Little Richard's influence on the history of rock 'n' roll can't be overstated. His place is right up there alongside other music pioneers like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. And more so than any of them, Richard was raw, primal and the very thing that scared the crap out of parents during the Eisenhower-era '50s.
As our list of the Top 10 Little Richard Songs proves, the man born Richard Penniman in Macon, Ga., in 1932 possessed a natural rock 'n' roll voice that was something between a scream and a holler. He was a monster on the piano, pounding away like he was in a race to the finish with the other musicians who played on the classic singles released by Specialty Records during the music's formative years.
It was a productive period for Richard, with most of his greatest sides coming before the '50s were even over. He renounced rock 'n' roll not long after his streak of hits was winding down, but the damage was already done: Artists from Bob Dylan to the Beatles (and then Bruce Springsteen and Prince) noted his influence in the next decade, and he started making music again.
But his best moments were captured on those early singles, starting with "Tutti-Frutti" in 1955, a cornerstone moment in rock history. Our list of the Top 10 Little Richard Songs is filled with such incendiary work.
Originally found on the flip side of "Rip It Up," "Ready Teddy" just missed the Top 40 when it was released in 1956. Little Richard's contemporaries Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley also recorded versions of the song (which was co-written by Robert Blackwell, who produced and helped pen many of Richard's best cuts), but this is the one you want blasting out of your speakers. Richard barely takes a breath during these two whiplash minutes.
Like many of Little Richard's best songs, "Jenny, Jenny" is all about the joy of repetition. He doesn't sing much more than the song's title and a few bridging phrases during the track's two minutes, but like all of his early sides, he makes the most of them. It sounds simple, but Richard's gift was rolling into these numbers with peerless ease. Nobody made so much out of so little.
The drums drive the beat here, pounding away as they knock, knock, knock. But it's Richard's playful vocal and pounding piano that let you know who's really in charge. Many Little Richard songs bared New Orleans' influence on his music, but 'Keep a Knockin'' comes the closest to capturing the sound -- no surprise since it was written as an answer to "I Hear You Knocking," a Smiley Lewis hit penned by Big Easy great Dave Bartholomew.
'Slippin' and Slidin'' (1956)
Little Richard was such a restless force in the mid-'50s that even his B-sides were classics. "Slippin' and Slidin'" was attached to the "Long Tall Sally" single as well as included on the excellent Here's Little Richard album. It made the Top 40, too. Richard received a co-write credit on the song, which was first recorded as an obscure R&B number, "I Got the Blues for You," by Al Collins. Richard turned it into a rock 'n' roll standard with his reworking.
Richard's second No. 1 R&B hit (and fourth Top 40 showing of 1956) comes straight from the '50s rock 'n' roll playbook. It became so ubiquitous during the period that nearly all of the big names -- including Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley -- covered it. But once again, Richard's version tops them all. The first 10 seconds especially capture the essence of Richard's appeal and power. His voice alone can carry the entire song, but dig that mid-song instrumental break!
'The Girl Can't Help It' (1957)
Serving as the signature song of a 1956 Jayne Mansfield movie (and one of the best rock 'n' roll pics of the era), "The Girl Can't Help It" was Richard's first hit single to not work itself breathless over two sweat-drenched minutes. Doo-wop pioneers the Robins back him up on a cut that seems a little tame at first, but then Richard's leering vocal hits you. (And seriously, check out the movie: Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino and Gene Vincent all make appearances.)
Little Richard's last No. 1 R&B hit is one of his best and also one of his most original. Fueled by a more measured tempo than most of his classic hits, "Lucille" tunes down the frenzied rock 'n' roll and replaces it with a bluesier shuffle that incorporates a stop-start verse structure. It almost comes as a breather after Richard's string of feverish earlier hits.
'Good Golly, Miss Molly' (1958)
Little Richard continued to make records in the '50s and, after a brief break, into the '60s and beyond. But "Good Golly, Miss Molly" was his last great hit, a blues-based piano-driven number brimming with New Orleans flavor. Richard's band here -- particularly legendary drummer Earl Palmer -- provides the backbeat, but once again Richard steals the record with a vocal performance filled with characteristic hollers and "woo"s.
Little Richard's first Top 10 hit (and his biggest R&B single, topping the chart for eight weeks) remains one of rock 'n' roll's most influential early songs. It includes one of his all-time greatest vocals, a strung-together rhyme scheme that Richard twists into its own fidgety life form. The rhythmic drive is equally restless, charging forward in a flurry of drums, piano, guitar, bass and sax laid down by New Orleans' top session players. An essential piece of history.
A rock 'n' roll foundation, and a seminal moment in the history of the music, "Tutti-Frutti" sweeps in and delivers a knockout punch that left fans reeling at the time. The introductory "Wop bop a loo bop a lop bom bom!" battle cry sounds like a revolution in the making, and all these years later, it still sends chills down the spine. If uptight parents were worried about Elvis Presley's influence on their kids, Little Richard must have scared the living hell out of them. In less than two and a half minutes, gospel met blues and R&B and created a rock 'n' roll milestone.