In a quietly hysterical era as defined by fear as the one we’re living in today, it took an unrepentantly effeminate Macon, Georgia man known as “Little Richard” to slap some sense into a McCarthy-hounded, Cold War-traumatized 1950s America. Barely controlled cacophonies of shrieking, pounding, slamming, and honking, Penniman’s piano-driven hits like “Long Tall Sally” erupted with a galvanizing force that shaped every early rock and soul pioneer from James Brown to the Beatles. The man sang as if spitting fire from his pencil mustached lips.
Featuring all 20 of his charting single sides released between 1955 and ’59, The Very Best of Little Richard follows a sax-drenched boogie-woogie hot streak that united the selfless ecstasy of the Pentecostal church with a scalding sexuality honed in secret gay clubs: Nothing else could have birthed a frenzy as extreme as “Tutti Frutti.” By the time “Good Golly, Miss Molly” hit the charts in ’58, a guilt-ridden Richard had fled back to Christianity. Yet not even five decades of distance can diminish how radical these initial rock & roll explosions remain.