My Pop Life #213 : Long Tall Sally – Little Richard

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Long Tall Sally – Little Richard

Going to tell Aunt Mary about Uncle John
He claim he has the misery but he has a lot of fun…

I have written a great deal in this blog about a production of Return To The Forbidden Planet at the Tricycle Theatre in 1985.  It is where I met my wife after all (see My Pop Life #190) even though we had to wait three plus years until our first date…

It was also where I met Hereward K who was MD of the show, a musicman who would turn up 25 years later in Sussex (see My Pop Life #65) and who made the call on the encore every night.  Basically we did the first encore every night, which was the Boris Pickett & The Crypt Kicker Five cartoon song The Monster Mash (it was a Graveyard Smash), memorably covered by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.  For this song, as for many of the others in the show, I was on the saxophone, although I should add in passing that we all changed instruments in the show to give the impression that we could all play everything. Thus I was on the drum-kit for Go Now and the bass guitar for All Shook Up, keyboards for Teenager In Love.  Or something like that. But generally I was on the alto sax, the same trusty horn I’d bought when 15 years old (see My Pop Life#19).

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There are no bad Specialty singles (fact)

But the 3rd encore was Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally and we only did it if the crowd were going apeshit.  Which was on average, once a week.  Friday night usually.  There is an unwritten law in the theatre that Friday night is the best night – people can argue, but it is.  Saturday is for people who book in advance and who (in general) sit back with arms folded thinking “go on then – impress me“.   We never did Long Tall Sally on a Saturday night.

The key thing about Long Tall Sally was that I was the fella singing it.  Probably the worst singer in the company, my only lead vocal contribution during the show was the humiliation of singing the first verse of “Who’s Sorry Now” the 1957 Connie Francis evergreen pop hit – humiliating because the baton was then passed to fellow thesp Nat Augustin (trombone player & Ariel the robot) who warbled magnificat for the rest of the tune.  Proper singing mate.  So when every seven days Hereward gave us musical max factors the magic signal to go back out there and re-engage with the audience, I would walk up to the lead microphone, strike some kind of archaic pose and snarl “Let’s have some rock ‘n’roll“.  Writer and recently-passed legend Bob Carlton used to enjoy that moment, and told me so.  He must have liked me, because it was half-way through this production that I upped and left my girlfriend of 9 years, and then found myself without anywhere to live, not for the first time in my life.  Homelessness not being a good enough reason to stay in a relationship which has run its course.

I crashed at Simon’s in Stoke Newington for two weeks, then Bob offered me the key to his Bow flat, 22 floors up overlooking the Mile End Road.  I spent the summer there while another member of the company, actor Ram John Holder, organised a Housing Association interview for me at West Hampstead.  Sometime later that year I moved into a condemned (by a Motorway plan) ground floor flat on Archway Road which I eventually bought, with Jenny.

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Meanwhile back on stage I was singing Long Tall Sally all wrong.  Ironic this, because Little Richard wrote it to bamboozle his white tribute act Pat Boone who’d taken his vanilla cover of Tutti Frutti to the “top” of the charts (ie number 12) in late 1955 and was sure to attempt a cover of the follow-up single too. According to producer Robert Blackwell ‘Long Tall Sally” was deliberately sped up so that Boone couldn’t follow the words. Well, neither could I.  I sang “Long Tall Sally she’s pretty sweet” for example, and the lyrics actually are “…she’s built for speed“.  Clear when you know and watch the Youtube clip below but we didn’t have Youtube in 1984 and neither did Pat Boone in 1956.  Other notable covers came from Elvis Presley and The Beatles with St Paul singing the ripping falsetto quite impressively.  I never had the equipment or the bottle to attempt that kind of singing so I just kind of grunted through it and gave it some animal attitude to cover my vocal shortcomings.

What I found out later was rather amazing though. Future wife Jenny being occasionally out there as an usher, it seems that it was her friend Kate and herself and the other youth theatre crew who kicked up the noise on Friday nights so that they would get an extra song.  It’s enough to make a stone heart melt so it is.

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Little Richard of course is one of the true originals – full camp, in full make-up, singing about sex & dancing & more sex, he smashed the mid-to-late fifties music scene with his iconoclastic energy and irrepressible confidence & charm.  One of a group who changed the world along with Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis.  Apparently the song is based on a real woman with only two teeth who used to get drunk on sugared whisky because she had a cold, and then got a worse cold, leading to further tots, but the early verse was written by a young girl who’d won a radio competition :

I saw Uncle John with Long Tall Sally, they saw Aunt Mary coming so they jumped back in the alley

and Richard Penniman did the rest, although he changed her words to “baldheaded Sally…”   Clearly a major influence on music in general, in particular he inspired Jimi Hendrix and Prince, both of whom took his extraordinary attitude to showmanship and ran with it.  Unlike both of those huge talents, Richard himself is still alive (as of September 2018).

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Richard Penniman in 2017

He followed Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally with a string of hits – Rip It Up, Ready Teddy, The Girl Can’t Help It, Lucille, Send Me Some Lovin’, Good Golly Miss Molly, Hey Hey Hey Hey, many others.  Later on I would discover All Around The World (a B-side) thanks to the film Gremlins. Fantastic song.  What an artist.  What a wife.

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My Pop Life #212 : Use It Up, Wear It Out – Odyssey

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Use It Up, Wear It Out  –  Odyssey

Do it all night
Do it all night long
Do it all night long
Do it all night

Ever since my year of musical sentience – 1971 – I reckon I’ve been over 50% musical nerd, less than 50% emotional reaction.  Drawn to strange complex compositions from the likes of  Van Der Graaf Generator and Gentle Giant when I was 14, 15 then rock, pop, jazz and classical in my twenties, and all manner of “world music” in foreign tongues in my thirties and beyond.

Although I started my musical appreciation as a child I became a musical snob once I was at big school and anything too popular was to be sneered at, with a few exceptions – The Beatles, Motown, glam-rock and Simon & Garfunkel for example.  This wasn’t a rule just a strange affliction which got challenged regularly, particularly by my younger brother Paul’s taste.  Andrew, the even younger brother had even more of an intellectual & obscure prediliction than I, happily meandering into Bill Bruford, Brand X, Delius and Opera from a young age, but in his groovetastic favour are weaknesses for funk (see My Pop Life #138) and disco, which we all grew to love.  But Paul got there first, when it was actually happening.  He found a place to belong in that world when he didn’t find one at home. Ejected from the house by our mother at the age of 16, he lived in digs in Eastbourne and worked at the tax office.  He wouldn’t come out as gay (perhaps even to himself) until a few years later when in 1980 we travelled through Mexico together and I contracted hepatitus B (see My Pop Life #72).

When he returned to London in the early 80s the first flush of disco was over and house music was in its early days. He would take me out to gay clubs with his friends and we would dance.

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Odyssey were more popular in the UK than the USA

But if I’m honest I never really fully embraced Disco as the genius music it truly is until much later.  I now have three Chic albums, Sister Sledge, the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack and a whole collection of wonderful one-off hit singles from the likes of Wild Cherry, Cerrone, Andrea True Connection or Silver Convention. Not to mention MJ, Q and Sylvester.  I have burrowed into this world with the devotion of a born-again funkster disco queen because it is simply wonderful music, brilliantly composed & arranged, and perhaps more importantly, quite fantastic to dance to.  Or exercise to.  In my old age – yes that happened – I now do a work-out routine pretty much every day, in our apartment. Based on Pilates, a disco or a reggae soundtrack is essential. And every time this song comes on an extra spring in the step appears.

It’s a deceptively simple construction, but my entire thesis in this post is that I over-think music when I’m not stoned.  I’m a young soul, not born wise, and my education has somewhat interfered with my appreciation for the beauty of simplicity.  I have noticed throughout my life that intellectual or educational intelligence is valued much more highly than emotional intelligence.  Thinking wins over feeling.  What is emotional intelligence?  What – you mean you don’t know? I have had to learn it, or re-learn it, for I had an inkling of it as a child, as did we all.  My two cats have it.  They know when to approach, when to walk away. Empathy.  Understanding.  A little less analysis, a little more instinct and love.  A little less middle 8 a little more groove.  I’m not explaining it very well.  And ironically one of the great musical intellectuals of the 20th century made some of the very finest disco records. I’m talking about Quincy Jones work with Michael Jackson of course, so my entire thesis, apart from being vague and vaguely dodgy is simply nonsense.   But then Q is a fairly exceptional human being on every level, intellectual, emotional, musical, who can count the ways?

I said :

1  2  3  shake your body down

 

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So emotional intelligence then. Women have it.  They develop it too.  If it isn’t used in their career, respected in the system, conjoined to the intellectual and given space, then it becomes an alternative way, a parallel path.  I remember the girls at school in our year going out with older boys.  But perhaps I’m doing myself a disservice.  “I’ve always.. I’ve never..” phrases that should be banned in domestic squabble.

What I’m saying more simply is this : I value dance music more now as I grow older.  I rarely actually dance (shame) but my love is stronger.

But I still analyse even the simplest things, it’s how I am built.  Hard to let go and just dance.  I think the closest I get nowadays is exercising.  Really I should dedicate this song to the last four years of pilates. It is about breathing and posture mainly. We’ve adapted it a little and added a few weights here & there, a few stretches and so on.  But breathing is the thing that gets the blood flowing and lifts the adrenalin and generally the mood, the capability and the life within and without.  When a friend of mine confessed he was feeling depressed earlier this year and that he felt that I was perhaps someone who could help, I said – simply so that there could be no thought – move.  Move your body.  Dance, pilates, run, cycle, swim. It works.  It has lifted me through so many bipolar episodes when I wake up in the dark and cannot shake it any other way, with drugs or otherwise. Move.  Move yourself in some way dammit.

And stop thinking. Just move.  Your body and your brain Are The Same Thing.  They need oxygen. Give it to them.

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Ain’t nothin’ left in this whole world I care about

I think when I was younger I moved as a sportsman – playing football twice a week for decades – and jumping up and down at gigs – The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, The Specials – and actually danced too, to The Bee Gees, Odyssey and Chic among others.  So keep moving everyone.   There was a point in there about emotional intelligence wasn’t there?  What was I trying to say?  You should be dancing? Get lost in music.  Young hearts run free.  Check out the groove. Good times. Dance, dance, dance. Love is in control.  How you gonna do it if you really don’t wanna dance? Get your back up off the wall. Off the wall. Watcha doin’ in ya bed? Shake your body, blame it on the boogie, can you feel it?, can you feel the force? jump to the beat, take it to the top and don’t stop til you get enough. Get on the floor, more, more more, burn this disco out and the beat goes on, gotta Use it Up and Wear It Out.

I said

1  2  3 shake your body down