Album Reviews

Little Richard: Directly From My Heart: The Best Of The Specialty/Vee Jay Years (Specialty Records)

littlerichard

Little Richard
Directly From My Heart: The Best Of The Specialty/Vee Jay Years
 Specialty Records

“Elvis may have been the King of rock and roll, but I am the Queen!”

Such haughty proclamations have always emanated from the mind of Little Richard, the flashiest of all the flashiest, flamboyant rockers from the 1950s. His hits are legendary: “Tutti-Frutti,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Rip It Up,” and “Long Tall Sally,” and his personality—sexually ambiguous, extravagantly attired, and over-the-top personality—assured his role in rock and roll history will not easily be forgotten. 

Yet it’s interesting to note that for all of his classic hits and his well-known personality, the man born Richard Penniman’s actual time in the spotlight was very brief indeed; “Tutti-Frutti” was released in October, 1955; his final top ten hit, “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” was released in January of 1958—well after he had made the decision a few months previous to abandon secular music and pursue a career as a preacher and a gospel singer. This decision came after seeing a fireball shooting across the sky, which he took as a sign from God; instead, what he had just witnessed was Sputnik in orbit! He would return to the secular music world in the early 1960s, just as rock music was entering a new era, recording a handful of sides for Vee-Jay Records, before starting what would be a career long shuffle between the gospel world and the secular world. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the return also came as his label-mates The Beatles were reintroducing several of his songs to a younger listening audience.

Directly From My Heart: The Best of the Specialty and Vee-Jay Years compiles the cream of his material from this era over three packed discs, and does a fine job of displaying the virtuosity and the richness of Little Richard’s golden era. All the hits are here, of course, and still sound as vital and fresh as ever. But the real appeal of this set can be found in the lesser-known songs here, such as the R&B ballads like the title track, “Wonderin’,” and the frantic rock of “Heeby-Jeeebies,” “It Ain’t Whatcha Do, It’s The Way How You Do It,” while his takes on contemporary numbers like “Blueberry Hill” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’” are enjoyable as well.  His Vee-Jay comeback-era recordings aren’t quite as intense as his Specialty years, but it’s hard not to smile and tap your toe to ‘em as well.

Little Richard was and is an American original, one with no equals. Directly From My Heart is a wonderfully hearty, in-depth exploration of what made him that way, and this collection serves both the new fan and those who want a handy collection of the best of the best from one of the best there ever was.

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