60 Years Later This Still Packs a Wallop

Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard (Craft Recordings) review

Here’s Little Richard is one of the greatest albums of all time. Few records, of any genre or era, pack this much energy into the grooves. Craft Recordings is celebrating the 60th anniversary of this monumental release with a deluxe, two-disc set, including a remastered version of the original album, plus numerous demos and alternate versions.

The original album leads with Richard’s debut single, “Tutti Frutti,” which by that point was a year and a half old, and grabs 11 more incendiary performances for a track listing that rivals any other album in history. “Ready Teddy,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip It Up,” “Jenny, Jenny” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’” – this is the very backbone of rock n’ roll, and they still sound fantastic today. Elvis covered several of these songs, so did the Everly Brothers. Paul McCartney was paying close attention too.

When this album came out, rock n’ roll was still trying for legitimacy. Artists were encouraged to soften their approach (think Presley’s “Love Me Tender”). Yet, there’s absolutely nothing compromised on Here’s Little Richard. Even the slower numbers like “Can’t Believe You Want to Leave” are executed with a fury.

It’s interesting to note, of the album’s 12 original tracks, how many times the music breaks down and you’re left with just Richard’s gritty voice cutting through. Another thing is that Little Richard was impossible to figure out. Who the hell was “Tutti Frutti” and was he happy or pissed off about her? Richard sings like a man who’s enjoying setting himself on fire.

The remastered original album is just the beginning. Also included is a bonus disc of 22 alternate versions and demos, many making their debut in the US. Of note is an early version of “Tutti Frutti,” where only a couple of voice cracks probably kept this from being the master take, and an early rendition of “Ready Teddy” which has guitar flourishes that were omitted on the released version. One of Richard’s most famous compositions, “Long Tall Sally,” began life as a much slower, softer blues number, as on take one. By take six, things are speeding up, but Richard is still singing the words. By the released master take, he would take to screaming the lyrics.

The alternate versions for “Rip it Up” are the most revealing. Take one features a couple of false starts, and he admits “I messed up,” before telling the musicians to “watch your cigarettes brothers, so we can get right in it.” Take three sounds like he’s reading the lyrics – things haven’t gelled yet, but by take four, Richard is imploring his band to “just come in strong, and keep that steady rhythm just pounding.” Take six features a fantastic sax solo and some frenetic drumming.

As an added treat, the accompanying booklet unfolds to reveal a 14 x 14 replica of the original album cover on one side, with extensive liner notes on the other. The original back cover liner notes are also included, plus, it’s no accident that the original red cartoons made him look like the devil.

Here’s Little Richard too often gets lumped in with other early examples of rock n’ roll, which is unfortunate. This album blows away EVERYTHING that came out around that time, including the highly-lauded Elvis Presley debut. The importance of Here’s Little Richard should not be confined to “oldies” or “nostalgia.” This is music that came out of nowhere, and still sounds like nothing that came before or after it.

Crank up Here’s Little Richard, and it’s more likely going to melt your speakers, than make you feel all warm and nostalgic. –Tony Peters