The man widely viewed by his contemporaries as being the architect of rock and roll, Little Richard, has sadly passed away aged 87. The news has been confirmed by his son Danny Penniman, in a statement issued to Rolling Stone, however, his cause of death remains unknown.
Richard’s influence as a major influential figure in the development of popular music is unrivalled, spearheading the birth of rock music for seven decades since he began in the music industry in the mid-1950s.
The icon became as well known for his charismatic, flamboyant showmanship while performing his dynamic and often frenetic music. Heavily credited as being a major player in setting the solid foundations for the genre of rock music, Richards is regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time who was also a fierce champion of black and LGBT rights.
Not only did Richard help plant the beginnings of rock and roll, but he also went on to influence countless other iconic names of popular culture. “I heard so much about the audience reaction, I thought there must be some exaggeration,” the Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger once said. “But it was all true. He drove the whole house into a complete frenzy … I couldn’t believe the power of Little Richard onstage. He was amazing.”
Lemmy, the iconic figure of Motörhead, once said: “Little Richard was always my main man. How hard must it have been for him: gay, black and singing in the South? But his records are a joyous good time from beginning to end.”
To celebrate his illustrious career which set the foundations for the likes of David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Iggy Pop and countless others who would be inspired by Richard, we are going to take a look at his five best tracks which perfectly embody his legendary career.
Tutti Frutti (1955)
When ‘Tutti Frutti’ was released in 1955, it would mark a seminal point in culture that transcended music when the world finally started paying attention to Little Richard. This would, of course, result in his first chart hit when this landed at Number 21 in the States. This success was a long time coming for the singer-songwriter who had been releasing music since 1951.
Richard wrote this song in 1955 when he was working as a dishwasher at a Greyhound bus station in his hometown of Macon, Georgia. Explaining how he came up with the song, he told Rolling Stone: “I couldn’t talk back to my boss man. He would bring all these pots back for me to wash, and one day I said, ‘I’ve got to do something to stop this man bringing back all these pots to me to wash,’ and I said, ‘Awap bop a lup bop a wop bam boom, take ’em out!’ and that’s what I meant at the time.”
‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’ (1958)
‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’ was a hit for Little Richard in 1958 and it originated from hearing Southern DJ use the phrase “Good golly, Miss Molly” which he took inspiration and spun into the innuendo packed lyrics “Good golly, Miss Molly/You sure like to ball.”
The inclusion of innuendo to do with oral sex in 1958 by an artist operating within the mainstream was frowned upon—to put it politely. Speaking so openly about sex, widely seen as a taboo at the time, is partially down to Little Richard’s liberal lyrics that would influence others to follow suit.
‘Rip It Up’ (1956)
Little Richard topped the US R&B charts with this track which has become symbolic of that period of time where characters such as Richard were ripping up the rule book and changing music forever.
The song would later be covered by the likes of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Bill Haley however, their versions could just not compete with the masterpiece that was painted with Little Richard’s wonderous voice.
‘Long Tall Sally’ (1956)
‘Long Tall Sally’ represented Little Richard’s first entry to the Top 10 in the US charts and if the mainstream were still unaware of him after ‘Tutti Frutti’, then they certainly knew all about him after hearing this joyous affair.
Little Richard later revealed that the track was based on a family friend called Sally who always had a glass of whiskey to hand. He frankly described her as tall and ugly, with just two teeth and cockeyed. She was having an affair with John, who was married to Mary, who they called “Short Fat Fanny”. John and Mary would get in fights on the weekends, and when he saw her coming, he would duck back into a little alley to avoid her.
The Beatles would make ‘Long Tall Sally’ a stalwart of their live performances and often finished their set with their rendition of the track which despite being brilliant, it still fell short of the original.
‘Lucille’ originally began life as a ballad after Richard wrote called ‘Directly From My Heart to You’ which he tried recording for his first album, however, it didn’t make the cut. When his career then took flight, and he then needed another single in 1957, he went back to the track but sped up the tempo considerably and completely re-wrote the lyrics making it unrecognisable from its original form.
In a 1999 interview with Mojomagazine, Richard detailed what inspired him to re-work the track: “The effects and rhythms you hear on my songs, I got ’em from the trains that passed by my house. Like ‘Lucille’ came from a train – Dadas-dada-dada-dada, I got that from the train.”