Thursday, June 11, 2015

Little Richard: “Directly From My Heart: The Best Of The Specialty & Vee-Jay Years” (2015) CD Box Set Review

When I think of rock and roll, the kind that moved people either to dance wildly or to cry out that the youth of the country was going to hell, two names always come to mind: Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Those two really embodied that seemingly reckless, restless abandon that is always so attractive. And they played some damn good music. And unlike someone like Elvis Presley, for example, Little Richard actually wrote or co-wrote most of his material, and it’s among the best of the early rock and roll years. Concord Music Group has now released a box set of Little Richard’s music, Directly From My Heart: The Best Of The Specialty & Vee-Jay Years, which contains sixty-four tracks on three discs, including those fantastic hits he’s known for, plus some equally good though lesser known tunes. The box set also includes a booklet, with liner notes by Billy Vera (with quite a lot of information about Little Richard's early career) and a whole lot of photos.

Disc One

This set opens with “Lonesome And Blue,” a slower number that has a certain sexiness. The vocals are smoother at times than you might expect, but then check out his delivery when he repeats, “I need you every day/I can’t go on this way.” Oh yes, the power is there. This is a very cool song. “Wonderin’” has something of a standard feel, but I’ve always been a sucker for that rhythm, for that vibe. (There is a second version of “Wonderin’” on this disc, with overdubs). I’m also really fond of “Maybe I’m Right,” and surprisingly it’s the backing vocals that make it one of my favorites. I love hearing Little Richard backed that way. It’s usually not necessary, what with the power and energy of his vocals on their own, but the backing vocals sound particularly good here. Likewise on “Directly From My Heart,” the song used as the title for this collection. “Whoa, whoa, whoa.”

“Tutti Frutti” is the song that really got things going for Little Richard. Billy Vera, in his liner notes, talks about how the original lyrics were a lot raunchier. I would love to hear a recording of those original lyrics, with the line “Tutti Frutti, good bootie.” Oh yes! Still, the released version is such an excellent song, and lines like “I got a girl named Sue/She knows just what to do” leave no question as to what he means. And then listen to “Heeby-Jeebies Love.” Hmm…

The first disc also includes the lively hits “Slippin’ And Slidin’ (Peepin’ And Hidin’)” and “Long Tall Sally (The Thing).” “Have some fun tonight/Everything’s all right.” Two of my favorite hits of his were written by John Marascalco and Robert Blackwell: “Ready Teddy” and “Rip It Up.” I also love his version of Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City.” Little Richard’s own “I Got It” is also a whole lot of fun, with lines like, “It ain’t what you eat, it’s the way how you chew it.”

Disc Two

The second disc includes a lot of his most well-known songs, opening with “Lucille,” which reached #1 on the R&B chart, and #21 on the pop chart. I love that great rough energy that marks his vocal delivery. “Lucille” was written by Little Richard and Albert Collins. “She’s Got It” is so much fun, written by Little Richard and John Marascalco. This one reached #9 on the R&B chart. “Jenny, Jenny” reached #2 on the R&B chart, and #10 on the pop chart. Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels combined this song with “C.C. Rider” for their tune “Jenny Take A Ride.” Another huge hit, “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” was written by John Marascalco and Robert Blackwell. It reached #4 on the R&B chart, and #10 on the pop chart. The Detroit Wheels also covered this one, combining it with “Devil With A Blue Dress On.” And of course CCR did a great version of it. But Little Richard’s remains the best version, at least as far as I’m concerned.

“The Girl Can’t Help It” was written by Bobby Troup and used as the title song to the 1956 film, but for me it’s always tied to a very different movie, Pink Flamingos. The song plays as Divine struts through town, carrying a fur, and then squats in front of someone’s home. It’s a cool sequence, and an excellent song. Another highlight of the second disc is “Keep A Knockin’,” which reached #2 on the R&B chart, and #8 on the Billboard Hot 100. “You said you love me and you can’t come in.”

One that wasn’t a hit, but which I particularly enjoy, is the ridiculously fun “I’ll Never Let You Go (Boo Hoo Hoo Hoo).” I love Little Richard’s vocal delivery; he really gets into it, fooling around and having a fine time. And “Poor Boy Paul” is also a deliciously silly and fun tune, a recording I don't think I'd heard before.

Disc Three

The third disc has a lot more covers than the other discs, and opens with some very cool blues. Little Richard covers Fats Domino and Alvin E. Young’s “Goin’ Home Tomorrow,” and does an excellent job with it. The song has a rough, raw edge that works perfectly. That is followed by a kind of funky rendition of “Goodnight Irene.” I absolutely love this track, but it fades out way too soon. It’s just under two minutes. He also does a great version of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” And his version of “Blueberry Hill” is unlike any other version I’ve heard, and announces itself as something different right from the odd start. “I – woo – I – woo – I – woo- I found my thrill…”

“Short Fat Fanny” is a fun track that makes references to a lot of other early rock tunes. I also really like “My Wheels They Are Slippin’ All The Way,” one of the third disc’s original songs. One of the other originals, “It Ain’t Whatcha Do (It’s The Way That You Do It),” takes its main lines from “I Got It”: “It ain’t whatcha do, it’s the way how you do it/It ain’t what you eat, it’s the way how you chew it.” I guess Little Richard liked those lines as much as I do. I also like this line: “Do it well or not at all.”

“Without Love” is a beautiful song, but I’d never heard Little Richard’s rendition before. It was Jerry Garcia’s version (from Run For The Roses) that first turned me on to this tune. Little Richard delivers a smooth, sweet, almost delicate vocal performance at the start, giving him plenty of room to go when the song bursts open for the chorus. It’s a really nice rendition.

“I Don’t Know What You’ve Got But It’s Got Me,” written by Dan Covay, reached #12 on the R&B chart (though only #92 on the Billboard Hot 100). This excellent track features Jimi Hendrix on guitar. On the single, it was divided into two parts, with one part on each side. This collection then ends with Little Richard dipping into country with his cover of Hank Williams’ “Why Don’t You Love Me (Like You Used To Do).” And it’s surprisingly good.

Rather than write out the entire track list (more than sixty tracks), I’ve taken a photo of the back of the box, which lists all the songs. Here it is:

Directly From My Heart: The Best Of The Specialty & Vee-Jay Years was released on June 2, 2015 through Concord Music Group.

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