Here is a song that, for audiences of 1957, is not sexual or suggestive at all. And when I say it’s not suggestive or sexual, I mean that it is deliberately, degenerately both of those things. How were the good people of 1957 ready for Little Richard? Or rock’n’roll in general. I don’t think us kids who grew up in modern times can fully appreciate how violently rock’n’roll blew holes in people’s minds back then. No wonder the Boomers are such a psychologically crippled generation. They witnessed the invention of a new art form, and it must have been like that scene in the The Thing where they finally show the Thing in all of its Thing-ness. They learned about sex from sexually deviant black men who were somehow allowed to appear on television. I mean, have you seen Little Richard? You just have to take one look at him to know he had some action going on his life like your mama never dreamed about. Like, seriously, that dude was kinky.
Fun fact: Little Richard began his musical career playing drag shows, which apparently was absolutely a thing in 1940’s America. If nothing else, it taught him a lot about the application of eyeliner. And showmanship, of course. Little Richard was one of the hardest rocking rockers in the newly invented world of rock’n’roll, and it was newly invented because he had just invented it. He also deserves credit for introducing legions of crew-cut white kids to dubious sexuality, something he was surprisingly allowed to do in era when sexual deviancy was still very firmly frowned upon and could easily destroy even the most upstanding crew-neck’s life. Maybe it was because rock music itself was viewed as a novelty that a black man with a taste for beehive hair and heavy makeup could be accepted and dismissed as one more weirdo in a parade of noisy weirdos. Then, of course, he found Jeebus and renounced – temporarily, as it turned out – his devil’s music playin’ ways. The damage to an impressionable generation was already done though, and in a few years popular culture would be entirely in the hands of effeminate devil-sympathizing juvenile delinquents.
Watching old recordings of formative rock and roll songs by innovators such as Little Richards feels a lot like gazing at ossified sea creatures at the natural history museum. Wow, did all of life really spring from this? You’d be hard pressed to find Little Richard’s DNA in the musical stylings of, say, Fuck Buttons, but yet you know that it’s in there, just like you know that you carry the genetic material of some hominid in the Nile River Valley who got eaten by saber-toothed tree sloths or something. And that makes you mist up a little at the grandeur and awesomeness of human progress and the forces of nature that have buffeted it. Unlike the progress of hominids, though, the evolution of rock music as a cultural genus has taken place all in a single lifetime, which is to say, the lifetime of Little Richard, who is still alive at 85. A lot has changed in 85 years, but one thing hasn’t; you can still make yourself a star by mastering the two-and-a-half-minute rock song format that Little Richard helped to establish.
So many of the best early rock’n’roll songs were pure gibberish. The spirit of the music didn’t need words that made sense to make sense. The first rockers wrote silly words because they weren’t permitted to write the words the music brought to mind. Sex, obviously, sex and rebellion. But those things were implied, clearly enough that old people clutched their pearls and recoiled, while youths understood and responded accordingly. By tearing apart the fabric of decent society with their libidinous filth, of course. Here we are now, generations later, all decency long swept away by sexual freedom and miscegenation, our society in ashes. You can thank Little Richard.