In 2010, the New York Times called "Tutti Frutti" "one of the detonating blasts of the '50s rock 'n' roll explosion" (source).
The song was certainly a detonating blast, and not just because it was a rock and roll original that inspired generations. It was sexually suggestive rock and roll, performed by a mascara-wearing, pompadour-sporting Black man for a mixed-race audience, released at a time when segregation was still legal.
Most people have heard "Tutti Frutti." The song and the genre that came with it have been so broadly accepted into American pop culture that it has virtually reached elevator-music status. But what a lot of people don't know about "Tutti Frutti" is that the original lyrics by Little Richard had a very different meaning than the ones we're familiar with.
Read on to find out how a song that could've gone down in obscurity for its references to gay themes—long before "Born This Way" and quite a bit more risqué—instead became one of the most iconic recordings in music history.
|Writer(s)||Richard Penniman, Dorothy LaBostrie, Joe Lubin|
|Musician(s)||Little Richard (vocals, piano), Lee Allen and Alvin "Red" Tyler (saxophone), Frank Fields (guitar), Earl Palmer (drums)|
|Learn to play|
|Album||Tutti Frutti (Single); B-Side "I'm Just a Lonely Guy"|
Sister Rosetta Tharp
Brother Joe May
The Rolling Stones
Jerry Lee Lewis
The Essential Little Richard (1989; 2006)
This is a good overview of Little Richard's biggest hits and characteristic sound.
Pray Along With Little Richard (2006)
Get a sense of Richard's connection to religion in his more recent music (and by “more recent” we mean everything in the last 30 years or so).
Don't hate me because I'm beautiful
Richard carried himself somewhat like a prom queen with a mustache.
Classic fifties portrait
Again, the prom queen aesthetic meets the rock star confidence and caked-on makeup.
Little Richard, Fashion Queen
Richard has long been known for sporting wild look after wild look with pride and pizzazz. In a sense, he was Lady Gaga before she was even Baby Gaga.
Richard in more recent years
He's older, but he’s still rocking the same strange fashions and the eternal mustache.
The Girl Can't Help It (1956)
Richard delivers with classic audaciousness in this early rock and roll film.
Don't Knock the Rock (1956)
Richard pretty much plays himself in another relic of early rock culture.
Little Richard (2000)
This made-for-TV movie is a dramatic take on Richard's life, which frankly was pretty dramatic to begin with. It's a little hard to get a hold of, but it received generally positive reviews.
Little Richard on MySpace
Listen, watch, and read the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame biography of Little Richard. It's hard to figure out what's "official" on Little Richard online these days, but this certainly seems like a valid place to start.
GQ Magazine: "Legend: Little Richard" (2010)
This fantastic article about Richard's career and legacy gives you a great sense of his utter genius—and relative insanity.
Anthony DeCurtis: "Some Fun Tonight" [Book review], The New York Times (2010)
DeCurtis reviews a new biography of Little Richard called Little Richard: The Birth of Rock and Roll, by David Kirby. The review isn't flattering, but it's fun to see how "Tutti Frutti" continues to be a topic of both debate and reverence nearly 60 years after its release.
Little Richard: "Tutti Frutti" Live
Richard plays the piano while couples dance in that funny way they used to dance in the 1950s. It is actually quite charming.
Little Richard: "Ready Teddy" (1956)
This is a clip from The Girl Can't Help It. Richard is just beginning to build up his reputation as a rock icon.
Pat Boone: "Tutti Frutti" (1955)
Pat Boone's poppy, polished version of Richard's originally raucous song was a bigger commercial success than Richard's own recording. This was a source of bitterness for Richard and his fans, especially because Boone's popularity had racial connotations (he was more accessible to a "cross-over" audience because he was white).
Elvis Presley: "Tutti Frutti" (1956)
Elvis also made a popular version of the song.
Little Richard on Jimi Hendrix
This is just one great sample of Richard's wacky, unpredictable, and incredibly rhythmic way of speaking to the press.