This week, we’re celebrating the life of one of, if not *the*, pioneer of rock’n’roll and, as such, popular music — the incomparable Little Richard, who sadly died last week at 87. One of my favourites, it’s 1956’s iconic Long Tall Sally single, subsequently released on his debut, Here’s Little Richard.
One of the true standards in the gilded halls of classic rock’n’roll, Long Tall Sally follows the standard 12-bar structure that propped up many of his greatest hits. Immediately, there’s a familiarity to songs like this that are, I believe, genetically engrained to get your toes tappin’ and hips movin’. Today, it’s easy to underestimate how provocative and groundbreaking a song like Long Tall Sally was, considering its relatively simple composition but, the thing is, Little Richard was singing it as a black, gay man — in the South — in the 50s.
The outrageousness of this fact is not lost on Richard either, if his voice be any indication. Already possessing one of the most instantly ear-grabbing, larger-than-life voices in the history of the larynx, his almost reckless balancing act between the wild and the soulful is a joy to listen to, his trademark hollering having this aggressively melodic quality to it that sets it apart from both his contemporaries, and pretty much any after too.
Backed by a tight, bouncy rhythm section, Richard’s piano playing was second-to-none, the frenetic haphazardness of which puts it above even Jerry Lee Lewis in my opinion. Despite the solo section of the song being primarily dedicated to a brilliant horn section, you can still the finger-breaking energy put in to his piano section — you’d wonder how he wouldn’t just collapse on stage. And yet, in his prime, it was that restless dedication to his craft and showmanship that allowed him to transcend race and sexuality and, in that, society, to become one of the most iconic, fascinating, talented entertainers to ever do it, and he will be sorely missed.