The single reached Number 1 on the ’Billboard Rhythm and Blues Chart’, staying at the top for six of 19 weeks while peaking at Number 6 on the pop chart. It received the ‘Cash Box Triple Crown Award’ in 1956. The song as sung by Little Richard is Number 55 on Rolling Stone’s list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’
It became one of the singer's best-known hits and has become a rock and roll standard covered by hundreds of singers, including the Beatles and Elvis Presley. A less known fact is that the song was originally called ‘The Thing’ when it was recorded in New Orleans by Little Richard.
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 coming
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 practising 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.
On a more personal level, this song holds fond memories for me. Whenever I hear this song, my mind is instantly taken back to my studying days as a Probation Officer at Newcastle-upon-Tyne University ( it was still a Polytechnic in 1971 when I was there). There were around two dozen mature trainees on the course, of which most lived in accommodation around the Newcastle area. While some of the married trainees went home some weekends, the bulk of trainees who had Newcastle accommodation went dancing. This was the era of rock and roll and we all found bopping a good way of relaxing and letting off steam after a hard week of studying.
My memory of this tine goes to a lovely young woman in her mid-twenties on the course called 'Elsa', who in later years joined the police force. Each weekend that a crowd of us went bopping, we were unsuccessful in our attempts to persuade Elsa to come along with the gang of us, and despite loving to bop and wanting to dance so much, she always declined. She was too embarrassed to be seen on a public dance floor.
Elsa’s embarrassment was perfectly understandable to all her friends. You see, Elsa stood 6 feet and 2 inches tall in her stocking feet and her height had always made her stand out as an oddball as far as she was concerned. Like many tall women who are embarrassed because of their size, Elsa had adopted familiar ways of making herself appear smaller. She would always wear flat footwear and had this habit of stooping her shoulders. She would also try to make friends with the tallest members of the course as she seemed more comfortable in their company.
To my surprise, Elsa and I struck up a good relationship from the very first day of the one-year course despite the large disparity in our height. While she was a few inches over 6 feet tall, she would always stand head and shoulders above myself (whose childhood accident had left me being 5 feet 4 inches tall if I stood on my left leg (known to myself and family as ‘my short leg’), and 5 feet and 7 inches tall if I stood on my right leg (known to myself and family as 'my long leg'). So, naturally, when Elsa and I stood side-by-side, Elsa’s height emphasised my shortness while my shortness emphasised her tallness.
Elsa and I had opted to specialise in ‘Behaviourism’ as our special chosen discipline subjects, a factor that meant we were in each other's company more often than had we specialised in different subjects. Essentially, ‘Behaviourism’ demands that one counters their problems better by 'confronting them' head on and 'attacking them' vigorously, whatever fear levels are raised. In short’, according to the textbook code on 'Behaviourism', it would help Elsa cope better with how she felt about her height if she deliberately, and as often as possible, associated with much shorter people in public places.
As the weeks passed by, Elsa was becoming visibly more disappointed each weekend night when the gang of us went rock and rolling and she stayed in her accommodation on her lonesome. We were also becoming much closer in our friendship and would sit next to each in the Lecture Theatre whenever possible. We essentially came to respect each other and to value each other's views, feelings and concerns. The time came (approximately 6 months into the course) when Elsa asked me to help her get over her fear of going dancing with the gang of us each weekend. At that time, I was well into ‘Behaviourism’ and would practise it at every opportunity, particularly whenever problem-solving.
I agreed to accompany Elsa to a weekend rock and roll dance but stipulated two conditions that were non-negotiable. The first condition was that she danced with 'only me' for the first half-hour of the evening, and second, that she bought herself a new pair of shoes. If I was to help her, every ‘Behaviourism’ strategy I knew demanded that I would have to change Elsa’s perception of herself, along with how she focused negatively on her height.
Elsa was asked to go out and buy the fashionable ‘in-thing’ in footwear at the time; 3-5-inch stiletto-heeled footwear. I told Elsa that I believed heartedly that the best way to reduce her fear of her height lay in emphasising it to best advantage. I advised her this would be achieved by making her 'stand taller' instead of 'standing shorter', as well as standing 'upright' instead of adopting a stooped head and shoulder posture.
We had spent a good number of evenings before the dance bopping together. The most difficult thing was for Elsa needed to get used to dancing in high-heeled shoes. The good thing about rock and rolling is that whatever height distinction exists in each person in any dancing couple (even a 12 inches distinction), good dancers can cope with all-natural moves without too much constraint without looking a wally on the dance floor.
The night we went to the dance, it was like that scene out of the 1953 film, ‘Calamity Jane’, where ‘Calamity Jane’ is escorted to the dance by ‘Wild Bill Hickok’. In the movie, Calamity is wearing a heavy, old coat entering the dance, which once removed when inside reveals her to be the most beautiful belle of the ball.
Elsa went to the dance with me in a long coat that covered a beautiful dress she had purchased that was short in length and displayed her lovely long legs to best advantage. She wore flat shoes on our way to the dance and she’d also had her long hair done. When we arrived at the dance, she took off her coat and flat footwear and put on her new red 4-inch high heels. She was transformed and looked stunning. No longer did she look like a long streak of bacon; she was a blonde bombshell who commanded admiring male eyes of all present.
She was beautiful and after having a few dances in her high heels, she was confident enough to take off her high heels and put some flat bopping shoes on for increased comfort. Whenever she stopped dancing and sat the next dance out, she put her high heels back on. Within the first hour she had at least half a dozen invitations to dance from other chaps, but in accordance with the two conditions I had previously imposed politely, Elsa politely told her suitors, “Not now, thank you, but I will later”’ Elsa refused all invitations to dance for the first half hour, unless I was the one doing the asking. Her refusals had the positive effect of making her feel ‘in control’ and made those men she’d initially declined ‘more eager than ever’ to have a dance with her (with or without high heels). I only got one more dance with Elsa that night after the first half hour as her dancing card remained full up.
Two years after we had left the course, Elsa, who never did enter the Probation Service, instead became a 'Cumbrian Copper' as I used to jokingly call her. Two years into her police service career, Elsa married another police constable from South Shields. I attended the wedding and I was glad to see that she no longer stooped and wore fashionable heels. She looked beautiful, despite being four months pregnant as I later learned.
Her husband stood 5 feet 10 inches, and he was a handsome man whom she'd met at a dance! After her marriage, all contact with Elsa stopped. I will never forget her. She was as proud as the lioness (also called Elsa) in the film, ‘Born Free’. With the increased confidence she had obtained on the 1-year course she now walked tall and proud as she stalked her lesser prey.
Love and peace. Bill xxx