Day 153: “Long Tall Sally”

When was it recorded?   Mar. 1, 1964

When was it first released, and on which album?   Jun. 19, 1964 on the “Long Tall Sally” EP

Who wrote it?   Robert Blackwell and Richard Penniman

Have I heard this song before?   Just the original

What my research dug up:

Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, Enotris Johnson, and Richard Penniman are credited with writing “Long Tall Sally.” Richard Penniman is the birth name of American rock musician Little Richard, who I’ve written about before many a time, so I’ll refrain from giving you his life story again — except for one detail that needs mentioning.

Enotris Johnson was Little Richard’s adoptive father. Though he didn’t actually have a hand in writing “Long Tall Sally,” Richard gave him a writing credit, an act Wikipedia calls “simply an example of Little Richard’s generosity in regard to the folks who raised him. It is never the case of the singer not the song when it comes to gift credits: the right song can result in an endless cascade of royalties, with any and all singers lining up to sing it.”   (Richard also credited Johnson on 1957’s “Jenny, Jenny,” and these two songs alone guaranteed his family a nice chunk of change.)

Record producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell actually co-wrote “Long Tall Sally” with Richard. Quoth Wikipedia, Blackwell “was an American bandleader, songwriter, arranger, and record producer, best known for his work overseeing the early hits of Little Richard, as well as grooming Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Lloyd Price, Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert, Larry Williams, and Sly and the Family Stone at the start of their music careers.” That’s a pretty impressive roster right there.

Anyway, the story goes that Richard and Bumps set out to write a song with tempo and lyrics so fast no one would be able to cover it. By “no one,” of course, I mean American singer/actor Pat Boone. While Little Richard’s original version of “Tutti Frutti” was a #2 hit on the R&B charts in 1956, Boone’s cover reached #12 on the Pop charts. Despite receiving royalties for it, Richard was pretty miffed. Thus, he set out to write something less appealing, something more raucous.

According to Blackwell, popular DJ Honey Chile introduced him to a little girl who “had written a song for Little Richard to record so she could pay the treatment for her ailing aunt Mary. The song, actually a few lines on a piece of paper, went like this: ‘Saw Uncle John with Long Tall Sally / They saw Aunt Mary comin’ / So they ducked back in the alley’” (Wikipedia). Not wanting to upset Chile, Blackwell took the idea to Richard, who was hesitant to use the lyrics but soon realized “ducked in the back alley” fit perfectly with what he had already written.

Under the working title “The Thing,” Richard recorded “Long Tall Sally” on Feb. 10, 1956. He released it as a single one month later, and it quickly dominated the charts, peaking at #1 on the R&B charts (while staying in the Top 6 for 19 weeks) and #6 on the Pop charts. According to Wikipedia, “‘Long Tall Sally’ was the best-selling 45 of the history of Specialty Records.”

Rolling Stone ranked “Long Tall Sally” as #56 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Quoth Wikipedia, “It became one of the singer’s best-known hits and has become a rock-and-roll standard covered by hundreds of artists.” (Yes, including Pat Boone.)

The Beatles were among those enraptured by the song.

“Little Richard was one of the all-time greats. The first time I heard him a friend of mine had been to Holland and brought back a 78 with ‘Long Tall Sally’ on one side, and ‘Slippin’ And Slidin’’ on the other. It blew our heads – we’d never heard anybody sing like that in our lives and all those saxes playing like crazy.” — John Lennon (Anthology)

According to the Beatles Bible, “Long Tall Sally” was “a staple of The Beatles’ live set from 1957 right up to their final show in San Francisco in 1966 – the most enduring of any of their songs.” Versions it can currently be found on four of their compilation albums. This is not one of those versions, but it is a live version of the song from the Star-Club in Hamburg recorded in 1962.

The earliest recorded, officially released version of the Beatles’ “Long Tall Sally” is from Jul. 16, 1963. It aired on “Pop Go the Beatles” Aug. 13 and appeared on 1994’s “Live at the BBC.”

Quoth the Beatles Bible, “The Beatles recorded six other versions of ‘Long Tall Sally’ for BBC radio between 1 April 1963 and 17 July 1964.” We’ll come back to that.

The Beatles recorded a studio version of “Long Tall Sally” while working on the album “A Hard Day’s Night” on Mar. 1, 1964. The group nailed it in one take. (The Beatles Bible explained it best – “Having played it so often live, they simply had no need to record it twice.”) It’s worth pointing out John plays the first guitar solo while George plays the second solo.

Naturally, the Beatles’ cover of “Long Tall Sally” first appeared on their “Long Tall Sally” EP (in the UK anyway – it snuck onto the US “The Beatles’ Second Album” two months earlier). Quoth Wikipedia, “‘Long Tall Sally’ …was their fifth official EP release, and the first British EP that included songs not previously released on an album or single in the United Kingdom.” As such, it was #1 on the EP sales chart for seven weeks and even entered the singles chart, peaking at #11. Quoth Graham Calkin’s Beatles Pages, “By early 1965 it had sold over a quarter of a million copies in the U.K. and over a million globally.” The songs from the “Long Tall Sally” EP were re-mastered by George Martin for the compilation “Past Masters Vol. 1,” hence my use of that tag above.

The Beatles performed “Long Tall Sally” on the ITV network’s program “Around the Beatles” on Apr. 19, 1964. This version appeared on “Anthology 1.”

Finally, another BBC radio recording appeared on last year’s compilation “On Air – Live at the BBC Vol. 2.” I’m not 100% sure when it was recorded, but it aired Jul. 16, 1964 on “Top Gear.”

Aaand just because I like this video, here’s the Beatles performing “Long Tall Sally” while on tour in Washington D.C.




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