Little Richard

King of Rock and Roll [Reprise]

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In contrast to his 1970 Reprise album The Rill Thing, which constituted a serious updating of his sound, complete with a brace of new songs, Little Richard's King of Rock & Roll was deliberately less ambitious, built around covers of material that early-'70s audiences would have known well by way of Motown, the Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, Creedence Clearwater Revival, et al. These included "Brown Sugar," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "Joy to the World," "Dancing in the Street," and "Born on the Bayou." Its user-friendly song list aside, this ended up a pretty powerful and challenging record in its own right, with Richard putting his distinct spin on much of the material -- "Dancing in the Street" was the jewel in this oft-overlooked collection, stretched out (without seeming stretched at all) to over five minutes by his vocal acrobatics; "Joy to the World" is similarly expanded, the second half in proto-rap fashion, which makes for a rousing and compelling appendix to an exquisitely appealing first half (which was how the song should have been edited for a single release). Even a chestnut like "Midnight Special" gets a jolt of high-energy electricity from Richard's stylized soul shoutings, an extended sax break, and the soaring backing chorus. A totally reconstructed, quick-tempo "The Way You Do the Things You Do" won't make anyone forget the more familiar ballad treatment, but along with his complete reshaping of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" -- and the latter is so good that it makes one wonder why no one thought to get Richard to do a Ray Charles-type country & western album -- it shows how Richard could make any song into one of his, complete with the appropriate upper-register "woos." The only weak moments here are, sad to say, Richard's one fair original, "In the Name," and "Green Power," co-authored by producer H.B. Barnum, which is a good vehicle for Richard but totally nondescript as a song. Otherwise, this is a record that deserved a lot more respect than it received and far more sales than it generated, and is still well worth hearing.

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