“Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music” by Ann Powers; Dey St., 418 pages, $26.99.
Sure, sure, sure, we all know that the song that all-but-functioned as Rock’s Big Bang was “Tutti Frutti.” Its immortal beginning was “A-whomp-bobba-loo-bomp-a-whomp-bam-BOOM/Tutti Frutti/Aw Rootie.” Right? Wrong. Little Richard’s original lyrics, before they were re-written for mid-50’s radio were “Tutti Frutti/Good Booty.” And the rest of the lyrics, says NPR’s superb pop music critic and commentator Ann Powers were “very, very dirty frankly. They were all about greasy, sexy, exciting encounters; everything you couldn’t play on the radio.” That included non-heterosexual sex.
When rewritten for acceptability, says Powers, Macon’s Little Richard (Penniman) became “the founding father of rock and roll. I mean talk about Elvis, I talk about Buddy Holly, other rock and roll icons from that same time period. But as far as the style and the spirit of rock and roll, I can’t think of a better embodiment than Little Richard. I mean this is a guy who gave us ... new language to talk about what we feel in our bodies that we can’t always have other ways to discuss.”
Or, as she admits flat out in her preface, “we became sexual by playing records, sweating in a crowd at rock shows, making out with boys in bands or other fans or each other while music played loud in cars or basements or through the walls of the bathrooms at the Odd Fellows Hall.” She continues through today.
So here’s a history of rock 'n' roll that finds acceptable ways to connect directly to the taboo stuff others like to leave out. And that doesn’t only mean nascent eroticism, it means its direct spiritual connection to the “rhythms that come through the Middle Passage, through the Caribbean to the States, which we still hear today in, you know, the music of Beyonce, the music of Top 40 in general. Those rhythms move our body in a particular way and help us feel the things we don’t name.” Here, at last, is a very smart critic who tells rock 'n' roll’s story while shining a very bright light on all the things, from the beginning, that people either couldn’t name or didn’t know how to. An overdue book about rock by an ideal smart and candid critic.