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RCA 20-4582; MARCH 1952



We tend to think of the dominant sounds of rock ‘n’ roll at a given time being defined by its biggest stars and the trends they start… something which is true in any era and for every style.

But while oftentimes the mere arrival of a legendary artist represents a zeitgeist shift in the music, or at the very least the beginning of a movement that will eventually take over down the road, in the case of Little Richard he was very much beholdened to the already dominant sounds in rock when he first came into view.

This might be the song which best shows Richard as simply fitting into the current scene, not attempting to stand out on a song he wrote himself, but rather just trying to fit in.


The Day I Left Home
We’ve gotten two basic sides to Little Richard thus far in the three songs we’ve reviewed.

Two were uptempo cuts, including the flip side of this, Get Rich Quick, which could be said to provide a very basic template of the later approach he made famous, albeit without the focused sonic detonations of his later work, not to mention his voice being higher and coming more from his larynx than his diaphragm.

Then there was the Billy Wright impersonations found in the faster paced Taxi Blues, as well as the slowly strutting Every Hour which Wright soon re-did as Every Evening, which provides for good contrast to see the debt the student owed to the teacher who apparently felt the need to be compensated for providing that inspiration.

The point being, these three songs show Richard’s instincts and influences well.

But on Thinkin’ ‘Bout My Mother he’s taking a different tact, sliding into what is already a widely accepted approach by a wide variety of artists. For some that might be a disappointment, for if you take the Little Richard out of his performances what do you have left?

The answer is… a pretty capable stylist with a good voice and a strong penchant for ballads where his emotion strains to get free but is wisely kept from overriding the song.

Never Loved Nobody Else
It’s a bit odd in a sense that this is Little Richard’s most generic track to date, yet also his most personal.

We know not all self-written tunes come from personal experience, that you can take just a broad subject and explore it however you wish, but songs that are taken from real life have a tendency to draw the best of out the artist because it’s revealing a side of them that normally would be kept hidden, or at least have to be guessed at by those listening.

Not that anybody at the time was aware of how Richard Penniman grew up to see the source of this tale as the third of twelve children and the one who was by far the most “different” in the family with his penchant for playing with dolls and his need to draw attention to himself in whatever manner possible.

He was called a sissy by other kids for his effeminate inclinations which caused his father great embarrassment and finally led him to being thrown out of the house when he was in his mid-teens. As a result of all this Richard was nurtured and protected by his mother Leva Mae and when money was tight she’d give her food to Richard and the other kids while going hungry herself, which is explicitly referred to in the lyrics for Thinkin’ ‘Bout My Mother.

With all that going on it’s not hard to see how invested Richard would be in delivering this in sincere fashion. His trembling voice is kept in check by the slow waltzing pace which adds to the drama, focusing on the feelings he’s got inside him rather than allowing himself to project them artificially and add too much distance between himself and their meaning.

Instead Richard is forced to live out every word and keep the memories they elicit at the forefront of his performance. His voice is as expressive as ever, tight and sinewy in his delivery with a few idiosyncratic melodic twists along the way to give it character. There’s a coiled intensity to it, a power resting just under the surface that’s palpable without ever fully revealing itself.

As much as this approach helps Little Richard keep focused though, it may wind up negatively impacting the band’s support as the record goes along. They start off well by matching this hesitant unveiling of the theme with mournful sax along with the defibrillator type effect of the piano in the intro, but as it progresses they seem to be increasingly wandering around, unsure of how to impact the recording without overstepping their roles.

It never breaks the overall mood, but the dipping baritone sax lines in between the lines in the second half bring an unintended comical touch to a very solemn performance and the lack of any tenor solo to set off the vocals means Richard is left largely to stand on his own as time goes on. A solid performance on a heartfelt composition, but ultimately a record that is perfectly content not to stand out.


Until The The Day I Die
Though obviously this is not nearly as distinctive as most of Little Richard’s work, not just the hits that established his legacy but also his creative false starts for both RCA and Peacock during these pre-breakthrough years, it’s still recognizable based on his vocal tone alone.

Furthermore, it’s always instructive to see great artists attempting to adhere to musical ground rules already laid out by others, if for no other reason to watch them struggle to keep their own personalities under wraps.

What Thinkin’ ‘Bout My Mother clearly shows is that while Richard could’ve been a passable act had he consistently toed the line stylistically, he had far too much creative ambition and an unquenchable lust for the spotlight to be able to hold himself down for long.

Though there were a number of artists whose current direction might’ve suited Richard better than this subdued slow burner, it’s probably for the best that he didn’t follow suit and try and head down the same road as Roy Brown or Clyde McPhatter, but instead kept groping in the dark for something that would set him apart even further.

That template hadn’t been invented as of yet, but only because its eventual creator was busy doing this kind of thing instead.

But that’s okay, it’ll be worth the wait in the end.


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