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RCA 20-5025; OCTOBER 1952



When looking who to blame for not realizing – or at least not capitalizing on – the potential of a future star, it’s easy to see in the rear view mirror all of the missteps along the way that prevented that talent from taking root and blossoming along the way.

When the record company in question is a major label like RCA in the early 1950’s and the future star is rock legend Little Richard, your answer to that question of who’s to blame seems hardly a question at all.

But while it’s true that RCA’s conservative mindset undoubtedly hampered Little Richard’s progress, pairing him with songwriters and producers who were familiar with rock but not entirely comfortable with its more extreme regions, the fact of the matter is any record that comes out under an artist’s name, the artist themselves have to shoulder at least some of the responsibility for it falling short.

In this case a LOT of the responsibility.


Left Last Night
Everything here is the same as was found on the top half of this single… on paper that is.

Same label, same songwriters who doubled as the same producers, same musicians and – most crucially – the same singer.

But that’s where the similarities end.

We gave high marks to Little Richard’s emotional vocal performance on Please Have Mercy On Me, even though the song’s premise was… well, let’s just say any impressionable kids listening to his actions to win over a girl would be sadly disillusioned when they tried it themselves. Furthermore the musical accompaniment was a little misguided, at least when it came to the way in which the band carried out their assignments. But Richard was so convincing that he largely overcame its shortcomings by himself.

But on THIS side of the record, the reverse is true. I Brought It All On Myself is a much better composition lyrically and has a fairly compact swinging arrangement with some interesting touches, but it’s Richard’s performance that calls into question his stylistic direction going forward and the answers are not all that reassuring.

Don’t forget, Little Richard was not Little Richard! yet. He had no hits, no signature style, no name recognition and now, after this release, no record label in his corner.

He was still a raw talent, rough around the edges and unsure of which path to follow.

Needless to say, this was definitely not that path.


I Have To Grin And Bear It
Let’s start with the positives, which oddly enough mostly fall under RCA’s side of the scoresheet… hard to believe, I know.

The first thing we appreciate is the simple fact they paired a more uptempo song with the ballad found on the other side, a pretty basic strategy perhaps but one that a lot of companies fail to heed all the same.

Though this is hardly a barnburner by any stretch of the imagination, it’s got a nice loping pace with briefly hammering piano to kick it off followed by horns riffs that are a little too demure for our tastes, but at least the groove is fairly well established in the process.

Who knows, maybe if Harold Biggs and Joe Thomas gave this more punch in the arrangement it’d have forced Richard’s hand, but they do manage to sneak in a few quirkier horn flourishes that give it some character, even finding room for a trumpet that isn’t an offense to your eardrums for once. The sax solo, buttressed by the other horns playing a countering riff, isn’t extraordinary but it works well enough to keep things moving… at least until the squiggling lines to close it out make it a little too flighty for its own good.

But we can overlook those slightly dubious choices because they obviously poured the majority of their effort into crafting a good story, which is the strongest aspect of I Brought It All On Myself.

The plot finds Richard dealing with a breakup in a manner that gives us a much more realistic look at these sorts of events than we often get in songs like this… namely him admitting it’s all his fault. Usually we find singers who either can’t believe their girl left and are drowning in sorrow over these turn of events, or who are oblivious to their own responsibility in the matter and determined to track her down and bring her back no matter what.

But as the title suggests, Richard understands his culpability here and implicates himself with everything he tells us, from cheating on her to not realizing just what she meant to him until it was too late. They touch all of the bases without belaboring any point and since Richard’s acknowledging his own shortcomings we actually feel some sympathy for his plight.

Where it fails however is in how he expresses these things vocally, as he employs a choked vocal technique stemming entirely from his throat rather than his chest, causing him to sound downright unappealing – Little Richard unappealing?!?!? Who would’ve ever thought those words would be uttered in a review about him?

Granted this is not vintage era Richard Penniman, but he seems completely unsure of the effect he’s going for with this, unless it’s to try and convince you he’s just been crying, but even that, while it may be an accurate motivation in a stage play, this is a song, not method acting and who wants to hear him imitating a nervous high-strung frog?

Consequently, while you have a song that works well enough, you have one of the weakest vocal performances of his career, past, present or future to deal with, and it makes for a pretty desultory let-down from the promise he showed on the other side.


Told Me We Were Through
There’s still just enough of a good song at the core to make this listenable, but that’s as far as we can stretch a point. Setting out, it might’ve been the kind of unusual brand of rock-lite that RCA thought they wanted when signing him in the first place. We still question their effort to break into the existing market for this music, as it seems likely they would’ve preferred to somehow recraft it to their liking where it was more of a harmless novelty than something to be taken seriously, but after listening to this even they couldn’t have been happy with the result.

So seeing as this will be the final release of Little Richard on RCA, you almost wonder if he’s talking about himself in a way when he sings the words, I Brought It All On Myself. Yeah, we know he didn’t write it, but he definitely should at least be willing to indulge in some self-incrimination as to how his career is panning out so far.

We’re not suggesting that he throw off the shackles and let loose with the kind of primal cries of musical freedom he’ll unveil on Specialty a few years down the road. Hell, in 1952 that might get him locked up with a straitjacket, especially if he pulled that kind of act in RCA’s buttoned-down studios, but we’ve yet to see any indication that he had any idea what his best options were.

He showed promise as a Billy Wright imitator, but Wright is far better at it than Richard is and even he’s not connecting on the charts in the same manner as he was awhile back, so surely two artists in that vein doesn’t seem to hold much promise… just ask H-Bomb Ferguson whose Wynonie Harris imitation has fizzled out as Harris’s own star has dimmed considerably.

But thus far, while we’ve seen more than faint glimmers of promise in Richard’s work, we haven’t seen somebody fully confident in any approach yet. He’s trying everything, hoping something clicks with the public, but without conviction in what he’s doing it means the public, not Little Richard, will ultimately be making the decision for him.

At this point, that decision frankly is shaping up to be not caring much what he does, especially when he does something like this.


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