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R&B - Released January 1, 2008 | Specialty Records

The Very Best of Little Richard is the first high-profile, high-quality Little Richard compilation to be released in the U.S. since 1991's The Georgia Peach, a disc that held the title of best available Little Richard hits collection for roughly 17 years. The Very Best is designed as a replacement to that collection, partially because The Georgia Peach was a little old but also because Concord Music Group -- the label that formed in 2004 when Concord and Fantasy Records merged -- now owned the Specialty Records vault and could use their own new Little Richard collection. So, Concord Music Group revived the Specialty imprint and released this excellent hits collection, which at 25 tracks is just as long as The Georgia Peach. Fully 20 of those 25 tracks are shared between the two compilations, which should come as no surprise as these 20 tracks are the big hits and standards, ranging from "Tutti Frutti," "Long Tall Sally," and "Good Golly Miss Molly" to "Ooh! My Soul," "Bama Lama Bama Loo," and the medley of "Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey" that the Beatles later covered. As The Very Best of Little Richard ends a little anticlimactically with a perfunctory rehearsal take of "Hound Dog" from Richard's last session, a pedestrian demo of the blues "Baby" from his pre-Specialty days, and a surprisingly tame live medley from 1964, this pales slightly in comparison to The Georgia Peach, but that's nitpicking: apart from these three OK cuts, this is as good a Little Richard compilation as you can get, which means this is as good as rock & roll gets. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo

Rock - Released November 3, 2017 | Craft Recordings

Little Richard had been making records for four years before he rolled into Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studio in New Orleans and cut the epochal "Tutti Frutti" in the fall of 1955, but everything else he'd done -- and much of what others had recorded -- faded into insignificance when Richard wailed "A wop bop a loo mop a lomp bomp bomp" and kicked off one of the first great wailers in rock history. In retrospect, Little Richard's style doesn't seem so strikingly innovative as captured in 1956's Here's Little Richard -- his boogie-woogie piano stylings weren't all that different from what Fats Domino had been laying down since 1949, and his band pumped out the New Orleans backbeat that would define the Crescent City's R&B for the next two decades, albeit with precision and plenty of groove. But what set Richard apart was his willingness to ramp up the tempos and turn the outrage meter up to ten; "Tutti Frutti," "Rip It Up," and "Jenny Jenny" still sound outrageous a half-century after they were waxed, and it's difficult but intriguing to imagine how people must have reacted to Little Richard at a time when African-American performers were expected to be polite, and the notion of a gay man venturing out of the closet simply didn't exist (Richard's songs were thoroughly heterosexual on the surface, but the nudge and wink of "Tutti Frutti" and "Baby" is faint but visible, and his bop threads, mile-high process, and eye makeup clearly categorized him as someone "different"). These 12 tunes may not represent the alpha and omega of Little Richard's best music, but every song is a classic and unlike many of his peers, time has refused to render this first album quaint -- Richard's grainy scream remains one of the great sounds in rock & roll history, and the thunder of his piano and the frantic wail of the band is still the glorious call of a Friday night with pay in the pocket and trouble in mind. Brilliant stuff. © Mark Deming /TiVo

Rock - Released January 1, 2015 | Specialty Records

Little Richard quit rock & roll in 1957, just two years after "Tutti Frutti" turned him into a blazing star. He'd return to rock & roll a few years later but his speedy retreat to the church established an arc that would replay itself throughout his career: incendiary hedonism followed by repentance. This swift reversal certainly affected Richard's career in the short-term -- Art Rupe had no choice but to issue outtakes, sometimes polishing them for mass consumption, as when he turned "Keep A-Knockin'" into a raging thunderstorm -- but also the long, as it interrupted his seemingly unstoppable momentum and wound up muddying history, obscuring how his run at Specialty was a meteoric 18 months, a brief burst of brilliance that maybe was destined to flame out. Almost all of Richard's legacy, not to mention the lion's share of his compilations, is based on these 18 months but Specialty/Concord's 2015 triple-disc box Directly from My Heart: The Best of the Specialty & Vee-Jay Years adds the sessions he recorded with Rupe after returning to Specialty in 1962, along with his 1964 and 1965 sides for Vee-Jay Records. This, along with some of the slower numbers from Richard's two Specialty '50s LPs, adds depth and dimension; it also turns this box into essentially The Complete Specialty and Vee-Jay Masters of Little Richard, since the only missing track out of all the singles and albums is an early '60s version of "Hound Dog," which is hardly a great loss. Remarkably, this is the first extensive box covering both Specialty and Vee-Jay to ever be released. Prior Specialty boxes dug deep into alternate takes, all good, but sometimes that played like an overdose of cayenne in chili: the strong spice overwhelmed any subtlety of the flavors. Here, it's possible to hear traces of Richard's softer early blues and gospel roots, then there are the '60s sides, where Richard relaxes and gets deeply soulful while also wildly reinventing '50s standards like "Blueberry Hill" and "Only You," turning Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)" into proto-funk. No other Little Richard set found room for these detours and they do him a considerable favor, showing the range that extended far beyond his trademark wallop and woo, and while his legacy still rests on that astonishing fireball at Specialty -- a time that started with "Tutti Frutti," contained "Slippin' and Slidin'," "Long Tall Sally," "Ready Teddy," "Rip It Up," "Lucille," "Good Golly Miss Molly," and "The Girl Can't Help It," and ended with "Keep A-Knockin'" -- it's instructive to listen beyond the hits because it shows just how good Little Richard really was. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo

Rock - Released January 1, 1967 | Epic - Legacy

In 1966, OKeh Records took its turn at trying to revive the recording career of Little Richard. In the fall of that year, they put him in a studio in Hollywood with his former Specialty Records associate Larry Williams producing, and the two cut this album of rock & roll ravers, which was released in January 1967. Little Richard is as frantic as ever, notably on the leadoff track, "I Don't Want to Discuss It," later a showstopper for Delaney & Bonnie, but rock music trends were far removed from his style of rocking abandon by 1967, and this album went unnoticed. OKeh recorded Little Richard doing his hits that January and released the results several months later as Greatest Hits Recorded Live, but that was the end of this comeback. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo

Rock - Released January 1, 2012 | Specialty Records

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Rock - Released December 14, 2004 | Rhino - Warner Records

Little Richard was not the only original rock & roller to attempt a comeback in the late '60s and early '70s, but he may have been the one to take the greatest musical risks. Fats Domino merely updated his sound (albeit in a charming fashion), Jerry Lee Lewis refashioned himself as a hardcore country singer, and Chuck Berry pandered with "My Ding-A-Ling," but Little Richard pushed himself on his three albums for Reprise, all of which were collected -- along with his contributions to Quincy Jones' 1972 Dollar$ soundtrack album, non-LP singles, session outtakes, and a complete unreleased album from 1972 called Southern Child -- in 2005 by Rhino Handmade for the triple-disc set The King of Rock and Roll. Richard had been an active recording artist ever since the mid-'60s, when he had signed to Vee-Jay and cut effective but neglected soul singles, but the rock & roll revival of the late '60s gave him the opportunity to launch a splashy, big-budget comeback, and he seized it. Instead of serving up the expected high-energy rock & roll on his 1970 LP, The Rill Thing, he recorded an eclectic, wide-ranging album that touched on country, acoustic blues, hard-driving funk, soul, melodic pop, and rock & roll. While there were wah-wah guitars and electric sitars that clearly marked it as a product of its time, those production quirks fade into the background, since the range and accomplishment of the music are quite staggering. It's overpowering, but not in the familiar Little Richard fashion, where the boundless, reckless energy is the defining characteristic. Instead, The Rill Thing and the albums that followed it -- 1971's King of Rock 'n' Roll, 1972's The Second Coming, and the unreleased Southern Child -- all followed the same musical blueprint and aesthetic: Little Richard opened his music up, slowing things down on occasion, varied his arrangement and styles, and wrote powerful, memorable new songs, while carefully picking songs from Hank Williams, John Fogerty, and the Beatles to showcase the scope of his music. Sure, there still was the familiar piledriving rock & roll, but it was part of a mosaic of American roots music that proved that Little Richard could do it all -- rock, pop, country, blues, soul, gospel, funk -- and do it his own way. There were the occasional missteps -- the instrumental jams all stretch out too long -- but they were rare. On the whole, his Reprise work was all-encompassing, fully realized, and -- in its own way -- as exciting as his timeless work for Specialty. And that's why The King of Rock and Roll isn't just essential for any serious student of rock & roll, it's one of the few reissues of this decade that can truly be called revelatory. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo

Rock - Released April 7, 1987 | Epic

By January 25, 1967, when he cut this live album, Little Richard had re-recorded his original Specialty Records hits for Vee-Jay and for Modern Records. Now, he was signed to OKeh, and before a live audience at "Club OKeh" in Hollywood, he laid them down once again -- "Tutti Frutti," "Long Tall Sally," and ten others -- fronting a band led by his old Specialty Records compatriot Larry Williams. It's an exciting set before an enthusiastic audience, and as long as you keep in mind that these are not the original recordings, a good buy. (Originally released in July 1967 on OKeh Records as OKeh 14121, Greatest Hits Recorded Live has been reissued by Epic Records several times, most recently in 1986 as Epic 40389.) © William Ruhlmann /TiVo

Rock - Released July 1, 1971 | Epic - Legacy


Rock - Released March 12, 1961 | Mercury Records


Rock - Released February 24, 2004 | Epic - Legacy

While Little Richard Penniman is well known for his Specialty, Mercury, Veejay, and Modern recordings (though many of the sides on the latter two labels were merely redos of his Specialty hits), he is little celebrated for these wonderful sides recorded for Okeh in 1966 and 1967. The Little Richard on these sessions is a seasoned R&B singer whose feet are deeply rooted in modern-era Southern soul. That said, there are a few traces of Motown that creep in as well -- despite the fact that the material was all recorded in Hollywood. For Okeh, Little Richard recorded devastatingly fine versions of "Function at the Junction," "I Don't Want to Discuss It," Berry Gordy's "M-O-N-E-Y," "Poor Dog," "Hurry Sundown," and Sam Cooke's "Well All Right" to mention a few. To help him pull it all off -- this was seen as a last-ditch survival effort for the singer -- Little Richard's sidemen for these dates include Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Larry Williams, Eddie Fletcher, and Glen Willings -- a crack studio band if there ever was one. In sum, the Okeh material yielded one fine, 11-track album in The Explosive Little Richard released in 1967, and three issued B-sides for its singles. Appearing on this CD for the very first time are three leftover tracks that include smoking raw versions of Fats Domino's "Rocking Chair" and Leiber & Stoller's "Hound Dog." For those who are contemplating a Little Richard CD, the Specialty sides should come first because they contain the original versions of his classics. For those who already have that material, this set is an excellent addition to the Penniman shelf. There isn't a loser in the bunch, and these performances are truly inspired, burning from start to finish; they are startling even today. In addition to the great music, soul expert Charles White's liner notes are thorough and authoritative and offer the same kind of exuberance Penniman put into these performances. © Thom Jurek /TiVo

Rock - Released October 27, 2009 | Rhino - Warner Records

In contrast to his 1970 Reprise album The Rill Thing, which constituted a serious updating of his sound, complete with a brace of new songs, Little Richard's King of Rock & Roll was deliberately less ambitious, built around covers of material that early-'70s audiences would have known well by way of Motown, the Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, Creedence Clearwater Revival, et al. These included "Brown Sugar," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "Joy to the World," "Dancing in the Street," and "Born on the Bayou." Its user-friendly song list aside, this ended up a pretty powerful and challenging record in its own right, with Richard putting his distinct spin on much of the material -- "Dancing in the Street" was the jewel in this oft-overlooked collection, stretched out (without seeming stretched at all) to over five minutes by his vocal acrobatics; "Joy to the World" is similarly expanded, the second half in proto-rap fashion, which makes for a rousing and compelling appendix to an exquisitely appealing first half (which was how the song should have been edited for a single release). Even a chestnut like "Midnight Special" gets a jolt of high-energy electricity from Richard's stylized soul shoutings, an extended sax break, and the soaring backing chorus. A totally reconstructed, quick-tempo "The Way You Do the Things You Do" won't make anyone forget the more familiar ballad treatment, but along with his complete reshaping of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" -- and the latter is so good that it makes one wonder why no one thought to get Richard to do a Ray Charles-type country & western album -- it shows how Richard could make any song into one of his, complete with the appropriate upper-register "woos." The only weak moments here are, sad to say, Richard's one fair original, "In the Name," and "Green Power," co-authored by producer H.B. Barnum, which is a good vehicle for Richard but totally nondescript as a song. Otherwise, this is a record that deserved a lot more respect than it received and far more sales than it generated, and is still well worth hearing. © Bruce Eder /TiVo

Rock - Released April 8, 2020 | Bop Bells Recordings


Rock - Released October 27, 2009 | Rhino - Warner Records


Rock - Released May 25, 2015 | TNA records


Rock - Released July 13, 2018 | Fiesta Records


Rock - Released May 22, 1999 | Monrose Digital


Rock - Released January 1, 2007 | Vee-Jay Records


Rock - Released February 7, 2020 | Squeeze My Musique TM


Rock - Released October 19, 2018 | CLASSIC WORLD ENTERTAINMENT


Rock - Released February 15, 2019 | Digital Gramophone