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RCA 20-4772; JUNE 1952



Just like watching a little boy going to school for the first time and walking into the classroom with the kind of natural swagger that seems out of place for a five year old, or seeing an equally young girl on the beach who seems to have a glow about her in the way she looks, the way she smiles and the way she carries herself, you can tell a lot about someone’s future by studying them when they’re just starting out.

In a dozen years the confident kindergartener is going to be running the high school, probably dating the little girl from the beach who in that same time will be turning heads as she grows up.

Like them the fledgling Little Richard has intangibles that are evident already even if, like them, he’s bound to go through some growing pains along the way before blossoming into a star.


Getting’ Sick And Tired Of Tryin’
At first glance this is not the kind of record you’d use to predict anybody’s future greatness.

In fact, it’s not even the best of Little Richard’s own releases we’ve seen to date and so in many ways this would appear to be a step backwards… or at least a sideways shuffle.

For starters this was a song that was handed to him by the experienced writing team of Howard Biggs and Joe Thomas, guys who’ve contributed some good rock songs to the genre’s expanding canon, but who have also failed to take any huge leaps forward once rock ‘n’ roll began to diversify its sounds.

This isn’t one of their best compositions either and the arrangement they give it – as they were also producers – is hardly up to date for rock ‘n’ roll in 1952, and certainly not appropriate for someone with the tightly coiled intensity of Little Richard.

So when looking back at the rise of Richard Penniman from nobody to somebody you’d be inclined to think this release shows there’s Ain’t Nothin’ Happenin’ to convince you that he was bound to become one of rock’s most revolutionary performers in a matter of years.

But look again… or listen again… and focus not on the song and its lyrics, not on the tepid arrangement, not even on the voice itself – hard though it may be to ignore it.

Instead listen to the desperation IN that voice, straining to be heard, to leave an impression on you, to make the most of an opportunity that Richard knows all too well might dry up and disappear at any moment and leave him cursing the fact that he was stuck with material that couldn’t provide him with a better launching pad than this.


In My Mind You’re Leaving, But Why Do You Stay So Long?
You can tell Biggs and Thomas were at least aware of the energy Little Richard brought to the table and yet you can clearly tell they didn’t know quite how to handle that.

Do you create an arrangement as wild as possible to leave no doubt as to the explosive power of the artist and trust that he’ll use that to boost his own performance, or do you dial things back a little, still giving him enough of a platform to bust loose, but in the process trying not to overwhelm the kid with too many fireworks of your own doing?

Biggs and Thomas chose the option behind door number two which is why there just Ain’t Nothin’ Happenin’ on this record to help make Little Richard a household name.

In the future Bumps Blackwell with Specialty would go with the first option, realizing that creating a cacophonous sound behind him would raise Richard’s game as his massive ego wouldn’t let him take a back seat to all the honking saxes and thundering drums you could throw at him.

So what we get here is an inexperienced Richard feeling as if he’s being reined in and not wanting to bite the hands that feed him is more or less acquiescing to their game plan… yet the showman in him knows that in order to draw attention and make the best impression he’s got to break free of those restraints all the same.

Talk about a conflict of interest.

The horn blasts that open this are too shrill, harkening back to a 1940’s mindset, although maybe they felt that their higher tone matched that of Richard who still was still singing in a higher register himself at this point. Nevertheless it immediately tells you this was not a rock record to be taken seriously if they couldn’t even get the proper muscle out of the horn section.

The guitar jumping in helps steady things enough to not give up on it completely and the sax solo down the road is at least keeping its head above water for much of the time, even as it flails about a lot.

But for the most part this is left up to Little Richard himself to rescue and he definitely tries his best, even if he feels as though he’s singing with electroshock wires connected to him to zap him if he gets too out of control.

As a result he’s straining at the barriers placed around him at every turn, holding in much of the manic energy that swirls inside him, even as we can hear the frenzy building in his soul. Every so often it starts to break free, his voice rising, his focus narrowing, his disdain for their arbitrary limits beginning to crack… but then he pulls it back in, shocked into submission no doubt, keeping the untamed beast in its cage for another day.


Can’t Get You Off My Mind
Alright let’s be honest here. Even if we didn’t know what still was to come from Little Richard, we wouldn’t need any peaks into the future to realize that RCA-Victor was not the ideal landing spot for this kind of singer.

It’s almost like giving somebody who’s never been anything but a passenger in a chauffeured limousine the keys to a Formula One race car.

Ironically it’s Richard himself who keeps the ensuing wreck from taking out half the grandstands as he skillfully navigates this into the hay bales instead, surely annoyed there Ain’t Nothin’ Happenin’ on the track to get him in the winner’s circle, but fully cognizant that if he wipes out in a fiery crash he might not be let back into the next race.

While this isn’t a particularly good song – though it’s appropriately ironic that the main theme is him expressing frustration – while featuring an even weaker arrangement in the bargain, and even with Little Richard barely running at half speed, there remains more than just a glimmer of burning promise buried deep within.

At this stage there’s absolutely no guarantee that it’ll be unleashed, or that if it is he’ll find the right framework to allow it to reach its maximum potential, but sometimes you really do learn more about someone from their failures than their successes.

In other words, those little kids we started off talking about might never be challenged for supremacy during their entire childhood, but we’ll only get to know what they’re really made of if they have to face adversity along the way to see just how well they handle it. Do they have a melt-down and run home to mommy, or do they pull themselves together and not let it bring them down.

Here, a subpar result in which Little Richard still comes off looking good lets us know he’ll be just fine in the long run.


(Visit the Artist page of Little Richard for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)