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RCA 20-4582; MARCH 1952



Maybe it’s not fair to consider a venerated major record label to be akin to the minor leagues, but when it comes to Little Richard’s career it’s hard to view it any other way.

When you’re watching minor league baseball or D-League basketball – not to mention the amateur ranks in college – you can clearly see which players have undeniable talent and envision them making the jump to the highest level in due time as they gain valuable experience and their skills mature. But while you can appreciate their potential at those early stages there’s no question they’re still a work in progress.

So while it’s hardly an insult to a promising young artist still in the formative stages of his career to say he’s in the bush leagues, the record company might take exception to that term as it refers to them.

Then again when Little Richard’s rock teammates at RCA consist of just The Heartbreakers (not Johnny Thunders’ or Tom Petty’s bands either) and reformed big band swing sax player Big John Greer, that minor league label hardly seems out of place at all.


Stick Around Baby, Everything Will Be Okay
There’s another facet of the minor league analogy that comes into play when we’re examining these early sides of Little Richard Penniman that is somewhat problematic in the 21st Century, and that is we’re so conscious of his legacy, his entire oeuvre, that hearing them as if pretending all of what was to follow was a complete and utter mystery to us is all but impossible.

Of course that’s true for any artist, certainly any major act, but even more so for Little Richard because his dynamic persona was so ingrained in his best music that when he’s shorn of it, or if it’s just in its nascent stages, we’re sort of thrown for a loop.

Audiences in 1951 and ’52 hearing his first two singles on RCA obviously had no idea what he’d become and as a result their reactions would have no chance to be tainted by later perception or be compared to what he hadn’t even conceived yet, but we can’t honestly claim to remove those considerations from our appraisals entirely no matter how hard we try.

Furthermore, when it comes to a song like Get Rich Quick this presents an even more daunting obstacle when it comes to assessing it properly than it did on his first two sides we covered because of the type of unbridled performance this is.

On something like Every Hour, the easier and more relevant comparison to make wasn’t to his future self, but to Billy Wright, his idol and mentor whom he was obviously imitating – and who, in turn, would cover that song just a few months later when in search of a hit.

But here we see far more unambiguous connections to the wild uninhibited act of Little Richard that has been the dominant image of him since 1955… yet this is 1952 and so we’re left trying to reconcile what WE know now with what nobody, not even he, knew then.

Be forewarned, it isn’t always easy.


This Is My Lucky Day
Keep in mind the band playing here are not wet behind the ear novices, as this is Billy Wright’s own outfit on loan, so while Little Richard himself might’ve been a babe in the woods, the guys behind him were playing music right in their wheelhouse.

Naturally this means that, unlike most acts RCA signed and tried to shoehorn into rock ‘n’ roll who were faced with the unenviable task of working with whatever sessionists they caught trying to hide in the broom closet or under a desk to avoid playing this stuff, Richard had a leg up on his inter-label competition.

Even Greer who came equipped with many of his own bandmates from Lucky Millinder’s outfit were only moonlighting as rockers and so if nothing else the frantic sounds pouring out of the speakers on Get Rich Quick have an authenticity that has nothing to do with Mr. Penniman.

Of course it’d be hard to say that the same musical spirit wasn’t in his blood the way he too comes barreling out of the chute as their sax led horn section and the pounding piano of Tom Patton gives him the kind of shove he needs to ensure he’s on the right track.

Richard’s voice is recognizable but not in its familiar comfort zone – again, something nobody knew at the time, possibly including Richard himself. It’s not only higher pitched, as you might expect since he was just out of his teens, but also more strained. Most crucially though is that it’s lacking the control he’d later be known for… that unique ability he had to harness the vocal equivalent of an atom bomb, still reigning destruction down on the speakers, but somehow focusing the blast for maximum results.

Here it’s more scattershot, he raises his volume to turn your head, not to make a more precise impact and careens from side to side, not because he’s trying to reflect the unhinged nature of what he’s saying, but rather because he doesn’t quite know how to steer such a high powered engine yet.

Don’t get me wrong, Get Rich Quick is still plenty exhilarating, just untutored. He’s like a wild stallion rather than a well-trained thoroughbred, still fast and powerful, but not steady and surefooted just yet.

The song itself is guilty of the same faults at times, giving us a good theme – that of the restless dreamer who’s envisioning what he’ll be like with lots of dough – but lacking sharp details at some of the turns. Kendrick Lamar’s classic Money Trees tackles the same subject for example, but with far more clarity of vision.

By the end Richard – or rather the song’s writers, Leonard Feather and his wife – have clearly run out of inspiration and rather than wrap things up with a wry observation or an unexpected plot twist that might’ve done anything from have him hit the jackpot for real or wake up from his fevered dream while being yelled at to get back to work, it instead just sticks to formula down the stretch.

Maybe that’s fitting though, for just like Richard in the song when this wraps up your heart will undoubtedly be racing, your senses will be on overload and you won’t quite know which direction is up, but you won’t necessarily be all that much better off than you were when you started.


Lay It On The Line
As stated, these are far from the easiest records to pin down and so there’s bound to be equal number of readers who feel we’re being too generous because of the name involved, and others who feel we’re being too stingy because it doesn’t live up to the ex post facto expectations of the name involved.

Oh well. If anybody is so insecure as to be overly concerned with my opinion matching theirs, that’s their problem, not mine.

Yet there IS a responsibility with these reviews to have them accurately reflect the quality of the record in question, even if part of that obviously remains purely subjective.

In other words, someone curious about the early days of Little Richard who came here to get some idea about the merits of Get Rich Quick can’t be misled in the process and therein lies the dilemma when trying to concisely summarize my impressions with a mere number.

This is certainly a good effort, but not a great one. We can’t give him bonus points for being a fresh faced kid undertaking his first session, yet we also can’t dock him for not being anywhere close to the life-changing force of nature he’d become down the road.

Maybe the best way to sum this up is to say that Richard is chomping at the bit here, full of energy, enthusiasm and excitement and eager to prove his worth, yet he hasn’t quite figured out how to fully harness those qualities yet.

If you are looking to get rich hearing this you won’t walk away with your pockets overflowing, but then again if you place some money on what response you’re liable to get out of hearing this record you’ll do a little better than just breaking even too.


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