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RCA 20-4772; JUNE 1952



For all of the accolades that Little Richard received in his lifetime and beyond, the one thing he hasn’t gotten quite enough acclaim for is his vocal versatility.

His image as rock’s most flamboyant screamer largely overshadowed not just his other types of performances such as heartfelt ballads, but also obscured the fact that he sometimes sang in such drastically different registers or with completely different vocal attributes, enough so that casual fans might not even recognize who it was upon hearing him.

This one might not be quite different enough to completely befuddle those trying to play “Guess The Singer”, but it shows that no matter how famous he’d become for consistently tapping into a very specific persona, Little Richard was never beholden to just that one approach.


Give You All My Lovin’
Growing up in a family of twelve kids it’s hardly surprising that Richard Penniman had to develop a loud and piercing voice just to be noticed. Combine that with his constant desire to be the center of attention and it’s no wonder he worked at being more than simply the loudest one in the room.

By the time he was an adult he had a larynx like polished chrome. Sleek, shiny and strong.

Yet for those who know him for his Specialty classics of the mid-1950’s, the sound of him singing in a higher register at his earlier stops at RCA and later Peacock with a delivery that was more controlled and lacking the rapid fire assault of lyrics he became known for is something that throws off your senses a bit.

Of course that’s not unusual. People’s voices change as they age. Fats Domino’s voice will soon deepen as well, and Elvis Presley during his Sun Records years has a distinctly different tone than he will once he arrives at RCA and reaches full maturity.

But while that part is easy to understand, what gets lost when focusing only on Richard’s classic sides is just how supple and versatile that voice actually was.

We try and keep these reviews focused on the present rather than direct you to rock records we’ll later be covering just to make a point, but here we don’t have to in order to reveal just how wide Richard’s range and style was. Simply go to his early sixties recordings as a gospel singer and listen to how radically he altered his voice for them, at times using a much deeper tone and huskier delivery on songs like Just A Closer Walk To Thee and then on other songs like It’s Real he practically floated up into the clouds with a delicate falsetto.

It wasn’t just the vocal attributes themselves, but also his approach, as on one hand he could use an almost pure 50’s pop voice for a cut like It Takes Everything To Serve The Lord and then turn around and recall his rocking past with uptempo tunes like Ride On King Jesus, sounding perfectly natural in all of those realms.

Forget about the messages of those songs and just marvel at the voice.

So here we are almost a full decade earlier as he gives hints at his ability to transform himself vocally on Why Did You Leave Me?, though of course his “regular” voice was not yet widely known enough for anybody to really notice.

That’s a pity because while this kind of mournful dirge isn’t exactly hit material in rock ‘n’ roll in 1952, it’s a better example of his pure vocal abilities than the slightly more typical top side.


Tried To Make It My Own
The compositional structure of this song – which he wrote himself – is blues, but you’d never instinctively associate it with that genre because of the manner in which Richard approaches it.

This isn’t simply because of the arrangement they put on it, though that certainly doesn’t hurt to get you thinking in other directions, but it’s largely because of how Richard uses gospel techniques to “worry” the lyrics throughout the song.

Of course he wasn’t the first to do this… Roy Brown pioneered it in rock from the very beginning and since then Clyde McPhatter and Richard’s idol Billy Wright (among others) have specialized in that as well.

Still, Richard’s use of that technique, laying on the melisma as he seemingly tears his heart out with each and every line, is key to understanding his intuitive ability to capture your attention no matter the style, no matter the pace, no matter the sentiments being delivered.

Obviously it doesn’t take many guesses to figure out that Why Did You Leave Me? is a song about romantic heartbreak but the impact of the performance far transcends the rote lyrics he chooses. In fact, the lines are merely a roll call of the most obvious thoughts coming from a guy who’s lost his girl. From excuses that seek to elicit pity from her “I tried to treat you right” to the blame he places on her in the very next line “All you do is fuss and fight”, this almost tore out the first page of the standard issue Songwriting 101 book they give to aspiring musicians and he merely copied it verbatim.

But as he veers from incredulity to issuing a vague warning he’s smart enough to not change his state of mind because of course these conflicting views all mix together in moments such as these when you’re trying desperately to make sense of how things could’ve gone wrong. So it’s certainly accurate and effective, even if it’s hardly very deep in what it’s specifically stating.

Where it stands out though is in Richard’s ability to convey this grief-stricken outlook without resorting to histrionics, internalizing the feelings to get the right frame of mind, but then appearing to struggle to remain under control while expressing them, using more of his range in the process than we’ve heard before.

It’s hardly a novel approach in rock ‘n’ roll of course, but he carries it off incredibly well for a kid just learning his way around a recording studio, showing great acting ability at the same time remaining accessible as a singer while the band does just enough to keep it on track without getting in the way.


You Know I Love You, Baby
Though stylistically this is certainly not a harbinger of things to come in Little Richard’s career, nor even in rock ‘n’ roll (although it will remain a reliable alternative approach as evidenced by the sneaky melodic similarities Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel shares with it), this might showcase Richard’s talent the best of all of his RCA sides to date.

That kind of statement might seem to be an overreach on the surface since he wouldn’t explore this kind of delivery very often after he hit with the force of an atom bomb in three years time, but if you are trying to determine vocal and performative abilities then Why Did You Leave Me? makes a pretty strong case for his future stardom.

Not… mind you… his future directional course, but in order to pull those rabbits out of his hat down the road, he needed to be able to sing with power, style and conviction and this leaves no doubt he had the voice and the artistic flair for it from the start.

In a way you wish the arrangement could’ve found a way to have more bite and thus not be quite as much of an outlier in the current landscape of rock, for while it still fits well enough it’s not close to defining this era in terms of its approach and therefore it has to be discounted a little for that in the scoring since what we do here is to evaluate records in the context of rock’s evolution.

But scores be damned, this is still a record you need to hear and appreciate to fully grasp the scope of Little Richard, the quasar of rock.


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