It's impossible to over-emphasise the impact Little Richard and the music on his first two albums for Specialty Records from March 1957 and July 1958 had on the future sound of R&B, rock and soul. “Here's Little Richard” and “Little Richard Volume 2” have just about every classic Little Richard side on them. This is the music that influenced and paved the way for the hundreds of beat groups of the 60's, and coupled with the larger-than-life anarchic, excessive and erratic personality of Little Richard himself, is the bedrock spirit of everything that followed in rock’n’roll, its sound, its image and its energy. Just count the tracks from these albums that got cover versions: The Beatles, Elvis, Otis, Stones, Springsteen and innumerable others recorded and performed these songs for years and years to come. Otis Redding and James Brown, arguably the two biggest male soul stars the world ever saw, both wore their Richard influence as a medal of honour and Michael Jackson and Prince have long been acknowledged as the carriers of Richard's flaming, otherworldly and showmanistic torch.
This is Rock’n’Roll in it's purest form. The raw musical power contained here has, quite simply never been surpassed, they still compel you to shout and dance and put into their original context of the 1950s they are nothing less than astonishing, because as much as Elvis shook up the world, ultimately he was able to be white, safe and accessible. Not so with Little Richard who remained and remains a free spirit, an enigma and a unique being.
Those first two albums are a hard, verging on impossible, act to follow. “Little Richard Volume 2” and the third album, “The Fabulous Little Richard” were both released after Richard had left Specialty in late 1957 and temporarily retired from recording rock’n’roll for the first time. Whereas all but one of the tracks on Volume 2 (‘By The Light Of The Silvery Moon’) had been issued on US 45 before, “The Fabulous” released in 1959, was put together from early recordings that didn't make the first two albums, some of which were recorded before ‘Tutti Frutti’, and recordings that, up until that point had been unheard by the world at large, taken from Richard's last 1950s Specialty session. Some of the earlier recordings were overdubbed with vocals from the Stewart Sisters, perhaps in an attempt to update them in the wake of ex Specialty artist Sam Cooke's pop success, and these overdub versions have come in for some criticism in the past. To be fair, the girl voices are not always entirely welcome. But if you can retune your ears after the full on assault from the first two LP's, “The Fabulous” will reap rewards.
This, really is where it all began.
By Simon White