"I would say that boogie-woogie and rhythm & blues mixed is rock and roll," Little Richard once said. As one of the first ten inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Richard is widely considered an authority on the matter. The type of music exemplified by "Tutti Frutti" became the basis for much of early rock and roll, even though a lot of what we call rock and roll now only faintly resembles Richard's rollicking tune.
A few key elements make up the distinctively rock feel of "Tutti Frutti." As with a lot of early rock songs, what made it rock was not so much in the structure as the style of performance. (Elvis Presley's rendition of Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" is another example of this.) "Tutti Frutti" begins with the characteristic striking sound of Little Richard singing out "A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop Alop-bom-bom," a sound he says he first made trying to imitate the sounds of a drum lick. The song goes on to follow a basic 12-bar blues progression, with instrumentation on piano, saxophones, a drum kit, and a bass. The piano is played in a classic boogie-woogie style, and the horn section draws from the popular R&B tunes of the time. But the mix of Richard's unusual voice ("I tried to take voice lessons, but I found I couldn't because the way I sing, a voice teacher can't deal with it. I'm out of control," Richard said of himself) with these other ingredients moves in a way that R&B alone hadn't quite gotten to yet. Coupled with Little Richard's notoriously wild and unpredictable performances, the fast and furious sound of "Tutti Frutti" captured the essence of rock and roll.