RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #115: Long, Tall Sally by Little Richard.
This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
To be perfectly honest, I think the most valuable part of this entire post might be video I will be posting at the end. This video is a live recording of Little Richard and his orchestra in the mid-1950s. What makes this such a revealing video, at least to me, anyway, is that all of my initial encounters with Little Richard were when he was well past his early days as a pioneer of Rock n’ Roll, well past his days of discovering Christianity and becoming an ordained Minister and well past the days when The Beatles opened for him on European tours. I first saw Little Richard in the 1970s and 80s, when he was already approaching middle age. At that time, I took more notice of the make-up and outrageous frocks he wore; his antics, more attention-seeking than groundbreaking. I never knew the Little Richard who filled every room he entered with a sense of boundless energy and charisma. I never knew just how powerful a singer he was. I guess I never really realized why he is was so revered by so many of the greatest performers of all-time such as Elvis, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan (who wrote in his HS yearbook that his ambition in life was to sing like Little Richard.) until I watched this video. And then, I knew.
Little Richard was “discovered” by the true originator of Rock n’ Roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Little Richard grew up singing in churches, like so many people of colour did. One day, he managed to invite himself into a church where Sister Rosetta Tharpe was set to perform. She heard him singing away, prior to the show and invited him to sing a few songs before she came on stage. He did so and she paid him for his efforts. That was Little Richard’s first paying gig and, because of it, he came to harbour the desire to be an actual performer. Through the mentorship of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and other legends of the Gospel circuit, like Mahalia Jackson and Pops Staples, Little Richard learned how to hone his singing skills, as well as, learning how to perform and sing in front of an audience. The one thing no one had to teach him was how to emote on stage. Little Richard came armed with an outgoing personality and a natural sense of charm that endeared him to audiences that were comprised of, both, black and white folks. Along with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard became one of the very first black entertainers to de-segregate his audiences.
It wasn’t long until his Gospel connections led him to sign an official recording contract. Right out of the gate, Little Richard had hits with songs such as “Tutti Frutti”, “Long, Tall Sally”, “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and many more. One of the things that appealed to audiences most, when it came to Little Richard, was that while he certainly was a charmer, he was, also, a rascal and could get away with singing highly suggestive songs that were, definitely, not the norm at the time in the 1950s. It is amazing that network censors aimed their ire at songs like “Wake Up, Little Susie” by The Everly Brothers but never touched song such as “Long, Tall Sally” which contains lyrics that describe Richard’s uncle cheating in an alley with Long, Tall Sally, doing who-knows-what but certainly, whatever it was, it was illicit and sexual. But, Little Richard sang about it all with a smile and a swagger that seemed to disarm everyone and, by doing so, Rock n’ Roll was born. It is no wonder that young men such as Elvis, John Lennon and Keith Richards were so drawn to what Little Richards was doing on stage, in front of mixed-race audiences and selling millions of copies of his singles, to boot!
The video that I will play for you is mesmerizing. Little Richard had a voice that was louder, stronger and more powerful than I had imagined it would be. The energy he emits in captivating; it is almost like watching a tornado in mid-screen. He is riveting. I am thankful to have written this particular post because it helped push me past the legend of Little Richard in the superficial sense that I used to know of him. I am happy to know more than I did because, by knowing more, I now know what all of the fuss was about. The sass! The charisma! The rhythm and driving beat! But, most of all, the energy! It is all there is this video. So, without further delay, here is the man, himself, Little Richard, with his second release, “Long, Tall Sally”. Enjoy!
The link to the video for the song, “Long, Tall Sally” by Little Richard, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Little Richard, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.