialty Records in the 1950s, might be surprised that this collection, though tyically strong, has some concession to convention (that's some cool phrase): hackish overdubs of a fem-bubblegum chorus, which in some cases, amkes the tune iresistable ("Chicken Little Baby" and "The Most I Can Offer") and in other cases unlistenable ("I'm Just a Lonely Guy" - they had the nerve to overdub the Gospel-based ballad B-side to his multi-million selling first release!; "Directly From My Heart To You" - though it's this revier's contention that is the version that Frank Zappa based his "cover" on). You might say, well, it's a matter of taste. Not really.
Another disappointment might be found in some of the "rushed" arrangements of uptempos like Piano Red's "She Knows How To Rock" and "Whole Lotta Shakin'". Richard pours on the soul power - his voice is astonishing - but the result is a frenzied jam more than a finished classic. Interesting that Richard chose to remake "Shakin'" for his first release on his comeback in 1964 (for Vee Jay).
But, we are talking about the *Fabulous* Little Richard, and especially in 1955-57, he was unbeatable and indestructible, and these leftovers mostly from his first Specialty session and new cuts from a frantically arranged final session (after Richard formally announced his retirement) are still essential. If only for "Kansas City" (yes, the version the Beatles' did a bang-up job on. I don't know why it's credited to Leiber and Stoller - it's really a different song from Wilbert Harrison, et. al); and "Shake a Hand" (actually another Beatles' choice - Sir Paul finally did his version around 1999 on the great "Run Devil Run", a real showcase for a rocking-roots tribute).
This CD has a repro of the original cover - his coolest on Specialty; great sound, based on the masters - and what else? Little Richard! My, my, my.
[some buyers might want to know that the finale cut of "Shakin' does *not* feature the opening - probably non-arranged - piano notes].
Between 1957 and 1959, Specialty (London American in the UK) released 3 Little Richard albums, "Here's Little Richard", "Little Richard Volume 2" and, "The Fabulous Little Richard". As was the habit at the time they were essentially comprised of current or future singles and flip sides plus odd studio material that hadn't made the grade . This is the third of those albums.
And it stinks!
Well that was my first reaction as a kid after getting the LP home from the record shop and rushing it onto the Dansette deck. For a short period, reflected by his first pair of albums, King Richard could do no wrong, he was the greatest rocker of all time, greater even than Jerry Lee (though I have been known to reverse that statement and could indeed, do so in the future!). Expectation was way way up there. This record showed him to be merely human after all. I have gotten over the disappointment (!), and would reflect that, since it was Richard it was still on a par with most of the other records coming out at that time. It definitely deserves 3 stars and possibly a tad more. (The "And it stinks" was a little tongue in cheek!)
The reason for the apparent decline was simple. On his 2 week tour of Oz in October '57, Richard found religion in a big way. A rocky flight from Melbourne to Sydney plus a vision in the sky (which we were later told was Sputnik 1, the first satellite), shook him to his very bones. He renounced his wicked ways, threw his $8,000 ring into Sydney Harbour, and left on a ferry - the plane he was originally scheduled to leave on apparently crashed into the Pacific!
As a result Specialty were left with very little material; mainly flip sides which hadn't found their way to album (plus one that had) and tracks which had been discarded. To "spice it up" they added overdubs which, in many cases, detracted further from the quality of the material.
However the tracks are interesting for two reasons:
Firstly the presence of slow numbers e.g. "Directly from my heart to you", with a strong flavour of gospel. These were mainly recorded very early in Richard's time in the studio. To quote Wikipedia on Richard, "(Art) Rupe and (Bumps) Blackwell originally pictured Penniman as a commercial rival to Ray Charles, who was experiencing success with Atlantic Records by taking gospel songs and developing them in a bluesy setting with a beat". Who knows, if they had pursued this path with somewhat more vigour, Little Richard might have been one of the great soul men. Certainly these tracks reinforce the view of Richard as being a forerunner to the soul explosion - both Otis and Solomon were fans and definitely took something from him.
The other reason is the apparent lack of production values on certain of the numbers present here - many are just plain sloppy. Maybe some were the only takes and a view was then taken not to proceed. In contrast all the tracks on albums 1 and 2 give the impression of Richard and a band marching into the studio and just "doing it". In reality a lot of production had gone into these numbers. Multiple alternates have been made available in recent years for those who want everything from this man. The evidence suggests that Rupe and Blackwell (and maybe Richard himself), certainly wanted to get these records right.
The devoted Richard fan will already have this set. For those less
fanatical but still with an interest in early R'n'R (and soul) it's well worth giving these a listen.