Greatest Hits [Onyx]
A drum roll, a pause, and then the eight or nine piece band breaks into a funky R&B progression. “Good evenin’ Ladies and Gen’lmen,” yells a gravel-voiced black MC. “Welcome to the Okeh Club. We’re featuring here tonight — the king of rock and roll — and when I said the King — I mean His Majesty — Little Richard!” The audience erupts into a genuine cheer and before they have a chance to quiet down, the guitars, then the drums and horns, and finally the hard, almost crude boogie-woogie piano hit the familiar riff and Little Richard wails: “Lucille!” The song ends amid much cheering and applause and the band goes back into it. “Ooh mah soul,” says Little Richard and then: “She can’t help it, the girl can’t help it.” More noise from the crowd, this time louder. Little Richard starts to howl: “OW! OW! OW! OW! Aw, sock it to me — Ooh mah soul — Wopbopaloobopbalopbopbop — tutti frutty!” This makes the audience come apart at the seams and it’s only the third song of the set.
This is one of the few really exciting live rock and roll recordings on the market today. The liner notes, written by an enthusiastic member of the audience (a disc jockey) state that the performance was taped at the “Club Okeh in Hollywood.” Checking on this, I found that there is no Club Okeh in LA, and that the solutions to this problem are: 1) The Club Okeh has since gone out of business, or more likely, 2) The session was held in a recording studio. It doesn’t matter; the record sounds like it’s in a nightclub (the not over-rehearsed band loses Richard a couple of times) and it obviously makes no difference to the audience or to Little Richard.
This album exhibits all the factors of a typical Little Richard performance: a simplistic but effective back-up band; enthusiastic audience participation; Richard’s frenzied singing, shouting, piano-pounding, and delightful ego-rapping: “I want you to know that I am the best lookin’ man in show business … Let’s have a good time because mah music is the healin’ music … Mah music is the healin’ music that make the dumb and the deef hear and talk, OW! OW! OW!” And the audience just eats it right up.
Perhaps the best thing about this album, which was recorded in February, 1967, is that it doesn’t go overboard. Today, if this situation were allowed to get into the hands of a modern-day producer, we might hear the usual gimmicks, such as Stax horn arrangements, blues guitar shrieks, fancy percussion work, maybe even a studio cat on electric piano (!). But producer Larry Williams employs a back-up band that combines the best of the old and the new; it’s the same Little Richard style, but updated a little bit, mostly because of the more complicated drumming, and the inclusion of a full-time tambourinist who adds depth to the rhythm section. Little Richard’s piano and voice stand out the most, as they should.
Neither are the song lengths exaggerated. The average duration of each number is 2:34, and four cuts are ninety seconds or under — short, exhausting, and to the point. Little Richard’s rapping never gets boring. He breaks into a song whenever there’s any indication that he might be getting tiresome, although he never does. Richard is introducing “Jenny, Jenny” in a roundabout sort of way, when one of the bandsmen interrupts him: “C’mon, Cassius Clay.” Richard: “. . . but it’s a — oh, oh that’s right, best lookin’ man left in show business … it’s me, I am the only thing left.” Screaming clapping, cheering. Richard stops it: “Hey, hey, hey, that’s enough. I know you dig it!” He laughs, not a conceited laugh, really, but one of an entertainer enjoying his audience and his work.
Beside the songs previously mentioned, the LP includes “Send Me Some Lovin’,” “Long Tall Sally,” “True Fine Mama,” “Goody Golly Miss Molly,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Anyway You Want Me,” “Get Down With It,” and “You Gotta Feel It.” The latter two are the longest selections, and unfortunately also the weakest. They’re not throwaways, but one can think of a whole string of others that are more in the Little Richard vein.
There are a few things amiss — a sax is too loud here, a bass too soft there — but for a two and a half year-old recording (and by a small label), the results are most satisfactory. Anyone who digs honest-to-God rock and roll will like this album. All it is is Little Richard. That’s enough.
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