Friday, April 14, 2006

50 years ago: Little Richard “Long Tall Sally” hit #1 on the R&B chart

Long Tall Sally

Little Richard

Writer(s): Robert Blackwell, Enotris Johnson, Richard Penniman (see lyrics here)

First Charted: March 30, 1956

Peak: 6 US, 8 CB, 74 HR, 18 RB, 3 UK, 3 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 43.44 video, 74.5 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Richard Penniman, aka Little Richard, was born in Georgia in 1932. The singer/songwriter has been called the “Architect of Rock and Roll” for his flamboyant personality and integral contributions to the genre in its infancy. He released a half dozen singles on two labels in the early ‘50s before striking gold with “Tutti Frutti” in 1955. The song reached the top 20 on the Billboard pop chart and was a #2 R&B hit.

While that is considered his signature song, its follow-up, “the equally scintillating” SS “Long Tall Sally,” was actually more successful, reaching #6 on the pop charts and #1 on the R&B charts. Producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell discussed how some radio stations opted to play Pat Boone’s more sanitized version of “Tutti Frutti” so with “Long Tall Sally” “we decided to up the tempo…and get the lyrics going so fast that Boone wouldn’t be able to get his mouth together to do it!” SS The result, said critic Dave Marsh, “is pure rock and roll.” DM Amusingly, Boone did cover the song as did many others including the Beatles, Eddie Cochran, Wanda Jackson, Tom Jones, the Kinks, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Marty Robbins.

Blackwell said a popular DJ named Honey Chile introduced him to a teenager girl, Enotris Johnson, who walked all the way from Mississippi in hopes of selling a song to Little Richard SS in hopes of paying for treatment for her ailing aunt Mary. Blackwell took the lines (“Saw Uncle John with Long Tall Sally / They Saw Aunt Mary comin’ / So they ducked back in the alley”) to Richard WK who improvised the rest. DM

Some assumed Long Tall Sally was a cross-dresser, but Little Richard said she was a family friend who drank whiskey, claiming she was fighting a cold. He described her as tall, ugly, cockeyed, and having just two teeth. She was having an affair with John, who was married to Mary. The latter two fought on weekends and John would duck into alleys when he saw her coming. SF


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First posted 11/6/2022; last updated 3/25/2023.

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