It’s funny how a single word can weave its way through the early history of rock ‘n’ roll.
Take the word little.
No less than 11 soloists or groups had the word little in their name during the first decade of rock ‘n’ roll beginning in 1955.
The first “Little” performer to become a sensation was Little Richard. One of the key figures in the transition from R&B to rock ‘n’ roll, Little Richard initially made the charts in 1956 when “Truiti-Fruitti” reached No. 17. In the spring of that year, Little Richard had his most successful hit with “Long Tall Sally” that rose to No. 6. The Macon native’s other Top 10 hits were “Jenny, Jenny” and “Keep A Knockin’ ” in 1957 and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958.
Little Joe & The Thrillers had their only hit Top 25 hit with “Peanuts” in 1957.
Little Anthony and the Imperials reached No. 4 on the charts in the summer of 1958 with the rock classic “Tears on My Pillow.” The group followed with Top 20 hits “I’m on the Outside Looking In” and “Goin’ Out of my Head” in 1964 and “Hurt So Bad” in 1965.
Born in 1940, Little Anthony will celebrate his 73rd birthday on Jan. 8. Where, oh where, have all the years gone?
The Little Dippers, a boy/girl group, enjoyed their only success in 1960 when “Forever” rose to No. 9.
Little Caesar and The Romans had their only Top 10 hit in 1961 when “Those Oldies But Goodies” climbed to No. 9.
Little Eva began her career with a No. 1 hit, “The Loco-Motion,” in July 1962. She followed that with “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” in 1962 and “Let’s Turkey Trot” in 1963. Both songs made the Top 20.
Little Joey and the Flips had their only hit in the summer of 1962 when “Bongo Stomp” reached No. 33.
Little Esther Phillips had her biggest hit in the winter of 1962 with “Release Me.” Five years later, it was recorded by Engelbert Humperdinck and it became his biggest hit as well as his signature song. She changed from R&B to disco in the 1970s and her version of Dinah Washington’s hit “What A Difference A Day Makes” reached No. 20 in 1975.
Fifteen-year-old Little Peggy March reached No. 1 with her first hit, “I Will Follow Him” in April 1963. Her only other Top 25 song came later that year with “Hello Heartache, Goodbye Love.”
Little Milton, a singer/guitarist, hit No. 25 in the spring of 1965 with “We’re Gonna Make It.” The tune reached No. 1 on the R&B charts.
The most successful of the “little” singers was Little Stevie Wonder.
Following in the footsteps of blind R&B singers Al Hibbler and Albany’s Ray Charles, Little Stevie Wonder got his initial break when Ronnie White of the Miracles heard him play the harmonica and sing and was so impressed that he took him to the offices of Motown Records in Detroit.
The 12-year-old had his first No. 1 hit with “Fingertips Part II” in the summer of 1963.
During the next 50 years, he has had more than 45 Top 40 hits, 28 Top 10 hits and 11 No. 1 hits.
Besides performers with “little” in their names, many songs from the era had “little” in their titles.
Here’s a breakdown of the “little” songs by year:
1956 — “Little Girl of Mine” by the Cleftones and “My Little Angel” by the Four Lads.
1957 — Little Bitty Pretty One” by Thurston Harris and the Sharps, “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers and “Little Darlin’ ” by the Diamonds.
1958 — “Little Star” by the Elegants and “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry.
1959 — “Hey Little Girl” by Dee Clark, “Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeone Chorale and “Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat” by Paul Evans.
1961 — “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” by Curtis Lee, “Little Egypt” by the Coasters, “Little Bit Of Soap” by the Jarmels and “Little Sister” by Elvis Presley.
1962 — “Go Away Little Girl” by Steve Lawrence and “Little Bitty Tear” by Burl Ives.
1963 — “Little Deuce Coupe” by the Beach Boys, “Little Latin Lupe Lu” by the Righteous Brothers and “Little Town Flirt” by Del Shannon.
1964 — “Come A Little Bit Closer” by Jay & the Americans, “Little Children” by Billy J. Kramer and “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” by Jan and Dean.
1965 — “Pretty Little Baby” by Marvin Gaye and “Little Things” by Bobby Goldsboro.
If you remember all those oldies but goodies, you definitely earned the title, “Old Rocker.”
And this “Old Rocker” wishes a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to one and all.
Barry Levine is a news copy editor for The Albany Herald.