Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rant #858: Wham Bam

I wrote about the Monkees the past two days, and I won't write about them again today.

But their very existence can be linked to this performer that I celebrate today, who is himself celebrating his 80th birthday on this very day.

Heck, not only do the Monkees owe their existence to him, but so do the Beatles, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Rolling Stones, yes, even Elvis.

Little Richard Penniman is an icon, a living legend, and the guy, who, for all intents and purposes, started it all.

Yes, he had help. Others, like Bill Haley and the Comets, Chuck Berry and Ike Turner, laid the groundwork, but Little Richard is the guy who allowed rock and roll to become mainstream music.

Having his first national hit, "Tutti-Frutti," about two months before Elvis had his first national hit, Richard set the benchmark for what followed.

And his flamboyance irked many oldsters, who looked upon rock and roll at the beginning of the end of the world in the very staid 1950s.

Richard had that high hair, he often wore makeup, and wore wild outfits. He stomped and preened for his audience, and they loved him.

Sure, his hit years were encompassed in basically a very short time period--between 1956 and 1958, although he continued to chart into the 1960s and beyond--but those hits, along with Chuck Berry's music, laid the groundwork for rock then and into the 1960s.

Every rocker worth his salt covered his hits, whether it was "Tutti-Frutti," or "Lucille," "Long Tall Sally," or "Jenny, Jenny." They were simple songs, but without them, dare say there would have been no rock 'n roll as we know it.

Little Richard has had his ups and downs. He has battled with his talent, leaving show business for awhile and going the religious route.

He has battled with other demons, including his sexuality, but for all his battles, he seems to have won each and every one.

His influence is monumental, and even at 80, he is seemingly as spry today as he was nearly 60 years ago.

I missed Little Richard's hit years, but I ran out and bought his last national hit, "Great Gosh A'Mighty (It's a Matter of Time)" in 1986. It was the theme song to the hugely successful "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" film, and it marked a major comeback for Little Richard, coming back into the rock fold. It only hit #42 on the Hot Singles chart, but Little Richard was back, and he has been going full throttle ever since.

I also have one of his greatest hits albums, and I have a lot of other material he recorded in my record collection.

But those early, seminal songs set the tone for rock and roll as we know it, and for those songs, Little Richard will always be remembered.

He was probably the first performer with that rock and roll attitude, and it's great that he is still around today, wowing audiences with those wonderful songs.

Happy birthday, Mr. Penniman. Here's to another 80 years to wow us even more.

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