"Long Tall Sally" is a rock and roll 12-bar blues song written by Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, Enotris Johnson and Richard Penniman (known as "Little Richard"), recorded by Little Richard and released March 1956 on the Specialty Records label.

The flip side was "Slippin' and Slidin'". Both songs were subsequently released in the LP Here's Little Richard (Specialty, March 1957). The single reached number one on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart, staying at the top for six of 19 weeks,[1] while peaking at number six on the pop chart. It received the Cash Box Triple Crown Award in 1956.[2] The song as sung by Little Richard is #56 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[3]

It became one of the singer's best-known hits and has become a rock and roll standard covered by hundreds of artists.[4]

The song was originally called "The Thing", recorded in New Orleans by Little Richard.

History[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Tutti Frutti" had been a big hit for Little Richard and Specialty in October 1955, reaching #2 in the R&B charts. Pat Boone's cover version of the song reached #12 in the pop charts. Although this meant an unexpected cash income for the Specialty publishing firm, A&R man and producer "Bumps" Blackwell and a proud Richard decided to write a song that was so up-tempo and the lyrics so fast that Boone would not be able to handle it (Boone eventually did record his own version, getting it to #8).[1]

According to Blackwell, he was introduced to a little girl by Honey Chile, a popular disc-jockey. Apparently, the girl 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."

Not wishing to upset an influential disc-jockey, Blackwell "accepted" the offer and took the idea to Richard, who was reluctant at first. Nevertheless, the line "ducked back in the alley" was exactly what they were looking for, and Richard kept practicing until he could sing it as fast as possible. They worked on the song, adding verses and a chorus, until they got the hit they wanted.[6]

Featuring a saxophone solo by Lee Allen (as did "Tutti Frutti"), "Long Tall Sally" was the best-selling 45 of the history of Specialty Records.

Recording[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The recording session took place on February 10, 1956 at J&M Studio in New Orleans, the legendary studio owned by Cosimo Matassa on the corner of Rampart and Dumaine where Fats Domino and many other New Orleans luminaries recorded. "Tutti Frutti", as well as many other Little Richard sides, was also recorded there.

The backing was provided by the house top session men: Edgar Blanchard (guitar), Frank Fields (bass), Lee Allen (tenor sax), Alvin "Red" Tyler (baritone sax) andEarl Palmer (drums), plus Little Richard on vocals and piano. Blackwell was the producer.

The music was a fast uptempo number with Little Richard's hammering, boogie piano. Richard plays staccato eighth notes while Palmer plays a fast shuffle. The shuffle was the most common rhythm and blues beat; Richard added the eighth notes, much less common in that time, although now standard for rock music. Together this created an ambiguity in the ride rhythm—known to musicians as "playing in the crack" that came to characterize New Orleans rock and roll. In typical Little Richard style, he sang in the key of F, in a raw, aggressive, exhilarating style with lyrics being about self-centered fun.[4]

"Well, Long Tall Sally,
She's built for speed,
She's got everything that Uncle John needs."

Although the lyrics are lightweight, Little Richard's style triumphs over content and provides a wonderful vehicle for his enthusiastic exhibitionism.[7]

Notes on the lyrics[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • On the original recording, the opening line states the singer is going to report to Aunt Mary that Uncle John does not, as he claims, have "the misery", a Southern expression meaning generalized weakness and illness.
  • The line in the original recorded version, "Long Tall Sally is built for speed", is a reference to the proverbial African-American distinction in sexual types: "Built for comfort" or "built for speed", terms originally applied to passenger sailing ships. When sung rapidly, this line is sometimes rendered "built sweet", even by Little Richard in a recorded live performance. Though it is not a perfect rhyme with the word "need", it fits through assonance.

Popular culture[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • In the 1987 film Predator, the song is played while the group of soldiers are traveling in a helicopter. Later in the movie, the character Sergeant Mac Eliot sings the lyrics; "Long Tall Sally, she built sweet, she got everything, that Uncle John need. Aw baby, I'm gonna have me some fun, I'm gonna have me some fun, I'm gonna have me some fun." A sequel, 2010's Predators, called back to the original film by playing the song over its closing credits.
  • There is a long discussion of the song in the 1997 novel Underworld by Don DeLillo. Specifically, characters argue over the ethnic identity of the titular girl.
  • "Long Tall Sally" was sung by Eddie Clendening, portraying Elvis Presley, in the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet, which opened in New York in April 2010.[8]Eddie Clendening also covered the song on the Million Dollar Quartet original Broadway cast recording, copyright 2010 by MDQ Merchandising, LLC.[9]
  • Makes an appearance in the game Mafia 2 on the Delta Radio station
  • Makes an appearance in the British show Rock & Chips spinoff Only Fools And Horses
  • On Season 9 of the American Dancing with the StarsMelissa Joan Hart and Mark Ballas danced the Jive to this song in week 2 of competition.
  • On Season 13 of the American Dancing with the StarsKristin Cavallari and Mark Ballas danced the Jive to this song in the finale of season 13.
  • "Long Tall Sally" plays during the opening helicopter scene of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon as an homage to the 1987 film Predator.
  • "Long Tall Sally" plays during the chase scene in the 1988 film Red Scorpion.

Selective list of recorded versions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Artist Release Notes
1956 Little Richard (single)
1956 Pat Boone
1956 Elvis Presley
1956 Eddie Cochran Never To Be Forgotten Recorded in May or June 1956, posthumously released in 1962
1958 Wanda Jackson
1963 The Tornados Tornado Rock(EP)
1963 The Rivingtons Doin' the Bird
1964 The Kinks (single) Their first single, produced by Shel Talmy.
1964 Jerry Lee Lewis Live at the Star Club, Hamburg
1964 Barbara Greene with King Curtis, ts-solo
1964 The Beatles Long Tall Sally(EP) released again in 1988 on the Past Masters compilation
1966 The Beatles (unreleased) The Beatles' last concert, with an unfinished version of "Long Tall Sally", was recorded in Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, but never released
1971 Cactus One Way...Or Another
1972, 1973 Paul McCartney & Wings (unreleased) last song in the set list of his live with the band Wings during the Wings University Tour in 1972 and his tour in 1973.
1973 Elvis Presley Aloha From Hawaii the first ever satellite world wide tele-cast concert
1977 The Beatles The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl A live performance recorded in 1964
1977 Puhdys Rock'n'Roll Music Tribute
1978 Scorpions Tokyo Tapes
1980 Heart Greatest Hits Live In a medley with "I'm Down"
1981 Molly Hatchet Take No Prisoners
1996 Blind Guardian The Forgotten Tales In a medley with "Barbara Ann"
2004 Cactus Fully Unleashed: The Live Gigs
2010 Eddie Clendening Million Dollar Quartet Original Broadway Cast Recording
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