Tutti Frutti (song)
|Single by Little Richard|
|B-side||"I'm Just a Lonely Guy"|
|Recorded||September 14, 1955|
|Studio||J & M Studio, New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Genre||Rock and roll|
|Songwriter(s)||Little Richard, Dorothy LaBostrie|
|Little Richard singles chronology|
"Tutti Frutti" (meaning "all fruits" in Italian) is a song written by Little Richard along with Dorothy LaBostrie that was recorded in 1955 and became his first major hit record. With its opening cry of "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bom-bom!" (a verbal rendition of a drum pattern that Little Richard had imagined) and its hard-driving sound and wild lyrics, it became not only a model for many future Little Richard songs, but also a model for rock and roll itself. The song introduced several of rock music's most characteristic musical features, including its loud volume and vocal style emphasizing power, and its distinctive beat and rhythm.
In 2007, an eclectic panel of renowned recording artists voted "Tutti Frutti" No. 1 on Mojo's The Top 100 Records That Changed The World, hailing the recording as "the sound of the birth of rock and roll." In 2010, the U.S. Library of Congress National Recording Registry added the recording to its registry, claiming the "unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music". In April 2012, Rolling Stone magazine declared that the song "still contains what has to be considered the most inspired rock lyric ever recorded: 'A wop bop alu bop, a wop bam boom!' "
Original recording by Little Richard
Although "Little Richard" Penniman had recorded for RCA and Peacock Records since 1951, his records for them had been relatively undistinguished, and they had not resulted in the commercial success for which his producers had hoped. In February 1955, he sent a demo tape to Specialty Records, which was heard by Specialty owner Art Rupe. Rupe heard promise in the tapes and arranged a recording session for Little Richard at Cosimo Matassa's J & M Studio in New Orleans in September 1955, with Fats Domino's backing band and Robert "Bumps" Blackwell as producer. The band included Lee Allen and Alvin "Red" Tyler on saxophones, Huey Smith on piano, Frank Fields on double bass, Justin Adams on guitar and Earl Palmer on drums.
As the session wore on, Little Richard's anarchic performance style was not being fully captured on tape. In frustration during a lunch break, he started pounding a piano and singing a ribald song that he had written and composed, and which he had been performing live for a few years. According to some accounts, he first wrote and performed the song while working as a janitor in a bus station. The song that he sang was a piece of music that he "had polished in clubs across the South." Little Richard sang:
Tutti Frutti, good booty
After this lively performance, Blackwell knew the song was going to be a hit, but recognized that the lyrics, with their "minstrel modes and sexual humor", needed to be revised for lyrical purity.
Blackwell contacted local songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie to revise the lyrics, with Little Richard still playing in his characteristic style. According to Blackwell, LaBostrie "didn't understand melody" but she was definitely a "prolific writer".
The original lyrics, in which "Tutti Frutti" referred to a homosexual man, were:
Tutti Frutti, good booty
If it don't fit, don't force it
You can grease it, make it easy
These were replaced with:
Tutti Frutti, aw rooty
Tutti Frutti, aw rooty.
"Aw rooty" was a slang expression meaning "All right". According to Charles Connor, Little Richard's drummer, the original lyrics were:
Tutti Frutti, good booty
If it's tight, it's all right
And if it's greasy, it makes it easy
In addition to Penniman and LaBostrie, a third name—Lubin—is credited as co-writer. Some sources considered this a pseudonym used by Specialty label owner Art Rupe to claim royalties on some of his label's songs, but others refer to songwriter Joe Lubin.
As possible evidence that the "sexual song" theory was created later, songwriter LaBostrie was quoted as saying, "Little Richard didn't write none of 'Tutti Frutti'. I'll tell you exactly how I came to write that. I used to live on Galvez Street and my girlfriend and I liked to go down to the drug store and buy ice cream. One day we went in and saw this new flavor, Tutti Frutti. Right away I thought, 'Boy, that's a great idea for a song'. So I kept it in the back of my mind until I got to the studio that day. I also wrote the flip side of 'Tutti Frutti', 'I'm Just A Lonely Guy', and a spiritual, 'Blessed Mother', all in the same day." LaBostrie was still receiving royalty checks on the average of $5,000 every three to six months from the song in the 1980s.
Blackwell said time constraints prevented the development of a new arrangement, so Little Richard recorded the revised song in three takes, taking about 15 minutes, with the original piano part. The song was recorded on September 14, 1955. Released on Specialty 561, the record entered the Billboard Rhythm and Blues chart at the end of December 1955 and rose to No. 2 early in 1956. It also reached No. 17 on the Billboard pop chart. In the UK, it only scraped into the top 30 in 1957, as the B-side of "Long Tall Sally". The song, with its twelve-bar blues chord progression, provided the foundation of Little Richard's career. It was seen as a very aggressive song that contained more features of African American vernacular music than any other past recordings in this style.
Richard's contract with Peacock had been purchased by Specialty Records owner Art Rupe, who also owned the publishing company that bought Richard's songs. Specialty's deal with Richard was typical of most record companies's dealings with their artists.
"Tutti Frutti" provided the title for one of the earliest books about the development of rock and roll and pop music from the 1950s, Nik Cohn's "Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom" (1969). In 2010, the US Library of Congress National Recording Registry added the recording to its registry, stating that the hit, with its original a cappella introduction, heralded a new era in music.
Combining elements of boogie, gospel and blues, the song introduced several of rock music's most characteristic musical features, including its loud volume and vocal style emphasizing power, and its distinctive beat and rhythm. The beat has its roots in boogie-woogie, but Richard departed from its shuffle rhythm and introduced a new distinctive rock beat. He reinforced the new rock rhythm with a two-handed approach, playing patterns with his right hand, with the rhythm typically popping out in the piano's high register. The song's new rhythm became the basis for the standard rock beat, which was later consolidated by Chuck Berry.
In 2007, an eclectic panel of renowned recording artists voted "Tutti Frutti" No. 1 on Mojo's The Top 100 Records That Changed The World, hailing the recording as "the sound of the birth of rock and roll." The song is No. 43 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In April 2012, Rolling Stone magazine declared that the song "still has the most inspired rock lyric on record."
- Little Richard – vocals, piano
- Lee Allen – tenor saxophone
- Alvin "Red" Tyler – baritone saxophone
- Frank Fields – double bass
- Earl Palmer – drums
- Justin Adams – guitar
Early cover versions
The song has been covered by many musicians. Recording cover versions of songs was standard industry practice during the 1940s and 1950s. A hit song could generate many different versions: pop and instrumental, polka, blues, hillbilly and others by a variety of artists.
After Pat Boone's success with "Ain't That a Shame", his next single was "Tutti Frutti", markedly toned down from the already reworked Blackwell version. Boone's version made No. 12 on the national pop chart, with Little Richard's trailing behind reaching only No. 17. Boone himself admitted that he did not wish to do a cover of "Tutti Frutti" because "it didn't make sense" to him; however, the producers persuaded him into making a different version by claiming that the record would generate attention and money.
Little Richard admitted that though Boone "took [his] music", Boone made it more popular due to his high status in the white music industry. Nevertheless, a Washington Post Staff Writer, Richard Harrington, quoted Richard in an article:
They didn't want me to be in the white guys' way. ... I felt I was pushed into a rhythm and blues corner to keep out of rockers' way, because that's where the money is. When "Tutti Frutti" came out. ... They needed a rock star to block me out of white homes because I was a hero to white kids. The white kids would have Pat Boone upon the dresser and me in the drawer 'cause they liked my version better, but the families didn't want me because of the image that I was projecting.
Elvis Presley version
Elvis Presley recorded the song and it was included in his first RCA album Elvis Presley March 23, 1956. Presley's version uses "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom!" for every verse, finishing the phrase with "bam-boom" instead of "bom-bom". Elvis' cut of "Tutti Frutti" was also released as part of a four track EP (RCA EPA-747) and as the b-side of "Blue Suede Shoes" (RCA 47-6636) which reached #20 on the 'Billboard' chart.
The Beatles versions
According to eminent author Mark Lewisohn in The Complete Beatles Chronicles (p. 365) The Beatles performed "Tutti Frutti" live from at least 1960 through 1962 (in Hamburg, Liverpool and elsewhere). Reportedly the lead vocal was always by Paul McCartney, but it is unknown whether their version was actually based on the one by Elvis or that of Little Richard. No recorded version is known to survive. However, according to author Allen J. Weiner in The Beatles - The Ultimate Recording Guide (p. 225) during the massive Get Back sessions a version of "Tutti Frutti" was recorded. A few months later George Harrison played on a live version which was recorded in Copenhagen with Delaney and Bonnie and Eric Clapton which came out on an unauthorized release, though a legitimate version was also recorded in concert in England (and released in 1970). In 1972 Ringo Starr drummed on, and produced a brief version with Elton John on piano and T. Rex singer Marc Bolan on lead vocal. Lastly, in the 1990s Paul McCartney did a (professionally recorded) soundcheck singing "Tutti Frutti" but not like Elvis or Little Richard but instead like an extremely laid-back Pat Boone of 1956 (Boone's real version was more lively). The McCartney version came out on an unauthorized release, Soundcheck Songs Vol. 1)
Later recordings and performances
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Cover versions of the song have been recorded by numerous artists, including (by date):
- French singer Johnny Halliday recorded it, in English, in 1961 (Disques Vogue EPL 7860).
- Little Richard re-recorded the song in 1964 for Vee Jay Records' Little Richard's Greatest Hits and again in 1978 for a K-tel compilation titled Little Richard Live.
- The Swinging Blue Jeans included it on their debut album Blue Jeans a'Swinging, HMV 1802, in 1964. It was one of two Little Richard covers on the album.
- Swedish rock and roll singer Jerry Williams covered the song in 1965.
- The song was covered by Fair Weather in 1970.
- It is the first song on the MC5 album Back in the USA, Atlantic SD 8247 (1970).
- Sting recorded the tune for the original soundtrack of the film Party Party (1982).
- WWE's Mean Gene Okerlund covered it and used it as his entrance tune; it appears on The Wrestling Album (1985).
- Queen played "Tutti Frutti" at every show of The Magic Tour in 1986, and the song is featured on the live album Live at Wembley '86 (later retitled Live at Wembley Stadium).
- The song is featured on the California Raisins soundtrack from their first special, Meet the Raisins (1988).
- The song was parodied by the Australian sketch comedy program Fast Forward by the character Victor (Peter Moon) in 1991. The song was released as a single raising funds for those affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
- Swiss artists Bo Katzman and the Soul Cats cover the song as "Jailhouse Rap" on their 1990 CD The Wonderful World of the Soul Cats as the third song in a mash up with "Jailhouse Rock" and "Rock Everybody" by M. Davis/J. Josea. ("Jailhouse Rap" is unrelated to the similarly named Fat Boys' song.)
- Alvin and the Chipmunks did their rendition of the song in their TV documentary special Rockin' Through the Decades (1990) starring Will Smith, and their full version can be heard in their 1991 album of the same name.
- An episode of the television sitcom Martin entitled "Three Men And A Mouse" features Little Richard guest-starring as an exterminator, during which he sings the chorus of "Tutti Frutti".
- A cover by Buckwheat Zydeco is included in the film soundtrack album The Smurfs 2: Music from and inspired by (2013).
Notable uses in other media:
- The song is featured during the T. Rex jam session with Elton John in the film Born to Boogie (1972).
- It is sung by Val Kilmer in the Cold War parody Top Secret! (1984).
- The song is featured in the movie The Brave Little Toaster (1987).
- The song appears in season 5 of Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show performed by children's entertainers Sharon, Lois & Bram (1988).
- The Disney Channel ran a DTV music video of the song in the 1980s, set mostly to clips from the Donald Duck cartoon Mr. Duck Steps Out (1940) (with Daisy Duck representing the character of the same name in the lyrics), but also the 1942 cartoon Mickey's Birthday Party (with Clara Cluck representing Sue).
- The song is performed in the movie Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever (1991).
- In the film Flirting (1991), actress Thandie Newton recites the song lyrics in full at a school debate on the relative importance of the intellectual and physical spheres of human experience.
- The song is featured for jive dances in seasons 7 and 13 of the American TV series Dancing with the Stars.
- It is featured in the music video game DJ Hero mixed with "Beats" by Shlomo (2009).
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