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“LONG TALL SALLY”
(Enotris Johnson – Robert Blackwell – Richard Penniman)
Most music lovers around the world will proudly list the musical artists that they were fortunate enough to see in concert. To be able to boast that you have actually witnessed The Beatles live in concert is something beyond the usual bragging rights. To have seen them during their relatively short concert life is more of a life-altering experience that the vast majority of Beatles’ fans today could only dream of experiencing. If you’ve been lucky enough to see The Beatles live, you’ll probably spend the rest of your life relating the event to those who come to know of your fortune.
And if you have seen them in concert, no matter if it’s been in America, Britain, Germany or anywhere else, most likely you’ve heard them perform the song “Long Tall Sally.” This is because the song has the longest time-span of any song The Beatles have performed live. It was in the repertoire of The Quarrymen (the first incarnation of The Beatles) back in 1957, it was performed by the group during their lunchtime sets at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, it graced the long nights of all of their Hamburg, Germany visits, it was performed in America in 1964, and still was performed during their last live appearances in 1966.
“Long Tall Sally” was even an ingredient of the first meeting of John Lennon and Paul McCartney on July 6, 1957. This was one of the songs that Paul displayed his knowledge of to John, singing and playing the song on guitar to impress him. And as for American audiences, The Beatles premiered the song on their first US concert on February 11, 1964 at the Washington Coliseum as well as their last ever concert appearance at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California on August 29, 1966.
These statistics show, not only that “Long Tall Sally” has the longest legacy of all the songs in The Beatles catalog, but that the song has held an affectionate place in the hearts of The Beatles all of these years. For them, no doubt, the song encapsulates early rock-and-roll music, which was the reason The Beatles became musicians in the first place.
The Beatles with Little Richard, October, 1962
Little Richard (real name Richard Penniman) has a history and reputation that proceeds itself. He has become known as one of the proponents of the transition from ‘Rhythm and Blues’ to ‘Rock and Roll’ in the mid 50’s. Known primarily as a wild man behind the piano, his singing and songwriting achievements have billed him by some as the true “king of rock and roll.”
Born December 5, 1932, Richard was raised as a Baptist in a very religious family, singing gospel music with his family at various churches around his home town of Macon, Georgia. He wanted to become a preacher, although it was because of his love for gospel music that he began his musical career.
He signed with RCA Records in 1951 and then Peacock Records in 1953, although he hadn’t dented the charts through these years. In 1955 he sent a demo to Specialty Records who decided to purchase his contract from Peacock Records and put him in contact with their A&R man Robert Blackwell.
Robert Blackwell, born May 23, 1922 in Seattle, Washington, led a jazz group in the 1940’s that featured Ray Charles and Quincy Jones. He later took the job at Specialty Records as an arranger and producer and eventually became head of A&R for the label. He had produced the first Little Richard single “Tutti Frutti” in 1955, which became a huge national smash hit (#2 on the R&B charts and #17 on the pop charts).
To Robert Blackwell and Little Richard’s dismay, the song “Tutti Frutti” was covered by pop crooner Pat Boone who took the song higher on the pop charts (#12) than the original version had. They then decided that their next single would have faster-paced lyrics that Pat Boone couldn’t replicate. Around this time, popular disc jockey Honey Chile introduced Robert to a young girl named Enortis Johnson who had the notion of writing a song for Little Richard to record to raise money for an operation needed by her Aunt Mary. The “song” was actually a piece of paper which read: “Saw Uncle John with Long Tall Sally, they saw Aunt Mary coming so they ducked back in the alley.”
Not wanting to upset this influential DJ, Robert took the song to Little Richard. They decided, after experimenting with the lyrics, that the phrasing could be sung rather quickly which would suit their purposes. Between Robert and Little Richard, they finished the song and recorded it for their follow-up single. Although the working titles used for the song included “The Thing” and “Bald Headed Sally,” they went with “Long Tall Sally” as the title and it became his biggest hit to date, scoring a #6 hit on the Billboard pop charts (#1 on the R&B charts and #3 in Britain). Their original intention for the song backfired, though, as Pat Boone quickly released his version of the same song which peaked at #8 on the pop charts.
Little Richard’s career continued to go strong in the middle-to-late 50’s, scoring seven more pop hits through 1958, including “Lucille,” “Jenny Jenny,” “Keep A Knockin’” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” His flamboyant stage antics, which continued to evoke blatant sexuality, eventually wore on his conscience and he decided to become a “born again Christian” and fulfill his earlier desire to become a minister.
He did straddle the fence somewhat in the early 60’s and continued to record for Specialty Records as well as tour. His appearances took him to Britain during 1962 and 1963 in which he happened to be on the bill with a new British group called The Beatles. Brian Epstein arranged for Little Richard to headline a 12-act, five-and-a half-hour show at the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton, on October 12, 1962. As the Beatles were able to mingle with him and his band backstage, they couldn’t help but notice his spiritual demeanor and Bible reading, which were quite different from the wild, flamboyant personality they imagined. Nonetheless, they proudly posed for pictures with the icon (see above) as well as made friends with a young member of Little Richard's band, organist Billy Preston, who would play quite a noteworthy role in The Beatles’ later years.
Little Richard recorded gospel music for a time and has continued to record and perform till this day. Although his chart success was limited to just over 2 and a half years, the impact was such that many major performers since, including Wilson Pickett, Mick Jagger, Bob Seger, John Fogerty, David Bowie and The Beatles, site Little Richard as a first major influence on their musical career. Jimi Hendrix, who played with Little Richard during 1964-65, was quoted as saying, “I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.”
Robert Blackwell continued as a songwriter for Little Richard (including “Rip It Up” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly”) as well as producer (including Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”). He continued his relationship with Little Richard after leaving Specialty Records in 1957, producing his gospel releases on Mercury Records, for whom he became the west coast A&R director. He even became his manager and continued that relationship well into the 70’s. Robert unfortunately died from pneumonia at his home in Whittier, California in 1985.
The Beatles with George Martin in EMI studio two, 1964
After having recorded the song for BBC radio four times and having closed their February 1964 American concerts with it, The Beatles finally felt it time to record “Long Tall Sally” properly in EMI studios for record release. Being that they recorded the song during the EMI sessions for their first motion picture, it can be assumed that they intended it to be included in the film, no doubt to close the performance segment at the end of the movie. Even though this intention didn’t come to fruition, The Beatles finally came away with a proper professional recording of a song that had a long history for the group.
March 1, 1964, was the last day of recording for the songs to be used in their as yet untitled first movie, after which they were to start shooting the film. They entered EMI Studio Two for their 3 and a half hour session (10 am to 1:30 pm) and started with the self-penned “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” starting and finishing it by approximately 11:30 am. That’s when they performed their one and only take of the rocker “Long Tall Sally” featuring George Martin on piano. Only one take was necessary since perfection was achieved on the first try, guitar solos and all; not even any overdubs needed. Approximately by noon the song was completed as they went on to fully record another movie soundtrack contender, the self-penned “I Call Your Name.”
March 10th was the date George Martin and engineer Norman Smith used to create both a stereo and mono mix of “Long Tall Sally.” Since it was decided very quickly that the song would not be included in the movie after all, it could therefore be used to fulfill the request from Capitol Records in the US for more songs for their upcoming proposed second album “The Beatles’ Second Album.” That being the case, both of these mixes were sent directly to Capitol Records in the US for inclusion on this album, which was released quickly thereafter on April 10, 1964. (So quickly in fact that they printed the labels without the time length of the song.)
However, these mixes were not used in Britain. Being that both “Long Tall Sally” and “I Call Your Name” were not included in the movie, they were temporarily shelved in Britain. After the shooting of the movie (now titled “A Hard Day’s Night”) was completed, The Beatles entered EMI studios again to record songs for the other side of the soundtrack album. Two extra songs surfaced during these sessions as well, namely “Matchbox” and “Slow Down.” It was decided to pair up all four of these extra songs and release them as an EP in Britain. (The song was also performed in Studio two of EMI on June 3rd, but only as an audition for Jimmy Nicol on drums, as he was to replace the ailing Ringo for the beginning of their world tour.)
On June 4, 1964, George Martin, with engineers Norman Smith and Richard Langham, created mono mixes of all four of these songs in preparation for this EP release. The previous mono mix of “Long Tall Sally” previously sent to the US was found to be unsatisfactory as the new mix created on this day included a little reverb thrown in for a fuller sound. Since the EP would only be released in mono (on June 19), no stereo mix was made. America was to receive the only stereo mix of the track, not to mention seeing it released over two months before Britain.
For some unknown reason, while creating mono and stereo mixes for the “A Hard Day’s Night” album on June 22, 1964, George Martin, Norman Smith and engineer Geoff Emerick created an additional stereo mix of “Long Tall Sally.” It is possible that consideration was still made to including the song on the British soundtrack album even though it already was released on the EP by that time. This would have made a nice conclusion to the album, which was one song short of the normal 14 songs anyway. They opted instead to keep the album at 13 tracks so as to say that the album contained all original material.
Since Capitol Records had the intention of releasing a live album by the end of 1964, they arranged to record The Beatles’ Hollywood Bowl performance on August 23, 1964. The entire show was taped, produced by Capitol’s Voyle Gilmore and George Martin and engineered by Hugh Davies, including their final number “Long Tall Sally.” This three-track taped recording was deemed unsuitable for release in 1964, although the tapes were returned to in 1977 by George Martin and Geoff Emerick for release that year. This performance of “Long Tall Sally” was included on that release, titled “The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl.”
Song Structure and Style
“Long Tall Sally” follows the 12-bar blues pattern of most early rock and roll songs. All verses and instrumental sections follow this structure, most verses paired off into a four-bar lyric section and an eight-bar refrain section quite similar to “Money (That’s What I Want).”
The usual pattern followed would utilize the key phrase or title of the song during the eight-bar refrain section, but here we see lyrics such as “baby, yeah, baby, ooh, baby, some fun tonight” instead. While these lyrics don’t necessarily have anything to do with the storyline of the song, the overall emphasis of the song obviously rests on energy and fun rather than a message.
The song starts out without an introduction, just a blast of high energy vocals to start off the first verse. The only instrumentation is a small guitar riff and drum fill emphasizing the first beat of the first three measures until the fourth measure kicks the song in drive. The eight-bar refrain section of the verse shows the band at full-tilt with George Martin playing eighth note chords on the piano while McCartney’s walking bass suggests a swing beat. While you would think this would clash, it creates a fullness that propels the track throughout.
The second verse is basically identical except for a different set of lyrics and accenting bass notes in the first four measures. We then move into the first 12-bar instrumental section of the song, featuring the first guitar solo of the song, this one performed by John Lennon. The same chord structure is used for these instrumental passages although no block chords or breaks are heard in the first four measures as the vocal verses have.
After a third lyrical verse is heard, we’re propelled into a second 12-bar instrumental section featuring a stunning guitar solo by George Harrison. The only difference this time is the first four measures, which feature Harrison playing a set of ascending chords in 3/8 time to reach a crescendo into the fifth measure. Although he embarrassingly overreaches the fret on the one beat of the first measure, he can be forgiven because, after all, this was all live in one take with no overdubs. They obviously felt it was perfect enough to leave alone.
From here we enter into two final 12-bar verses which highlight what becomes the key phrase of the song, “we’re gonna have some fun tonight.” Just when you think the song is reaching fever-pitch by the end of a 12-bar phrase, another propels the song right into outer space, with Paul playing straight bass notes instead of walking while Ringo impressively triplets himself through all twelve final measures. Then they end it all “one-upping” Little Richard by finishing on a dissonant 7/9 chord. This tour-de-force rivals, if not overtakes, “Twist And Shout” for sheer power.
Musicianship is at an all-time high on this track, McCartney standing slightly above the rest because of his energetic shouting vocals in convincing imitation of Little Richard. Paul appears at the top of his voice, but apparently on purpose as The Beatles chose to raise the song up from the F major key of the original to G. The simultaneously played walking bass shows off his musical abilities as well as his familiarity with the song over the past eight years. Although some garbled lyrics are the result (“built for speed” appears to become “pretty sweet” in the third verse), the overall effect is well worth it.
It’s also interesting to note that McCartney uses the title of the song in the second verse instead of “bald headed sally” as sung by Little Richard. While this emphasizes the title twice in the song, this could either have been a mistake or he purposely omitted the seemingly raunchy and/or ethnic term. Interestingly, all other versions available of The Beatles performing the song (such as on Live At The BBC) return to the “bald headed sally” phrase.
George Harrison is next to be commended for his authentic guitar work. While ad-libbed guitar solos could be quite cumbersome for him during this period (witness “Can’t Buy Me Love” on Anthology 1) his long-standing familiarity with the song gets him through on the first take. Regarding "Long Tall Sally," Lennon stated in 1964, "We can do that standing on our ears."
Ringo has never played any more spirited throughout The Beatles recording career than on this track. Watching him play the song live (as on the Swedish TV show "Drop In" filmed on October 30, 1963, as seen on the Anthology DVD/video set) shows the sheer power he attacks the drums with on this song. Lennon’s guitar solo in the first instrumental section of the song shows him as no slouch in the lead guitarist position, while his rhythm guitar work throughout the song is an esential ingredient to the mix. Also not to be forgotten is the piano prowess of George Martin, who showed his ability to trade in his classical chops for flamboyant rock and roll without missing a beat.
Lyrically, the song can’t be any further from the usual Beatles fare of the day. If any teenyboppers were really listening, they’d have heard the dreamy Paul McCartney singing about a philandering “Uncle John” having all kinds of fun with “Sally” while almost getting caught by his wife, the singer’s “Aunt Mary.” While the vocalist is determined to tell his aunt about what he’s witnessed, he admits that Sally has “everything that Uncle John needs” and, after all, is allowing his uncle to have “some fun.” A far cry from the ‘good clean fun’ of holding hands and faithfully sending “all my loving to you.”
“Long Tall Sally” premiered first in the US on the Capitol album “The Beatles’ Second Album” on April 10, 1964, which was over two months before Britain was able to hear it on the “Long Tall Sally” EP (released June 19, 1964). America was also privileged to hear the only stereo mix of the song on this album, since the EP was only pressed in mono. On January 21st, 2014, this album was released as an individual compact disc for the first time, the mono and stereo mixes being contained on a single CD.
The song did appear partially in Capitol's documentary album "The Beatles' Story," released November 23, 1964, as part of the track "Beatle Medley." Surprisingly, this album was also released on compact disc on January 21st., 2014, but only as contained in the 13 album box set "The U.S. Albums."
The second release of the song wasn’t until June 7, 1976, with the release of Capitol’s double album “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.” The stereo mix of the song was also featured on this release, which is now out of print.
The next two releases of the song were in May of 1977 and were in stores within two days of each other. Both of these versions were also live performances. The first was on the double album “Live! At the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962” on Lingasong Records. This was released on May 2, 1977 and, as the title suggests, was crudely recorded on a Grundig tape recorder from the audience of a Hamburg performance on December 31, 1962. Although the album did make the Billboard album charts (peaking at #111), it became out of print shortly afterward, partially through objections by the parties involved, including George Harrison.
More legitimately, two days later (May 4, 1977), we saw the official long-awaited release of “The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl” by Capitol Records. After George Martin and Geoff Emerick located a three-track tape machine (that kept overheating) to create a suitable mix from the August 23, 1964 recording, the result was finally acceptable enough for release. “Long Tall Sally” finished off the album, much like The Beatles had done at the original concert. The album peaked at #2 on the Billboard album charts in 1977 and was eventually remastered by Giles Martin and re-released on September 9th, 2016 under the title "Live At The Hollywood Bowl."
1979 saw a reissue of the same Hamburg 1962 recording mentioned above, this time on the budget Pickwick label. They released two single albums to cover the entire Lingasong release, “1st Live Recordings, Volume Two” featuring “Long Tall Sally.” Pickwick claimed to further enhance the recordings, which slightly allows more prominence to the vocals. In 1980, Pickwick combined both albums into a two-record set entitled "The Historic First Recordings," which is quite hard to find today.
October 1980 saw the above mentioned “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” album divided into two separate albums, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Volume 1” containing “Long Tall Sally.” These budget albums did not chart, but kept the set in circulation for a few more years.
The Hall Of Music record label then got ahold of the Hamburg tapes and released a double album entitled "Live 1962, Hamburg Germany" in 1981. This was the only American release of the Hamburg tapes that featured all of the songs on the British Lingasong Records release of 1977, including "Long Tall Sally."
The Hamburg recording of the song got one further American release in 1982. This was as a single on the Collectables record label with The Beatles live version of the Frank Ifield hit "I Remember You" on the B-side. Although this record didn't chart, it marks the only single version of "Long Tall Sally" that was released in the US.
October 24, 1988 saw the first release of the song on CD with the “Past Masters, Volume One” album. Both volumes of the Past Masters series was to encapsulate all the British singles, B-sides and EP releases that weren’t available on British albums, therefore making them available on CD for the first time. Although only peaking at #149 on the Billboard album charts, it became an essential album for all Beatles’ lovers. Both volumes of "Past Masters" were then combined on September 9th, 2009 into one volume simply entitled "Past Masters."
Three more releases of “Long Tall Sally” occurred in the 90’s as well. On June 30th, 1992, Capitol released the box set “Compact Disc EP Collection,” which featured the song in the EP configuration as originally released in Britain on June 19th, 1964. Then, the long awaited “Live At The BBC” album, released on December 6th, 1994, featured the July 16th, 1963 recording of the song for the “Pop Go The Beatles” radio show, which was originally broadcast on August 13th. A re-mastered and re-packaged version of this album was released on November 11th, 2013. Finally, on November 21, 1995, the highly anticipated “Anthology 1” album hit the stores, which featured the version recorded on April 19, 1964, for the television special “Around The Beatles,” which was broadcast in Britain on May 6th.
On November 15th, 2004, the box set “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1” was released, which features the entire “Beatles’ Second Album” in both stereo and mono, this set peaking at #35 on the Billboard album charts. Then, on September 9th, 2009, the box set “The Beatles In Mono” was released, featuring the song on its “Mono Masters” disc.
On November 11th, 2013, the album "On Air - Live At The BBC Volume 2" was released which featured yet another version of "Long Tall Sally." The recording of this version took place on July 14th, 1964 and was aired on the radio program "Top Gear" two days later on July 16th.
George, John and Paul, circa 1958
“Long Tall Sally” stretches an amazing ten years into the history of The Beatles. July 6, 1957 saw Paul McCartney demonstrate the song to John Lennon on the first day they met. Thereafter they tooled around with the song well into 1958 with the joining of George Harrison into the band on February 6, 1958. Even without a drummer, they performed the song at the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool (owned by Mona Best, Pete’s mother) starting on August 29, 1959.
July 30, 1960 saw the group perform the song as The Silver Beatles at the Grosvenor Ballroom, in Wallasey, and then at The Kaiserkeller in Hamburg, Germany during their first long engagement there. 1961 and 1962 saw them continue to play the song in their local shows at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and their vast array of bookings those years, not to mention their further trips to Hamburg, as witnessed by the songs’ inclusion on the “Live! At the Star-Club” album recorded in December 1962.
1963 saw them retire the song from their shows temporarily due to the reduced set lists on their national British tours. They mostly featured their hit singles and recent album tracks instead, although they did perform the song four times that year for BBC radio programs. First was on April 1st for the “Side By Side” show which aired on May 13th, then on May 21st for “Saturday Club” which was broadcast on May 25th. The third time was on July 16th for the show “Pop Go The Beatles” which aired on August 13th, and finally on July 30th for another edition of “Saturday Club” which was broadcast on August 24th.
The Beatles were itching to perform the song for American audiences in 1964, as John scribbled “Sally” at the end of the set list he put together in the hotel room just before their first American concert at Washington Coliseum on February 11th. During their first world tour in 1964, they ended every show with “Long Tall Sally.” They even finished off the year by including the song in their “Another Beatles Christmas Show” in London the last week of December through January 16th of 1965. They returned to performing the song live periodically for their 1966 world tour, most noteworthy being their final concert performance on August 29th at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California. Choosing to close their final show with this song instead of the usual "I'm Down," they were albe to commemorate the moment with a special song that they've performed for ten years.
The Beatles recorded the song three more times for the BBC in 1964, the first being on March 31st for another “Saturday Club” show, which aired on April 4th, then on July 14th for “Top Gear,” which was broadcast on July 16th, and finally on July 17th for “From Us To You,” which aired on August 3rd.
They performed "Long Tall Sally" ten times for television. The first was for a Swedish TV show entitled "Drop In," which was filmed there on October 30th, 1963 and was broadcast in that country on November 3rd of that year. Then came the British show "Big Beat," which was filmed on April 26th, 1964 and aired on May 10th. The British TV special "Around The Beatles" was next, this filmed on April 28th and broadcast on May 6th, 1964. While on their '64 world tour, a June 5th concert was filmed which was aired as "The Beatles In Nederland" in The Netherlands, broadcast on June 8th. Then on to Australia, a June 17th concert was filmed which was aired on TV in that country as "The Beatles Sing For Shell" on July 1st. Back to the U.K., a mimed performance of the song on July 7th was broadcast on "Top Of The Pops" on July 8th. A live mimed performance of the song was featured on "Lucky Stars (Summer Spin)" on July 11th, 1964. On July 19th, a live broadcast of "Blackpool Night Out" featured the song as well. Then came their appearance on the "New Musical Express 1964-65 Annual Poll-Winners All Star Concert" on April 11th, 1965, this being aired on the British show "Poll Winners Concert" on April 18th. Finally, one of their Paris concerts on June 20th, 1965 was aired on French television as "Les Beatles" on October 31st, "Long Tall Sally" being its final number.
This is not to say the performance life of “Long Tall Sally” was over at this point. When Paul McCartney hit the road with his newly formed band Wings to tour universities in February of 1972, he ended their 15 song set with the usual Beatles show-stopper “Long Tall Sally.” He did the same in July and August of that year when Wings embarked on their “Wings Over Europe Tour.” Also, in May and July of 1973, Wings set out on a UK tour to promote their current album “Red Rose Speedway” and once again ended with the song. And then, four decades later, Paul included the song in his "Out There!" tour, which ran from May 4th to November 21st, 2013, including his July 19th performance in Seattle, Washington where he invites Nirvana on stage to jam the song with him.
Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" 78 rpm record
“Little Richard was one of the all-time greats,” said John Lennon in 1969. “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 never heard anybody sing like that in our lives.”
With only the intention of emulating their hero, The Beatles entered the studio on March 1, 1964 to create what most critics view as the finest rock ‘n’ roll performance of their career. Paul McCartney may have proven himself as the ballad writer and John Lennon as the rocker, but one listen to this track should prove to anyone that McCartney was as capable as Lennon of delivering a gut-wrenching, throat-searing lead vocal (witness “Helter Skelter,” “Oh! Darling” and “Maybe I’m Amazed”).
It may not have been thought appropriate for their first film, nor for the soundtrack album, but it made a fantastic showpiece for an EP, the biggest selling one of their career.
"Long Tall Sally”
Written by: Enotris Johnson / Robert Blackwell / Richard Penniman
- Song Written: January, 1956 (approx.)
- Song Recorded: March 1, 1964
- First US Release Date: April 10, 1964
- US Single Release: Collectables #1513
- First US Album Release: Capitol #ST 2080“The Beatles’ Second Album”
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- British Album Release: Parlophone # PCSP 719 “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music”
- Length: 2:03
- Key: G7
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham
Instrumentation (most likely):
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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