Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"Tutti-Frutti" (1956)

40. Little Richard, "Tutti-Frutti" (Jan. 28, 1956, #17)

Talk about iconic, talk about the origins of rock 'n' roll, talk about the detonation points of history. Little Richard—though he did not come from nowhere, hardly—about had it all, not least the wit to invent "A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop a-lop-bam-boom" and then use it to open this, his first hit, cramming it down the microphone hard. He's the one pumping the piano—later a saxophone shows itself in—and the whole thing is delivered with a fervent fever across its two and a half minutes that is equal parts church throw-down and titanic pleasure release. It may sound rather tame to our ears now, but I think that's more the production and the recording technology. What doesn't sound tame is Little Richard's vocal, a fact easily enough detected when one attempts to sing along and match him note for note, intonation for intonation. Then you'll feel it. He's all over the register: falsetto hoots, various growls, grunting flourishes, hard breathing, and that attempt always to enunciate those nonsense syllables as if they mean something. Because they do, and it's a meaning that transcends language, which makes his strategy really the only way to do it (just don't call it speaking in tongues). Little Richard made his bones with this, repeating the same kind of stunt over the next year and a half or so. If it's tempting to argue for any one of them over the others, that's a matter of personal taste—they are all essentially of a piece. He then retired into a career that continues today, more than 50 years on, vacillating between obedience to the Lord and a return to these devilish sounds and the kind of media empire that produces them. Little Richard himself, of course, would never use the term "media empire," even in regard to his appearances on "Hollywood Squares."

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