The impact of Little Richard on audiences outside the US was like a delayed reaction. After spending all of 1956 making his name on the American charts, it was on December 14 that year that his name finally made its first, and initially fleeting, appearance on the British singles charts, with “Rip It Up.”
By July of 1956, the song was already becoming his third American hit of the year, going on to reach No.17, while its flipside, “Ready Teddy,” charted in its own right, hitting No.44. Richard had previously made No.17 with his first domestic success, “Tutti Frutti,” following it with another of his timeless staples, the No.6 hit “Long Tall Sally.” That had a popular flipside too, with “Slippin’ and Slidin’ (Peepin’ and Hidin’)” going to No.33.
Then the “Georgia Peach,” born Richard Penniman, finally entered the British chart at No.30, and it looked as though one of the big new American rock’n’roll sensations of the year was on his way to transatlantic acclaim. But not yet. A week later, the song was nowhere to be seen.
Nevertheless, “Rip It Up” stands tall among Richard’s towering collection of rocking originals, another testosterone-fuelled anthem of youth in which he celebrates the weekend by picking up his girl in his “88,” an Oldsmobile Rocket 88. Lee Allen (tenor) and Alvin Tyler (baritone) played the essential, urgent saxophones, Ernest McLean guitar, and Frank Fields bass, with Earl Palmer providing the backbeat.
Not ripping it up for long
Several of the weekly music papers in Britain at the time produced their own charts, all of them created using less than exhaustive or foolproof methodology by today’s standards. The one that is used in official chart history, from the first UK singles chart in 1952 until 1960, was that of the New Musical Express, which was produced via a telephone poll of retailers. This had been extended from a Top 20 to a Top 30 earlier in 1956, and “Rip It Up” was on the NME survey for December 14 in the anchor position. But it didn’t appear on the listing again.
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In 1957, London Records caught up on Richard’s previous US hits in the UK, with “Long Tall Sally” charting in February, ten months after its American debut, peaking at No.3. Then came the belated appearance, and only at No.29, of “Tutti Frutti,” 13 months late. Even more oddly, he then had a No.15 UK hit with a song that didn’t make the US charts at all, “She’s Got It.”
After that, at last, there were consecutive Top 10 UK hits with “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Lucille.” But with “Rip It Up,” Little Richard took his first, uncertain steps towards building his British audience. In 2020, the song underlined its longevity by being selected, in a new version by Butcher Brown, as ESPN’s Monday Night Football theme.
Buy or stream “Rip It Up” on the expanded Here’s Little Richard: 60th Anniversary Edition.