At some point in the past few months, following one my Beatles programs at a local library, a woman asked me to comment on the influence of Little Richard on the Beatles. I cited his vocals as an influence on Paul, proffering "Long Tall Sally" as the obvious example, and ever since I have been wanting to do a more detailed look at Little Richard's influence on the band. On Tuesday I'm leading a seminar through LifeLearn in West Hartford on the legacy of rock 'n' roll, so this seems like a perfect opportunity to 'kill two birds with one stone'.
Certainly the biggest appeal of Little Richard on the young Paul McCartney was his voice, which the Brit could imitate reasonably well. "I could do Little Richard's voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing, it's like an out-of-body experience. You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it" (Miles, page 201). In fact, Paul liked Little Richard so much that "he celebrated his last day of term at the Liverpool Institute by taking in his guitar, climbing on a desk in the classroom and singing his two party pieces, 'Long Tall Sally' and 'Tutti Frutti'" (Miles, page 200).
The 15-year-old Paul was confident enough in his ability to impersonate Little Richard that he performed some of his songs for John Lennon the day they met and he auditioned to join the Quarrymen. "I did my Little Richard imitation, went through all the stuff I knew. John seemed quite impressed" (Everett, page 24). Paul joined the band shortly thereafter, and consequently their repertoire expanded to include several Little Richard tunes.
Throughout the Quarrymen/Beatles' existence, they played a total of at least 11 Little Richard songs in live shows (as dictated in Lewisohn, page 362-65).
Recordings of the Beatles' performances of these Little Richard songs exist for only 4 (5 if you count "Good Golly Miss Molly", but I suspect that's not the Beatles - see below) of the 11 listed above.
Both "Lucille" and "Long Tall Sally" were in the band's repertoire from the beginning (or at least since Paul joined in mid-1957). The former was originally released by Little Richard in 1956. The Beatles recorded "Lucille" twice - once on 3 September 1963 as part of the Pop Go The Beatles radio broadcasts, and once again four days later, also for radio broadcasting purposes. That second performance was included on the album The Beatles Live at the BBC.
"Long Tall Sally" was released in 1956 and joined the Quarrymen's repertoire the following year, where it would stay through 1966 - one of the few songs to remain in the band's rep for the full 10 years that they did perform. The Beatles recording of "Long Tall Sally" was released in the US on 10 April 1964 on The Beatles Second Album, and in the UK on 19 June in England as part of an EP.
Little Richard's recording of "Good Golly Miss Molly" was released in 1958. A live recording titled Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers opens with this track (a clip of which may be found on amazon.com); however despite the fact that "The Beat Brothers" was the name given to the Beatles when they accompanied Tony Sheridan for a series of recording sessions on 22-24 June 1961, I have severe doubts as to whether this is actually the Beatles playing. The saxophone in particular makes me skeptical.
The B-side of "Good Golly Miss Molly" was "Hey Hey Hey Hey", which Little Richard combined one year later with the Leiber and Stoller classic "Kansas City", which the Beatles covered in their live performances from 1960-61, and revived for inclusion on the album Beatles for Sale in 1964.
Little Richard's recording of "Ooh! My Soul" was released in 1958. The Beatles recorded "Ooh! My Soul" on 1 August 1963, the product of which was released on The Beatles Live at the BBC.
Even when not covering Little Richard's recordings, his influence is clearly discernible on the Beatles' music - most notably in their falsetto "woos" that can be heard in tunes like "She Loves You", and "From Me To You". But where Richard's "woo" is harsh and aggressive, the Beatles' "woo" is softer and cuddlier - it contributes to their cute, mop top appeal, whereas Little Richard's contributes to his flamboyant and at times hysterical performances.
As Paul developed musically, however, he eventually hit a point where they no longer wanted to depend on their original influences and inspirations, but rather wanted to create his own, original material. "I used to sing his stuff but there came a point when I wanted one of my own, so I wrote 'I'm Down'" specifically to replace "Long Tall Sally" in the band's stage repertoire (Miles, page 201). But those Little Richard roots stayed firmly planted. Although the Beatles never released "Miss Ann", they did record it during their January 1969 sessions, along with "Jenny, Jenny" (the original A-side companion to "Miss Ann"), both of which exist in bootleg form. Paul also sang "Miss Ann" as part of a sound check on 5 February 1993 that was recorded.
Although certainly more associated with McCartney, Lennon illustrated his own affection for Little Richard on his 1975 album Rock 'n' Roll through the tracks "Medley: Rip It Up/Ready Teddy" and "Medley: Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin'".
Everett, Walter. The Beatles as Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2001.
Lewisohn, Mark. The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Pyramid Books, an imprint of Octopus Publishing Group Limited, London, UK, 2006.
Miles, Barry. Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. Henry Holt and Company, New York, NY, 1997.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.