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That Fatal Mailing List #61: "Bama Lama Bama Loo" (1995)
I don’t usually go in for that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” bullshit, but when it comes to a song like “Bama Lama Bama Loo,” words do seem to fail.
Intended as a comeback single, Little Richard wrote and recorded the original song in 1964 for Speciality, where he’d had his first and greatest successes. Seven years on from “Tutti Frutti,” UK acts like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had more success with his music than he could. “Bama Lama Bama Loo” topped out at only 82 on the US charts and squeaked up to a high of 20 on the UK charts.
It’s a stupid song, but that is certainly not a disqualifier for rock ‘n’ roll. What makes it feel disposable is that it’s a perfect example of an artist hit by lightning with a very specific sound and approach, trying to go back to that same spot in the hope that the clouds will strike once again.
Without a significant piano presence, Elvis Costello’s take on “Bama Lama Bama Loo” for his 1995 covers album Kojak Variety owes as much to the Sonics’ 1975 version as it does to the Little Richard original. It’s a guitar-driven rave-up; when the two guitarists are Marc Ribot and James Burton, that’s some quality shit. It’s not super clear to me which guitar player tackles which solo, but that first angular run is absolutely incredible.
Stream it on the service of your choice.