Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten

Quiff Richard

The old iPod shuffled up this wonderfully anonymous curio tonight. So enamoured with it, I was forced to break into something of a treadmill sprint so that my arms could get close enough to my trusty wee portable friend resting on the machine’s control panel and replay it. This I managed without breaking stride, which is something of a record. As indeed is this (something of a record).

I couldn’t place it. It swings like Ella ‘n Louis, but there’s no high parping trumpet or any of Armstrong’s sandpaper vocals, so it ain’t Ella Fitzgerald. It’s too cultured to be Big Mama Thornton but not stately enough to be Nina Simone. Bessie Smith? Do I even own any Bessie Smith? The darkest corners of my iPod are crammed with music from those heady days when the combined joys of wireless broadband and a decent file sharing site allowed you to download the entirety of The Beatles’ back catalogue faster than you could shout, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” – all very silly and unnecessary, as we all know nowadays – but back then I was a fiend for the stuff I thought I should have but didn’t, so Bessie Smith was a good guess. By the second play though, I’d convinced myself it wasn’t bluesy enough to be her either.

What I could picture as it played was, annoyingly, Jools Holland’s Big Band easing into a 12 bar blues at his Hootenanny, seasoned old pros shuffling to that wonderfully infectious backing, with perhaps Alison Moyet or Beverley Knight getting ready to let rip at the mic. Then, when the vocals began, I could imagine that headless, broom-wielding cleaner who chased Jerry around the kitchen in endless Tom & Jerry cartoons. I know she could scream, but I bet she could sing too; a big, housekeepin’ mama with a voice as deep as the south but as clear as the air in the cotton fields.

It’s an old blues singer I haven’t paid attention to before now,’ I rationalised, majorly annoyed by now that I couldn’t place her voice. ‘I’ll find out who she was when I stop.’ And on I ran for eight, maybe nine more steps and stopped. And checked the iPod.

Stone me if it wasn’t Little Richard!

Of course it is! I mean, it’s not one of his better-known tunes (you can name them all, so I don’t need to be doing that). There’s none of the high camp screaming that’s as outrageous as the oil slick-thick conk that’s plonked atop his head. And there’s none of the mad eyed hootin’ or a-hollerin’ that so lit a spark in the teenage McCartney, but The Most I Can Offer (Just My Heart) is a beauty. Here’s another take…

Little RichardThe Most I Can Offer (Just My Heart)

Richard’s voice is both feminine and tinged with the same burnt umber of the saxophone that provides the descending backing. The high barroom piano shifts from major to minor in the bridge – of course – and then, well! – there’s Richard right there. A little rasp at the back of the epiglottis, an unseen shake of the quiff, an imagined James Brownish drop to the knees. It’s Little Richard all right.

And then he’s back to being the vampish torch singer, his band playing out their chops with regal grace and understated beauty.

Without Little Richard there’d be no ______ (fill in the blanks) or ________ , or even ______ , or perhaps even, bizarrely, Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You. Another thing that had been bugging me as I clattered the flat-footed kilometres on the treadmill to nowhere was, ‘where have I heard those opening lines before?‘ Now I know. And you do too. Check them out!

 

Cover Versions, Get This!, Hard-to-find, studio outtakes

Quiff Richard

little richard 57

Elvis may have been the King, but Little Richard was certainly the Queen. He’s terrific, isn’t he? The high priest of camp; his pompadoured hair like a Texan oil slick, sticky and stationary above those mad, popping eyes and perfectly plucked brows, the occasional dog-bothering ‘whoooo!’ while his hands pound away on the pianer with all the frenzied dexterity of a teenage boy with unlimited broadband and a lock on his bedroom door. Tee-riffic.

little richard gif

Slippin’ And Slidin’. Tutti Frutti. Lucille. Good Golly Miss Molly. Rip It Up. Long Tall Sally. Every one a throat-ripping, stone cold classic……..the building blocks of rock and roll and all that was to follow. But you knew that already.

Before Elvis, there was nothing‘, said John Lennon, but The Beatles owed Richard Penniman a huge debt or two. McCartney for one modelled his whole voice on Richard’s every single time his group broke free from the shackles of balladry and ruffled their rugs to the delight of the watching world – from the backing vocals on The Beatles’ own version of I Wanna Be Your Man right through to the White Album’s Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, the spirit of Little Richard was never far away.

DICK CLARK, LITTLE RICHARD

Here’s one you might not’ve heard before:

The Most I Can Offer (Just My Heart) is superb. Released on his 3rd album The Fabulous Little Richard by a slightly twitchy record company after he’d indicated a preference¬† for thumping the bible rather than the thumping boogie woogie of yore, The Most I Can Offer is a mid-paced soul-shaking break-up ballad (of course!), all rasping tenor sax and ding-ding-ding minor 7ths on the keys. It throws me every time. Why? Because it sounds like a duet between a high, quavering falsetto’d voice and a southern souler. Imagine if William Bell had sung with the black cleaner lady who appears from the waist down in every Tom And Jerry cartoon. Except The Most I Can Offer seems to be Richard and Richard alone, his voice alternating between broken-hearted blues mama and a down-on-his-knees tear-soaked gospel bawler. The version I’ve given you is Take 4. Which sounds exactly like takes 1, 2 and 3 and no doubt the master version too. If you have but an ounce of soul you’ll want to play this again and again and again.

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And here’s another:

Hey Hey Hey Hey, as reprised on the Beatles For Sale LP by those self-same Little Richard fans mentioned earlier. An out-and-out rocker, this features Richard at his most extreme, extravagant and extraordinary, pompadour bouncing while the piano pumps out primal jive ‘n wail. You can almost see the whites of his eyes on this recording.

And if you think the original’s good, you should have a listen to the Jim Jones Revue‘s outstanding needles-in-the-red version;

Proof, if any were needed, that Little Richard is as relevant today for any musician seeking the mother lode of rock ‘n roll.

little richard passport