Videos by American Songwriter
Directly from my Heart: The Best of the Specialty & Vee-Jay Years
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Listening to Little Richard’s earliest performances that open this three disc compilation which covers nearly all his output from 1956-’65, it’s no wonder most record labels had no interest in signing him. The by-the-numbers R&B material is little more than pleasant and derivative of other popular music of the time, even if the band of New Orleans pros is top notch. But once he found his rollicking groove on “Tutti Frutti,” his inner wildman was set free.
That set the stage for a series of classic Little Richard burners—14 songs in the R&B top 10 recorded over just 18 months– that have lost none of their explosive, hot-wired, nitro infused intensity over the decades. It’s no secret that the bass player for his opening act in Hamburg, Paul McCartney, grabbed much of his vocal inflection and the “wooo-oooh”’s that informed many of the Beatles’ early rockers from Richard. They paid their respects by covering his “Long Tall Sally,” “Lucille” and others.
But Richard’s inconsistent personal life due to leaving secular music for religion and returning (multiple times over his career), prevented him from gaining the traction that would have catapulted him to superstar status. Regardless, the 64 performances collected here on three CDs, show not only how consistent Richard was during this decade, but how deeply he was influenced by blues, doo-wop and gospel.
The 36 page book with extensive notes by celebrated rock and roll historian Billy Vera colors in most of the details of how a once unoriginal R&B singer/pianist Richard Penniman finally nailed his sound and unleashed some of the toughest, most unhinged rocking onto a world that wasn’t ready for the outrageous looks and antics of Little Richard.
Aside from the amazing tunes, there are some problems with this set. Each of the three discs are short enough for all the songs to be squeezed onto two platters. Also, more frustratingly, there are no backing musician listings or years when the songs were recorded or specific chart information. That’s not acceptable for a historic package such as this. Even though there are rare photos, the lack of detailed track information is unsatisfactory.
Still, for those who want to dig deeper than the hits that have been repackaged to death, this proves just how talented Little Richard was. It fills in plenty of gaps and is a necessity for any serious American musicologist’s collection. Richard may not have invented this music, but he was there in the beginning and it’s safe to say that rock and roll was never the same after he arrived.