Monday, 25 March 2013

Little Richard's "Get Down With It" - well, I learn something new every day

I  was watching a programme of Slade's BBC performances the other evening when the info-strap at the bottom announced that the band's first stomping UK hit, "Get Down and Get With It" (the first time most of us became acquainted with Noddy Holder's extraordinary voice), was a cover of a Little Richard original. I'm ashamed to say this came as news to me. I simply must have heard this record some time in the past - but it's hard to see how I could have forgotten anything as truly glorious as this 1967 classic (as with mlost of Little Richard's tracks, you'll have to click to watch it on YouTube - God knows why):


To be honest, I feel a trifle guilty about Richard Penniman. Loved him to death as a kid, but my ardour cooled when he embarrassed himself (and the audience of which I was a member) with a dreadfully ill-judged performance at the London Rock and Roll Show at Wembley Stadium in 1972. Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Hailey, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry tore the place up, but Little Richard got booed towards the end of his performance when he climbed on top of his piano and started arsing around half-naked like some pilled-up drag-queen. (MC5 and Gary Glitter also received a hostile reputation, but that was for being obscure, rather than for being poncey.) The self-styled "King of Rock 'n' Roll" had made the mistake of forgetting that we were there for the music rather than to worship his bloated ego.

But then, years later, I saw Richard on a TV documentary chatting to Chuck and Bo about how they'd all been ripped off during their careers. Berry came across as a nasty piece of work, determined to show the other two how fantastically canny he'd been with money compared to his dunderhead companions, whereas Bo Diddley and Little Richard were lovably frank about their lack of commercial acumen. So the Georgia Peach was back in my good books (Bo Diddley hasnever left them) - and he has remained there ever since.

My discovery of "Get Down With It" (Richard's title for the song) got me trawling through his post-1950s discography. It contains some classics to rank with the very best of his work from his raucous heyday.

First up, one of my favourite all-time records throughout the last fifty years, 1962's wonderful blast of raw, shouty gospel, "He Got What He Wanted":

Richard returned to profane matters with 1964's superb "Bama Lama Bama Loo", which absolutely blew my 11-year old socks off at the time - and still does:

The following year saw the release of a magnificent Deep Soul ballad, "I Don't Know What You've Got, But It's Got Me", which features one of the greatest black voices - maybe the greatest - of the 20th century at its very best. No wonder Otis Redding idolised him:

The Explosive Little Richard  album was released in 1967, containing both "Get Down With It" and the Northern Soul classic, "Poor Dog (Who Can't Wag His Own Tail)":

1969 brought "Dew Drop Inn", a UK single which was a cover of an old Esquerita number, with a distinctly "Keep a Knockin'"-style drum intro:

In 1970 he gave us the great single "Greenwood, Mississippi" which sounded like Little Richard covering Ike & Tina Turner covering Creedence Clearwater Revival covering Otis Redding covering Little Richard:

Last on the list is this wonderful, rocking 2002 tribute to Johnny Cash:

Little Richard - who's now 80 - belongs to that select handful of rock and roll pioneers  who managed to adapt their style to changing tastes, while remaining utterly true to themselves (Jerry Lee Lewis, who went on to enjoy a big Country Music career, is another member). Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and Bo Diddley, for instance, mainly kept on doing what they started off doing, without any obvious signs of musical development

Chuck Berry might have been financially more astute than Little Richard - but I have little doubt as to which one  will be more fondly remembered for his human qualities.


  1. Hmmm...I'm about to risk another headlock. If 'Bama Lama' had been written by any one else, Mr Penniman would have been up before the beak on a charge pretty much the same as Harrison's for re-writing 'She's So Fine.' It"s 'Tutti Frutti' meets 'Good Golly Miss Molly' once again. As it is, self-plagiarism isn't a crime, just an indication of a limited range. I never saw much else after the 50s that hit the same spot. Still don't. Sometimes it's enough just to put on a good show.

    1. No headlock, but I disagree. I don't think any of the 1950s rockers ever came close to surpassing what they produced in their glory days - perhaps because those level of freshness and excitement are inherently unrecapturable. But some manage to adapt successfully to new styles - Soul and Funk in Richard's case.

      I've never had a problem with performers covering themselves, as it were. If you've got it, flaunt it! "Bama Lama" woul have sat comfortably on a Little Richard greatest hits LP released in 1958 - and that's good enough for me.