Ooh! My Soul

An inventor of rock 'n' roll gets his r&b straight for a change

Little Richard's hit-making days lasted about as long as the Verve's and, though protean, he was no less derivative—a natural mimic who could filch Esquerita's shtick one minute, Mahalia Jackson's the next. But genius steals, and time waits for no man to rock around the clock, and once Richard had given up rock 'n' roll for solid rock, he found himself pushing Sisyphus's boulder to get out from behind the eight ball of the British Invasion that praised him as it buried him. In his turn-of-the-'70s comeback, before Prince began penciling in John Waters's mustache, Richard scraped Top 40 with some wonderful psychedelic soul.

The Okeh Sessions predates that by a few years and is mostly straightforward r&b. But as produced by Richard's shady old labelmate Larry Williams—like Richard, a man not unacquainted with substituting infantile gibberish for the salacious—a 1001st "Land of a Thousand Dances" (which pinches Williams's "Bony Maronie") hits hard enough. Most telling track is "Poor Dog (Who Can't Wag His Own Tail)" and its series of warnings along the lines of "It's a pretty poor actor that can't read his own script." True, but as another song puts it, "A Little Bit of Something (Beats a Whole Lot of Nothing)."

 
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