061 SONG REVIEW – Tutti Frutti
SONG: Tutti Frutti
ARTIST: Little Richard
Listen to it here:
Tutti Frutti, which Wikipedia has helpfully translated to “All fruits” was written by Little Richard and Dorothy LaBostrie, and was Little Richard’s first major hit record. The very first refrain (A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom) was originially Little Richard’s vocal rendition of the drum pattern he wanted to open the track, but the decision was made to keep it vocalized, and has become the most memorable part of this iconic song. The song itself introduced several of rock music’s most characteristic features, including the distinctive beat, powerful vocals, and loud volume.
By the time Little Richard recorded Tutti Frutti, he’d already been recording for RCA and Peacock Records for four years but had had little commercial success. Some reports say that Little Richard originally wrote the song when he was working as a janitor at a bus station. The original lyrics were:
Tutti Frutti, good booty
If it don’t fit, don’t force it
You can grease it, make it easy
The “sexual humour” and “possible reference to a homosexual man” was cleaned up for lyrical purity so that the song could actually be played on the air. This is where Dorothy LaBostrie comes in – she was the one responsible for cleaning up the lyrics to what we’re familiar with today. LaBostrie was still receiving fairly hefty royalty payments for her lyric changes all the way through the 1980s.
The recording we’re listening to today was done in 3 takes, and took about 15 minutes total.
Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia in 1932. He was the third of twelve(!) children. His father was a church deacon and brick mason who also sold moonshine and owned a nightclub on the side. Due to complications at birth, Richard had one leg slightly shorter than the other, which is the reason for his recognizable gait. Penniman grew up in a very religious family, and began singing in church at an early age.
Penniman was very influenced by gospel music growing up and was inspired to become a preacher by his earliest influence, Brother Joe May, “the Thunderbolt of the Middle West”. Little Richard recorded for several years without much success, and with a lot of frustration because he felt held back from singing the way he wanted to. Eventually, his record label gave him more creative freedom in a last-ditch effort to have some success with him. The result was Tutti Frutti which became an instant hit. Little Richard was a huge star from that moment on, and he devoted himself to singing in his own style, and in integrating his audiences. That is, except for five years when he became a born again Christian, abandoned rock and roll, and toured Europe to preach. One of his opening acts was the Beatles, and Little Richard advised them on how to perform his songs, and even taught Paul McCartney some of his vocalizations.
Little Richard has been hailed as one of the most important pioneers of rock and roll by many institutions. His legacy is more than we could ever possibly cover in this blog!
In 2007, a panel of renowned recording artists ranked Tutti Frutti as no. 1 on the Top 100 Records that Changed the World list.
When I saw that our next song was Tutti Frutti, I was like ‘whatever, I’ve heard the song a million times”. What I didn’t really realize before was how good Little Richard’s voice is on here and how much I actually really enjoy it. It grabbed my attention right from the intro. He’s so energetic and it’s infectious! Especially with his trademark WOOOs through the song. I can imagine this blowing people’s minds in 1955, considering what a lot of other music sounded like at the time. I read that Little Richard was super conflicted about dryer lint personified Pat Boone turning his song into unseasoned boiled chicken, because obviously he didn’t like a super boring white dude appropriating his song, but he knew at the time Boone covering his song would give Little Richard more exposure. The band sounds great here too, fun boogie woogie piano, a good sax solo, nice splashy drums. And the mix sounds good! It’s funny listening to this and then listening to Bill Haley and Rock Around the Clock – Bill sounds sooooo lame. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to revisit this song. It’s a winner.
I can very easily say that Little Richard is a super influential musician who I have definitely under-appreciated in my lifetime so far. The biography written above doesn’t go into half of the stuff that happens in his life surrounding his music, his relationship to the church, his sexuality, and above all the HUGE influence that Little Richard had. This song is objectively great. Little Richard’s singing is energetic, a little scratchy, and his little “ooohs” are just so great. The piano is fun, doing these arpeggiated things, and sometimes the triplets that we’ve heard a million times, the walking bassline is, well, to be expected at this point, and the tenor sax is such a great complement to Little Richard’s vocals. If there’s one thing I like a bit less about this recording is – where the HECK is the guitar? I listened with my good headphones and strained to barely hear the thing! Still, a classic song that had such a huge influence on the path that popular music would take, and in my mind it holds up super well 66 years later!
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
Elvis throws his spin on it. Is it just me, or does Elvis inject energy into his covers by just speeding them up?
Queen, live at Wembley. Maybe just because you CAN harmonize everything doesn’t mean you should.
My dear readers, we love you, and because of that, we must show you the good with the bad. Please, don’t hate us. Here’s Andre Rieu’s craptacular rendition:
Listen with us!
Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:
Link to the Best of the Best 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: