Tomás Summers Sandoval had a post today about sax solos, which ties in with the trivia note that it was on this date in 1956 that Little Richard recorded “Long Tall Sally”. Tomás didn’t include any Little Richard in his list of five top rock sax solos, but I’ve always connected saxophone solos to Little Richard. Elvis had Scotty Moore guitar solos, Chuck Berry had his own licks, Jerry Lee Lewis pounded the piano keyboard, but Richard, despite his own piano-playing skills, always seemed to find room for a sax solo on the break.
Lee Allen was the sax man on most of Little Richard’s early hits, including “Long Tall Sally”. This song was the follow-up to the cataclysmic “Tutti Frutti”, quite simply one of the greatest records of all time. There was a story to choosing “Long Tall Sally”, according to Rolling Stone:
"Long Tall Sally" was aimed squarely at pop singer Pat Boone. "The white radio stations wouldn't play Richard's version of 'Tutti Frutti' and made Boone's cover Number One," recalled [Robert “Bumps”] Blackwell. "So we decided to up the tempo on the follow-up and get the lyrics going so fast that Boone wouldn't be able to get his mouth together to do it!" Recorded at J&M Studios in New Orleans, "Long Tall Sally" was Little Richard's biggest hit. Unfazed, Boone also recorded "Long Tall Sally," taking it to Number Eight.
While the lyrics to “Long Tall Sally” are stripped to their essence, full of sexual innuendo, they are not as nonsensical as “Tutti Frutti”s (the seeming nonsense of that first hit being key to its wonder). But in both cases, and in many of Richard’s greatest hits, it’s the performance that drives it over the top. I often used “Tutti Frutti” as a teaching tool when we would work on poetry in a class. We would read the lyrics, which aren’t much on the page (“A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom” is admittedly silly), then listen to the recording, which is world-changing (“A WOP BOP A LOO BOP A LOP BAM BOOM!”). The song’s lyrics require the music to complete the art. (In this case, after 60 years, there is still some disagreement about exactly how to transcribe those lyrics, which only matters if you are treating it like poetry on the page.)
This lip-syncing rendition of the song in Don’t Knock the Rock is a great way to experience the record. (The sax player is pretending to play Lee Allen’s solo, but it’s actually Grady Gaines, who was in Richard’s touring band, as far as I can tell. I also love that the band has FOUR sax players!)
Here is Pat Boone’s version ... don’t blame me, I’m only the messenger:
(I’m sorry. Please take a moment to collect yourselves after that.)
Not every cover version sucked. Little Richard was to Paul McCartney as Elvis was to John Lennon: primary influences on monumental artists. Oh, and Ringo Fucking Starr:
And finally, a more recent use of “Long Tall Sally” in popular culture (I say “recent”, but this is 1987):