No one can do a Little Richard composition like Little Richard.
In the finest moments from the rock and roll pioneer — who died Saturday at the age of 87 — self-penned songs were as flamboyant as his appearance. Informed by his Georgian roots in the Pentecostal church and the nightlife business (tellingly, his dad was both a deacon and a nightclub owner), every Little Richard song came straight from the heart, the soul, the hair and the pelvis. The syncopated horn charts, the chugging rhythm, the howling, pleading vocals, the sheer theatricality — Little Richard was an architect of all rock and roll that followed.
And although countless thousands of performers — many of whom enjoyed greater commercial success than he did — covered his songs, few could touch this searing soul-shouter’s originals in their carnal, holy glory.
But they tried. Here are 10 classic Richard originals, alongside some of the strongest (or most interesting) covers.
“Long Tall Sally” (from the 1956 film “Don’t Knock the Rock”)
The Beatles: “Long Tall Sally”
Start here when it comes to covering Little Richard with all the rabid intensity required. Captured during a drunken, legendary concert at the Star Club in Germany, “Live! at the Star-Club 1962” finds the still-greasy quartet knocking up “Long Tall Sally” like a garage band in heat. The mix might be a bloody, in-the-red mess, but that’s the point.
The Beatles: “Lucille”
As massive fame beckoned and their edges were smoothed, The Fab Four used a bit more finesse when they tackled Penniman’s paean to his favorite lass in 1963. Still, this cut, recorded for the BBC’s “Pop Go the Beatles,” properly portrayed the lads’ rough interior and soul while maintaining the twang of Merseybeat.
“Good Golly Miss Molly”
Clearance Clearwater Revival: “Good Golly Miss Molly”
The California swamp rock overlords recorded this Little Richard song in 1969 on their “Bayou Country” LP. Not only did John Fogerty give its signature guitar twang a little more tang, he even tweaked some of Richard’s lyrics. Sacrilege? Maybe, but tasty anyway.
Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels’ “Devil With the Blue Dress On”/ ”Good Golly Miss Molly”
Husky U.S. grade blue-eyed soul starts here. Gruff and crusty, the R&B rocker took Shorty Long’s loping blues-based “Devil,” ramped it up to a heart-palpitating speed, and grafted an equally racing “Good Golly” onto the groove for a massive 1966 hit — which itself was later and legendarily covered by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in their “Detroit Medley.”
“The Girl Can’t Help It”
The Animals: “The Girl Can’t Help It”
At the peak of their “House of the Rising Sun” fame, an unmoored Eric Burdon, Alan Price and Co. turned Richard’s song of luscious lustiness into a rough pop smash in 1964.
“Lucille,” live in 1973
Deep Purple: “Lucille:
On their 1972 “Made in Japan” live album, British heavy metal harbingers Deep Purple, mind-bend Little Richard’s rocking romancer into a menacing, eight-minute jam. Check out guitarist Richie Blackmore’s fuzz tone six-strings merged with Jon Lord’s gear-grinding organ during the intro.
André Rieu & His Johann Strauss Orchestra: “Tutti Frutti”
You might think this brassy orchestral rendition of Richard’s propulsive classic would sound corny, camp and splashy in this live-from-Sydney rendition. You’d be right – and that’s what makes this amazing, and even fruitier.
Delaney & Bonnie & Friends with Eric Clapton: “Little Richard Medley”
If you’re looking to hear “Tutti Frutti”/”The Girl Can’t Help It” /” Long Tall Sally”/”Jenny Jenny” done up as a white gospel revival soundtrack, sped-up and soulful, this is the place.
“Slippin’ and Slidin’”
The Band: “Slippin’ and Slidin'”
The Band made Little Richard’s wettest hit a staple of its live sets, always a group sing-a-long and always raucous. This version, recorded on the legendary 1970 “Festival Express” tour, finds the group cutting loose and features stinging lead guitar from Robbie Robertson and a truly deranged organ solo from Garth Hudson.
“Long Tall Sally”
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: “Long Tall Sally”
If anyone could tackle the sanctified sweat and soul of Little Richard, it’s The Boss, Little Stevie and their band of renowned. Check out this excellent, soundboard recording from Boston on February 4, 2016. E Street’s horns are on fire, E Street is percolating and you can feel the veins in Springsteen’s next popping out with rock and roll glee.