HELLO… AND GOODBYE…
Hello Ricky Nelson – 1950’s Teen Idol,
Goodbye Rick Nelson – 1970’s Country Star,
and all the hits in-between…
Andrew Darlington tells the full story…
‘POOR LITTLE FOOL…’
Of all the pretty-boy Pop-teen fan-mag pin-ups of the 1950’s, none was prettier than Ricky Nelson. There was the cuteness of Bobby Vee, Don & Phil’s dual-sweetness, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, and the brooding sexual-intensity of an Elvis. But when it comes to prettiness, there could be only Ricky Nelson. Yet, when the Music Press earnestly debate the Quest For Perfect Pop, attempting to reduce it down to a neat beat-formula of catchy-ingredients in an irresistibly hummable equation, they frequently overlook the fact that it was almost accidentally achieved some five decades ago – and counting. Can there be a more perfect example of Teenage Pop-Rock than the Ricky Nelson double-‘A’ side that combines “Hello Mary Lou” with “Travellin’ Man”? I think not. Of course, the side that says ‘I’m not one that gets around, swear my feet stuck to the ground’ tends to contradict the other side which says ‘I’m a travellin’ man, I’ve made a lot of stops all over the world’, but what an immaculate contradiction! In fact, you could flip pretty-much any of Ricky Nelson’s 1950’s 45rpm’s any which way and you still come up with a pure Pop gem. But “Hello Mary Lou” spinning with relentless energy on that big old Rockola jukebox, with its clattering rhythms, dual-tracked vocal burr and stinging guitar solo, epitomises it all.
Eric Hilliard ‘Ricky’ Nelson was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, into showbiz aristocracy. Dad and Mom were the ‘Ozzie & Harriet’ of the wholesome radio show ‘The Adventures of…’. Earlier, Dad had hits with the Swing-era Ozzie Nelson Orchestra, while actress Mom was singer with the band. As soon as their kids were of age, they ensured their radio sit-com was kept in-house by replacing the original pro child-actors with young Ricky, and older brother David – aged eight and twelve. The young Nelsons joined the cast for the 20 February 1949 episode, in time for Ricky to make his movie debut with Rock Hudson in ‘Here Come The Nelsons’ (1952). The movie conveniently doubled as a feature-length launch-episode as the show up-geared onto ABC-TV on 10 October 1952, where it would continue for fourteen seasons until 1966. So was young Ricky’s childhood confiscated, like so many other showbiz brats? It’s been said that martinet Ozzie ‘in effect stole his sons’ childhood and sold it for commercial purposes’ (according to David Halberstam’s ‘The Fifties’, 1993). Life with ‘America’s Favourite Family’ sure wasn’t always as unfeasibly harmonious as the screen suggests. It was directed by the real-life controlling workaholic Ozzie Nelson, it was not the Ozzie Osborne reality-TV show! Theirs was a scripted laugh-track sit-com competing with rival bandleader Desi Arnez and his wacky wife Lucille Ball in ‘I Love Lucy’.
But there were side-benefits too. All around the western hemisphere earnest young guys were out to impress chicks by bragging their intention of making a record and joining Elvis in the Top Ten. Few would consider chasing up their parents to realise that dream. Fewer still could have expected Daddy to turn that dream real. But when Ricky did it, Dad had – not quite speed-dial, but at least the right industry contacts in his address book to make it happen. Ricky did a competent run-through of “I’m Walkin’” on the TV-show, and following favourable coast-to-coast reaction Ozzie fixed-up a Verve Records session with highly-rated jazz guitarist Barney Kessel. Pat Boone had charted an anodyne cover of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti”. Elvis at Sun Records backed a black R&B song with a white Country song for each single. So doing a white version of Fats Domino’s strolling New Orleans “I’m Walkin’” was a natural, and not only proved an instant chart hit, but a double-sider too. When puppy-love ‘B’-side “A Teenager’s Romance” was lip-synched in the TV-show it scored even higher. A taste of double-siders that set the pattern to come.
Meanwhile, Ricky consolidated his new status three short months later with “You’re My One And Only Love”. TV, and teen-Pop celebrity form an irresistible synergy. Always have. It was like David Cassidy with the Partridge Family, only more so. Monkee Micky Dolenz told how the fact that he’d gone from being part of a pretend TV Pop group, into an actual for-real Pop group was a process akin to Leonard Nimoy actually becoming a Vulcan. Ricky Nelson’s transition was a similar thing, only earlier. But as with the Monkees, there was also the mitigating circumstance of genuine talent and ability in there too. He had the nationwide celebrity. He had the amplified boy-next-door good looks. But he recorded classic Pop ‘n’ Rock vinyl too.
With the one-off Verve deal fulfilled, Ozzie negotiated a more rewarding contract with Imperial, for whom Ricky delivered no less than thirty-six back-to-back hit-on-hit Hot Hundred titles, frequently double-siders, clear through 1963. Running like pure liquid gold, among them were the jumpy “Be-Bop Baby” – ‘still in her teens, in her old blue jeans’ (no.3 in 1957), “Stood Up” with its distinctive standout guitar solo (no.5 in 1957), the gospelly “Believe What You Say” (no.8 in 1958), the teen-heartbreak of “Poor Little Fool” (no.1 the same year), the wistful “Never Be Anyone Else But You” c/w “It’s Late” (nos.6 and 9 respectively in 1959) and “Travellin’ Man” c/w “Hello Mary Lou” (nos.1 and 9 in 1961). Ricky’s limited vocal range nevertheless had a distinctive mellow warmth to it, with a vulnerable edge bolstered by effective double-tracking reinforcing an emotional core that begged every hormonal teenage girl to pin his ‘Hep Cats’ fan-mag centre-spread to the bedroom wall, and mail him love-letters sealed with a kiss. When he played an Atlantic City concert in 1958 he trashed Frank Sinatra’s attendance record by attracting ‘over 40,000 teenagers… seventeen of whom fainted. Six lay on the ground in front of his car, screaming ‘Oh Ricky, please run over me’ (‘Melody Maker’ Hollywood News by Howard Lucraft).
Sure – “It’s Late” might have stolen a thematic leaf from the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie”, within its narrative he and his girl have stayed out longer than they should, they’re gonna catch hell from her old man. But its charm is a pure 1950’s charm, a teen-dilemma that’s surely unique to that repressive-conformity decade of soda-shops and high-school hops? Yet Shakin’ Stevens revived it to no.11 in the UK charts decades later, in July 1983. And the yearning “Lonesome Town” is a zip-code close enough to “Heartbreak Hotel” for Neil Sedaka to spoof the connection on his ‘B’-side “One Way Ticket” – ‘gonna travel down to Lonesome Town, gonna stay at Heartbreak Hotel’. But who could resist such plaintive ghostly-echoed anguish? Not me for sure.
He’d had his first hit at only sixteen, carefully groomed to appeal to a scream-age audience – greased hair – but clean-cut, lop-sided grin with just a hint of rebellion – but not enough to be dangerous, with a repertoire of songs carefully tailored to match his image. But from the start he was smart and sufficiently in control to team with first-class musicians. Working with arranger Jimmie Haskell he preferred a tight nucleus of players rather than anonymous session professionals. Musicians attuned to the new Rock ‘n’ Roll thing. Ricky perceptively recruited James Burton fresh from working Dale Hawkins sessions. Imperial had signed Bob Luman (who had a satiric hit with “Let’s Think About Living”) around the same time, and Ricky was seriously impressed with his back-up group – the Shadows, which by then featured James Burton. Ricky was able to use the lure of guaranteed TV-work on ‘Ozzie & Harriet’ to lure the musicians away. Burton brought in stand-up bassist James Homer Kirkland too. He was a little more wary of TV. What if he played a bum note on live prime-time? Until he was reassured that they prepared a backing tape, then mimed over it for the show, eliminating the possibility of error. Both James’s lived over with the Nelson’s for a while, bonding and working their music together.
It’s Burton who adds the notable ‘Sun’-style Rockabilly guitar-picking to “Waitin’ In School” c/w “Stood Up” – their first single together, then “Believe What You Say” – which is Burton’s first single playing lead, while his Carl Perkins roots-Rock style on “Bucket’s Got A Hole In It” adds a dimension of legitimacy to the record. But the best was yet to come. Burton’s innovative guitar fills and solos – on “Hello Mary Lou” for example, form perfect miniatures of concise economy and were central to the success of Ricky’s 45rpm’s well into the sixties. Although he never sought front-man status (beyond a 1971 A&M solo LP), Burton excelled in the back-up role, going on to provide the same for Elvis. While Kirkland, switching to electric bass for ease of touring, was more than just an effective foil for Burton. He solos on “One Of These Mornings”, co-wrote “There Goes My Baby” (with James Burton) and “Be True To Me” (with Nat Stuckey) for Ricky’s albums, and adds his distinctive clicking Rockabilly bass-style to the records.
Another credible input came from the pushy Dorsey Burnette – brother of chart-star Johnny, who turned up at ‘Ozzie & Harriet’ Nelson’s LA home with a bunch of songs, and refused to leave until Ricky heard them. Pulling up on a motorcycle and struck by his persistence, Ricky accepted the introduction, got him to audition on guitar right there and then, and was suitably impressed. He scored success with the Burnette’s “Waitin’ In School” and recorded a dozen of the brother’s song, including “Believe What You Say” and Dorsey’s “It’s Late” and “Just A Little Too Much”. In return, the Burnette’s Rock ‘n’ Roll trio got a contract with Imperial Records plus a song-publishing hook-up with its Commodore Music. But there were other quality inputs. “Poor Little Fool” was the first hit written by the prolific Sharon Sheeley. “Hello Mary Lou” came from young songwriter Gene Pitney. Songwriter Baker Knight even used a jobbing Eddie Cochran to cut demos of his songs for Ricky’s attention. There are LP liner-note claims that Ricky himself wrote major hits of his own, “(It’s A) Young World”, “It’s Up To You” and “Travelin’ Man” under the assumed guise of ‘Jerry Fuller’. This is not so, Texas-born Fuller was a songwriter, singer and record producer in his own right. But Ricky was already trying out his own songs…
‘HELLO MARY LOU, GOODBYE HEART’
In the UK, denied TV exposure and with radio air-play rationed by stuffy BBC policy, Ricky Nelson records at first struggled to gain visibility. “Stood Up” entered the chart at no.27, 21 February 1958. That was the highest it got. The following week it dropped out, to return – at no.29, for the single week of 7 March. But back then it was a strange chart, dominated by smooth crooners such as Michael Holliday (no.1 with “The Story Of My Life”), Perry Como (no.2 with “Magic Moments”), Frank Sinatra, Malcolm Vaughan, Marion Ryan and Ronnie Hilton. The first wave of Rock ‘n’ Roll was breaking – the Crickets were no.5 with “Oh Boy”, Elvis at no.3 with “Jailhouse Rock”, and Jerry Lee Lewis and Danny & The Juniors both inside the Top Twenty, so it was very much a transitionary moment. But where do you hear the exciting new music? The BBC Light Programme gave it scant recognition, except maybe on ‘Saturday Club’. Radio Luxembourg if the reception conditions are right. Maybe on the arcade juke-box. But it was not always easy. You had to hunt it out. And some classics simply got lost beneath the radar. “Poor Little Fool” did better later that same year, reaching no.4 in August, a position consolidated by “Someday” in November, which peaked at no.9. With such recognition, despite not touring here, and not appearing on any of the UK Pop TV-shows, the hits came easier. And what hits! He spent a total of 132 weeks on the UK chart.
During which maybe an element of disillusion was already showing? The self-pitying “A Teenage Idol” admits that although ‘some people call me a teenage idol’ they have no way of knowing ‘how lonesome I can be’. ‘I get no rest when I’m feeling weary, I got to pack my bags and go, I got to be somewhere tomorrow, to smile and do my show.’ Although written by Sam M Lewis the poor little Pop Star pose works or – some may say, cynically exploits his public persona. But it also anticipates, not only Paul Simon’s ‘every day’s an endless stream of cigarettes and magazines’, but Rick’s own defiant “Garden Party”. And maybe there was some personal truth in there too. When his long-time marriage to childhood sweetheart Kirstin ended in divorce, the stress of his heavy touring schedule was blamed for the deterioration in their relationship.
Getting a Pop star into a movie guarantees a broader demographic. As soon as the Elvis hits started they got him down to the 20th Century Fox soundstage. They happened to be shooting a production-line western called ‘The Reno Brothers’. It doesn’t really matter, they promptly re-jig the script. It’s a post-Civil War story, so how to introduce some hip-shaking Rock ‘n’ Roll? Simple, add a family hoedown, stick a few hillbilly songs in, re-title the film after one of them. The only reason the film is now remembered, bought as VHS, DVD or download, is as ‘Love Me Tender’ (1956). Ricky Nelson was billed alongside John Wayne and Dean Martin for ‘Rio Bravo’ (1959), a higher-profile Howard Hawks western, and he acquits himself well, as Colorado Ryan, swaggering in Stetson, casually carrying a carbine. He holds his own in dialogue with the Duke, but then again – ‘The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet’ might be black-and-white, shot on-set from a single fixed camera-position, but Ricky was no stranger to filming. Warner Brothers miss out by letting Dean Martin croon over the end-credits, relegating Ricky to a duet with Dean on “My Rifle Pony And Me”, and a brief snatch of folk-song “Get Along Home, Cindy”. A song he intended for the film, Johnny Cash’s “Restless Kid” wasn’t used, but rescued from the cutting-room floor he added it to his third LP, ‘Ricky Sings Again’ (1959), as a direct reference to the movie.
Ricky followed it up with comedy-drama ‘The Wackiest Ship In The Army’ (1960, directed by Richard Murphy), as Ensign Tommy J Hanson, billed alongside Captain Jack Lemmon, who leads a junkyard of a ship through Japanese waters during World War II, as a decoy. It’s an unusual combination of action and laughs that manages to stay afloat thanks to some shipshape acting. This time Ricky gets to sing “Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans)”, which appears on his sixth album, ‘Rick Is 21’ (1961). This is also his first album to be credited ‘Rick’ rather than ‘Ricky’, as a sign of his growing restlessness with his Teen Idol status. As well as both sides of the “Hello Mary Lou”, “Travellin’ Man” single here are new songs by Dorsey Burnette (“My One Desire”), Gene Pitney (“Sure Fire Bet”), and Johnny Rivers (“I’ll Make Believe”), as well as strong contributions from Jerry Fuller, which makes clear Rick’s intention to appeal to a wider audience, the way Bobby Darin had.
A further big-screen role, ‘Love And Kisses’ (1965), is an oddity assembled by Ozzie Nelson during the final season of the TV-show, maybe intended as a slightly more adult risqué carry-over. And if the father-son conversation about the ‘facts of life’ is a moment of peak embarrassment in a young boy’s life, how much greater that must have been to have that moment integrated into the movie storyline? Billed rather optimistically as a ‘Rick ‘n’ Roll Riot’, it features Rick’s then-wife Kristin as his secret onscreen wife. As ‘Buzzy Pringle’ Rick sings two numbers written by sometime-Cricket Sonny Curtis – the title-song and “Say You Love Me”, plus Clint Ballard Jrn’s “Come Out Dancin’”. There was, nevertheless, a full-length twelve-track album – ‘Love And Kisses’ (1965).
Having dropped the ‘y’ from his name in an attempt to distance himself from youthful folly, and reinvent himself as a more serious proposition, Rick Nelson shifted to Decca. 1963 was confused by Imperial continuing to issue archive material in competition with the new Decca recordings, both charting low as a consequence. Towards the end of the year, with the situation resolved there were new hits, albeit with up-tempo revivals from the ‘Great American Songbook’, slanted for more ‘adult’ appeal. But “Fools Rush In”, “For You” and “The Very Thought Of You” charted even as Teen-Pop was undergoing the turbulent upheaval of the British Invasion. A sea-change that proved a near-extinction event for Rick Nelson’s Pop career. As with many of the fifties stars – even Elvis found it hard-going, he struggled to maintain a credible profile while the nostalgia package-tours offered only sterility.
‘I feel very fortunate that I was around at that time during the formative years of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ he told Richard Williams. ‘It was a lot of fun, and I think I’ve made it through because I’ve always tried to keep interested and involved in what’s going on.’ But ‘I went through a period of about four years, not knowing what I wanted to do. I was playing a lot of night-clubs, with a whole lot of feathers and balloons, and I just wasn’t digging it one bit…’ (‘Melody Maker’, 3 April 1971).
Rick’s growing interest in Country music provided a way out, resulting in a maturing of his style and more consistently satisfying albums than many of the ‘teen idol’ years.
‘BRIGHT LIGHTS AND COUNTRY MUSIC’
Rick returned to the US Hot Hundred in 1969 with his stripped-down version of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me”, going one better by then making the US Top Ten in 1972 with his own autobiographical “Garden Party”. The song lyrically describes his reception at the October 1971 Madison Square Gardens ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival’ show in which he performed alongside Bobby Rydell, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, ‘people came from miles around, everyone was there, Yoko brought her walrus (John Lennon), there was magic in the air, and over in the corner much to my surprise, Mr Hughes (George Harrison) hid in Dylan’s shoes wearing his disguise.’ As the lyric unfolds, it tells of his problems getting his new work heard in the face of fan loyalty to his lengthy back-catalogue, ‘I played them all the old songs, I thought that’s why they came, no-one heard the music, we didn’t look the same, I said hello to Mary Lou, she belongs to me, when I sang a song about a honky-tonk, it was time to leave.’
Despite it all, and despite the walking bass-line that bears more that a passing resemblance to “Never Be Anyone Else But You”, he concludes, with some defiance and renewed resolve ‘if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.’ Not that driving a truck had ever been an option for Rick Nelson. Unlike Elvis who drove trucks for Memphis ‘Crown Electric’, Rick’s showbiz career had been marked out for him from birth. But with this song – “Garden Party”, he achieves vindication, of a kind, from all that predetermination. Having evaded his past for so long, he’d finally come to terms with it, ‘It’s alright now, I’ve learned my lesson well, you see, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.’
Across the years immediately previous, it was albums ‘Bright Lights And Country Music’ (1966) and ‘Country Fever’ (1967) which showed, despite resistance from fans and industry manipulators alike, Nelson’s determination to progress now that he’d tipped over that vital age twenty-five watershed. The inclusion of his own songwriting – “You Just Can’t Quit” on the former, and “Alone” on the latter, indicate the direction leading to ‘Rick Sings Nelson’ (1970), his first album of wholly original songs. He attempted to bury his celebrity even further by forming the Stone Canyon Band, which continued to be his musicians of choice into the coming decade. What James Burton had done for Ricky, pedal-steel player Tom Brumley (ex-Buck Owens), did for Rick. With Randy Meisner (of Poco and the Eagles), and Steve Love (who later joined Roger McGuinn), also on hand. Phil Hardy and Dave Laing in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Rock Volume 1’ (Panther Books, 1976) opine that ‘his progress has so far taken him to an individual position in ‘country rock’, and although one will always wish that he could put a bit of edge onto his voice, the maturity and professionalism of Nelson and his band currently produce albums of a high standard.’ Unfortunately, from the high point of this renaissance, his subsequent break with the Stone Canyon Band meant a loss of momentum that never quite returned. Even without a label he continued touring, playing 200-shows a year.
I never got to see him, as Ricky or Rick. He did a final UK package tour in 1985, including a last British date at the Royal Albert Hall (on November 17). Touring with Bo Diddley, Frankie Ford, Del Shannon and Bobby Vee the schedule listed the Leeds ‘Queens Hall’, Saturday 9 November (although there’s some talk of an alternate Harrogate venue). I seriously considered going. I could have gone. I was gigging furiously at the time with a heavy load of writing commitments. I wanted to go, but I thought, no – I’ll catch him next time. Only there was never to be a next time.
On 31 December 1985, Rick and girlfriend Helen Blair were travelling in a private DC-3 jet which crashed while attempting to land near DeKalb, Texas. Rick, Helen and several other passengers were killed outright. There was inevitable talk that he was ‘free-basing’ in the plane, ‘a bizarre form of drug abuse’ suggests ‘The Daily Mirror’ (16 January 1986). It’s not necessary to believe that. Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Lynyrd Skynyrd – even ‘Ebony Eyes’, they didn’t necessarily involve free-basing. Plane crashes have their place in Rock iconography. They kill, regardless.
Ricky Nelson leaves us albums-full of ‘Greatest Hits’. And of all the pretty-boy Pop-teen fan-mag pin-ups of the 1950’s, none was prettier than Ricky Nelson.
(8 May 1940 – 31 December 1985)
THE RECORD FILE
1935 – Ozzie Nelson And His Orchestra no.1 in the US Pop Singles Chart with “And Then Some”
6 May 1957 – “A Teenager’s Romance” (written by David Gillam) (Billboard no.2) c/w “I’m Walking” (by Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew) (Billboard no.17) (Verve 10047) Ricky sings Fats Domino’s “I’m Walking” on ‘The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet’ TV-show, the response encourages Ozzie to use his contacts at Verve to arrange a recording session. UK HMV 355
16 September 1957 – “You’re My One And Only” c/w “Honey Bop” (Verve 10070) Billboard no. 14. The Verve session, with guitarist Barney Kessel as arranger, produces just three tracks. So the ‘B’-side is a Kessel instrumental
7 October 1957 – “Be-Bop Baby” (Pearl Lendhurst) (Billboard no.3) c/w “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” (Billboard no.29) (Imperial 5463) features Joe Maphis lead guitar. UK London 8499
30 December 1957 – “Stood Up” (by Country singer Dub Dickerson, with Erma Herrold) (Billboard no.2) c/w “Waitin’ In School” (Johnny and Dorsey Burnette) (Billboard no.18) (Imperial 5483) UK London HLP 8542, no.27 21 February 1958. Joe Maphis lead guitar, plus James Burton rhythm guitar
7 April 1958 – “Believe What You Say” (Johnny and Dorsey Burnette) (Billboard no.4) c/w “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It” (Billboard no.18) (Imperial 5503) first with James Burton playing lead guitar, James Kirkland, bass. UK London 8594
7 July 1958 – “Poor Little Fool” (Sharon Sheeley) c/w “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (Imperial 5528). Billboard no.1 for two weeks. UK London HLP 8670, no.4 22 August 1958
7 November 1958 – “Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You)” (by Hodges) c/w “I Got A Feeling” (Knight) (UK, London HLP 8732), no.9 7 November 1958, while “I Got A Feeling” no.27 21 November 1958
20 October 1958 – “Lonesome Town” (Baker Knight) (Billboard no.7) c/w “I Got A Feeling” (Billboard no.10) (Imperial 5545)
9 March 1959 – “Never Be Anyone Else But You” (Baker Knight) (Billboard no.6) c/w “It’s Late” (Burnette) (Billboard no.9) (Imperial 5565) (UK, London HLP 8817) no.14 5 June and no.3 17 April 1959
13 July 1959 – “Just A Little Too Much” (Dorsey Burnette) (Billboard no.9) c/w “Sweeter Than You” (Baker Knight) (Billboard no.9) (Imperial 5595) (UK, London HLP 8927) no.11, 11 Sept and no.19 4 September 1959
7 December 1959 – “I Wanna Be Loved” (Baker Knight) (Billboard no.20) c/w “Mighty Good” (Billboard no.38) (Imperial 5614) UK, London HLP 9021, no.30 15 January 1960
9 May 1960 – “Young Emotions” (Billboard no.12) c/w “Right By My Side” (Billboard no.59) (Imperial 5663) UK, London HLP 9121, no.48 7 July 1960
19 September 1960 – “I’m Not Afraid” (Billboard no.27) c/w “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” (Billboard no.34) (Imperial 5685)
9 January 1961 – “You Are The Only One” (Billboard no.25) c/w “Milk Cow Blues” (Billboard no.79) (Imperial 5707)
1 May 1961 – “Travelin’ Man” (Jerry Fuller) (Billboard no.1 for two weeks) c/w “Hello Mary Lou” (Gene Pitney) (Billboard no.9) (Imperial 5741) UK, London HLP 9347, no.2 I June 1961. Re-issued as Liberty EMCT2. “Hello Mary Lou” reaches no.45 24 August 1991. “Hello Mary Lou” recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival on their 1972 LP ‘Mardi Gras’
9 October 1961 – “A Wonder Like You” (Billboard no.11) c/w “Everlovin’” (Burgess) (Billboard no.16) (Imperial 5770) First as RICK NELSON. UK, “Everlovin’” London HLP 9440, no.23 16 November 1961
17 March 1962 – “(It’s A) Young World” (Jerry Fuller) (Billboard no.5) c/w “Summertime” (Billboard no.89) (Imperial 5805) UK, London 9524, no.19 29 March 1962
25 August 1962 – “Teenage Idol” (Billboard no.5) c/w “I’ve Got My Eyes On You (And I Like What I See” (Billboard no.105) (Imperial 5864) UK, London HLP 9583, no.39 30 August 1962
29 December 1962 – “It’s Up To You” (Jerry Fuller) (Billboard no.6) c/w “I Need You” (Billboard no.83) (Imperial 5901) UK, London HLP 9648, no.22 17 January 1963
February 1963 – “I’m In Love Again” (Billboard no.67) c/w “That’s All” (Billboard no.48) (Imperial 5910)
March 1963 – “You Don’t Love Me Anymore (And I Can Tell)” (Billboard no.47) c/w “I Got A Woman” (Billboard no.49) (Decca 31475)
April 1963 – “If You Can’t Rock Me” (Billboard no.100) c/w “Old Enough To Love” (Billboard no.94) (Imperial 5935)
May 1963 – “A Long Vacation” c/w “Mad Mad World” (Billboard no.120) (Imperial 5958)
15 June 1963 – “String Along” (Billboard no.25) c/w “Gypsy Woman” (Billboard no.62) (Decca 31495)
July 1963 – “There’s Not A Minute” c/w “Time After Time” (Billboard no.127) (Imperial 5985)
September 1963 – “Fools Rush In” (Billboard no.12) c/w “Down Home” (Billboard no.126) (Decca 31533) (UK, Brunswick 05895, no.12 17 October 1963)
October 1963 – “Today’s Teardrops” c/w “Thank You Darlin’” (Billboard no.54) (Imperial 66004)
December 1963 – “For You” c/w “That’s All She Wrote” (Decca 31574) Billboard no.6 (UK, Brunswick 05900, no.14 30 January 1964)
February 1964 – “Congratulations” c/w “One Minute To One” (Billboard no.63) (Imperial 66017)
April 1964 – “The Very Thought Of You” c/w “I Wonder” (Decca 31612) Billboard no.26. UK Brunswick 05908, review in ‘New Musical Express’ by Don Nicholl, ‘this is very sweet but hardly as powerful as Rick’s “For You” or “Fools Rush In’. His echo voice on “The Very Thought Of You” is good but less attention-grabbing than of late’
May 1964 – “Lucky Star” c/w “Everybody But Me” (Billboard no.127) (Imperial 66039)
June 1964 – “There’s Nothing I Can Say” (Billboard no.47) c/w “Lonely Corner” (Billboard no.113) (Decca 31656, UK Brunswick 05918)
November 1964 – “A Happy Guy” c/w “Don’t Breathe A Word” (Billboard no.82) (Decca 31703, UK Brunswick 05924)
March 1965 – “Mean Old World” c/w “When The Chips Are Down” (Billboard no.96) (Decca 31756)
June 1965 – “Come Out Dancing” c/w “Yesterday’s Love” (Billboard no.130) (Decca 31800, UK Brunswick 05939)
August 1965 – “Say You Love Me” c/w “Love And Kisses” (Decca 31845)
January 1966 – “Fire Breathin’ Dragon” c/w “Your Kind Of Lovin’” (Decca 31900)
May 1966 – “You Just Can’t Quit” c/w “Louisiana Man” (Billboard no.108) (Decca 31956)
July 1966 – “I Need You” c/w “A Wonder Like You” (Liberty 12033) UK reissue
October 1966 – “Things You Gave Me” c/w “Alone” (Decca 32026)
December 1966 – “They Don’t Give Medals (To Yesterday’s Heroes)” c/w “Take A Broken Heart” (Decca 32055)
April 1967 – “Take A City Bride” c/w “I’m Called Lonely” (Decca 32120)
August 1967 – “Suzanne On A Sunday Morning” c/w “Moonshine” (Decca 32176)
November 1967 – “Dream Weaver” c/w “Baby Close It’s Eyes” (Decca 32222)
March 1968 – “Don’t Blame It On Your Wife” c/w “Promenade In Green” (Decca 32284)
May 1968 – “Don’t Make Promises” c/w “Barefoot Boy” (Decca 32298)
August 1969 – “She Belongs To Me” c/w “Promises” (Decca 32550) Billboard no.33 (MCA MU 1106) ‘New Musical Express’ review says ‘it’s been quite a while since we last heard from Rick Nelson, and now he returns to the scene with this smooth and delicately-handled version of a Bob Dylan composition. Steel guitars inject a country flavour and unobtrusive chanting enhances Rick’s relaxed styling. There’s also a gently mid-tempo beat. And of course, it’s a great song. All of which adds up to a disc that’s very easy on the ear, though Dylan fans may feel it’s a bit too polished for their liking’
February 1970 – “Easy To Be Free” c/w “Come On In” (Billboard no.48) (Decca 32635)
April 1970 – “I Shall Be Released” c/w “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” (Billboard no.102) (Decca 32676)
July 1970 – “Look At Mary” c/w “We Got Such A Long Way To Go” (Decca 32711)
August 1970 – “How Long” c/w “Down Along The Bayou Country” (Decca 32739) UK MCA MU 1135
January 1971 – “Life” c/w “California” (Billboard no.109) (Decca 32779) ‘Record Mirror’ review says ‘his own song, this extremely pleasant subdued bouncer has surprisingly done well with the American ‘easy listening’ market. Grittier flip with steel guitar… he always was good and he’s now even better, altho’ maybe his songs aren’t quite so gutsy’
July 1971 – “Thank You Lord” c/w “Sing Me A Song” (Decca 32860)
November 1971 – “Gypsy Pilot” c/w “Love Minus Zero (No Limit)” (Decca 32906)
June 1972 – “Garden Party” c/w “So Long Mama” (Decca 32980) Billboard no.6 (UK, MCA MU 1165, no.41 21 October 1972)
January 1973 – “Palace Guard” c/w “A Flower Open Gently By” (Billboard no.65) (MCA 40001)
September 1973 – “Lifestream” c/w “Evil Woman” (MCA 40130)
January 1974 – “Windfall” c/w “Legacy” (MCA 40187) ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘Timbales (those fascinating percussion instruments) clank gently while Ricky sings a pleasant, shuffling ballad with added zing. It reminds me of Crosby Stills & Nash or America, or even the Doobie Brothers. In other words it has those intense vocals masked by understated backing. Worthy material indeed’
March 1974 – “One Night Stand” c/w “Lifestream” (MCA 40214)
April 1975 – “Try (Try To Fall In Love)” c/w “Louisiana Belle” (MCA 40392)
September 1975 – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lady” c/w “Fade Away” (MCA 40458)
September 1977 – “You Can’t Dance” c/w “It’s Another Day” (Epic 850458)
February 1978 – “Gimme A Little Sign” c/w “Love Is Somethin’ You Can’t Buy” (Epic 50501)
February 1979 – “Dream Lover” c/w “That Ain’t The Way Love’s Supposed To Be” (Epic 50674, reissued in 1986 as Epic 06066)
January 1981 – “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” c/w “Call It What You Want” (Capitol 4974)
March 1981 – “Believe What You Say” c/w “The Loser Babe Is You” (Capitol 4988)
August 1982 – “Give ‘Em My Number” c/w “No Fair Falling In Love”(Capitol 5178)
February 1986 – “You Know What I Mean” c/w “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (MCA 52781)
May 1986 – “Dream Lover” c/w “Rave On” (Epic 34-06066)
1990 – Rick Nelson and artist Kristen Harmon (married 20 April 1963 to divorce December 1982) had four children, actress Tracy Kristine Nelson (born 25 October 1963), twins Matthew and Gunnar (20 September 1967) and Sam Hilliard Nelson (born 29 August 1974). A further son – Eric Jude Crewe (born 14 February 1981) was born to Georgeann Crewe. The blonde twins cut a debut album – ‘After The Rain’ (Geffen) in 1990 as Nelson, which produced a US no.1 single “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection”. They recorded later albums for their own Stone Canyon Records label
November 1957 – ‘RICKY’ (Imperial LP-9048) uneasy mix of Rock and oldies (maybe influenced by Daddy Ozzie), with “Honeycomb” (Bob Merrill), “Boppin’ The Blues” (Carl Perkins and Howard Griffin), “Be-Bop Baby” (Pearl Lendhurst), “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” (Scotty Wiseman), “Teenage Doll” (George and Pearl Lendhurst), “If You Can’t Rock Me” (Willie Jacobs), “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” (Sunny David and Dave Williams), “Baby I’m Sorry” (Freddie Scott), “Am I Blue” (Harry Akst and Grant Clarke), “I’m Confessin’” (Doc Daugherty, Al Neiburg, Ellis Reynolds), “Your True Love” (Carl Perkins), “True Love” (Cole Porter). US Album Chart no.1
July 1958 – ‘RICKY NELSON’ (Imperial LP-9050) Track two, Jimmie Hodges song “Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You)” lifted as an ‘A’-side single in UK only. Album also includes Rick Nelson’s own songwriting debut “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, plus “There Goes My Baby” by James Burton and James Kirkland. Other tracks “Shirley Lee” (Trammell), “There’s Good Rockin’ Tonight” (Roy Brown), “I’m Feelin’ Sorry” (Clement), “Down The Line” (Roy Orbison and Phillips), “Unchained Melody” (Alex North and Hy Zaret), “I’m In Love Again” (Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino), “My Babe” (Willie Dixon), “I’ll Walk Alone” (Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne), “Poor Little Fool” (Sharon Sheeley). Vocal backing by the Jordanaires. US Album Chart no.7
January 1959 – ‘RICKY SINGS AGAIN’ (Imperial LP-9061) with Dorsey Burnette’s “It’s Late”, “One Of These Mornings” and “Believe What You Say” (with Johnny Burnette). Baker Knight’s “Lonesone Town”, “Never Be Anyone Else But You” and “You Tear Me Up”. “Be True To Love” by James Kirkland and Stuckey), plus “Tryin’ To Get To You” (Rose Marie McCoy and Charlie Singleton), “Old Enough To Love” (Al Jones, Bill Jones, Merle Kilgore), “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” (Hank Williams), “It’s All In The Game” (Charles Dawes and Carl Sigman), “Restless Kid” (Johnny Cash). Vocal backing by the Jordanaires. US Album Chart no.14
February 1960 – ‘RICKY SINGS SPIRITUALS’ EP (Imperial 165) With “Glory Train”, “I Bowed My Head In Shame”, “March With The Band Of The Lord” and “If You Believe It”. James Burton, James Kirkland, Ritchie Frost, Ray Johnson. US Chart no.22
July 1960 – ‘MORE SONGS BY RICKY’ (Imperial LP-9122) US Album Chart no.18
May 1961 – ‘RICK IS TWENTY-ONE’ (Imperial LP-9152) with “My One Desire” (Dorsey Burnette), “That Warm Summer Night” (Jerry Fuller), “Break My Chain” (Jerry Fuller), “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” (Louis Alter and Eddie DeLange), “I’ll Make Believe” (Johnny Rivers), “Travellin’ Man” (Jerry Fuller), “Oh Yeah, I’m In Love” (Gregory Carroll and Doris Payne), “Everybody But Me” (Dave Burgess), “Lucky Star” (Dave Burgess), “Sure Fire Bet” (Gene Pitney), “Stars Fell On Alabama” (Mitchell Parish and Frank Perkins), “Hello Mary Lou” (Gene Pitney). US Album Chart no.8
March 1962 – ‘ALBUM SEVEN BY RICK’ (Imperial 9167) US Album Chart no.27
December 1963 – ‘RICKY NELSON SINGS FOR YOU’ (Decca 74479) with “For You”, “Fools Rush In”, “Down Home”, “That Same Old Feeling”, “You’re Free To Go”, “I Rise, I Fall”, “That’s All She Wrote”, “A Legend In My Time”, “Just Take A Moment”, “Walkin’ Down The Line”, “Hello Mister Happiness”, “Hey There Little Miss Tease”, “The Nearness Of You”. Arranger: Jimmie Haskell. With James Burton, Joe Osborne, Ray Johnston, Ritchie Frost. US Album Chart no.14
August 1964 – ‘THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU’ (Decca 4559) Arranger: Jimmie Haskell. With James Burton, Joe Osborne, Ritchie Frost, B Stranges, J Kolbrak, Ray Johnson
November 1964 – ‘SPOTLIGHT ON RICK’ (Decca 4608) with “I’m A Fool”, “I Tried”, “I’m Talking About You”, “Yesterday’s Love”, “A Happy Guy”, “From A Distance”, “Stop, Look And Listen”, “Don’t Breathe A Word”, “That’s Why I Love You Like I Do”, “In My Dreams”, “Just Relax”, “Live And Learn”. Arranger: Jimmie Haskell. With James Burton, Joe Osborne, Ritchie Frost, B Stranges, J Kolbrak, Ray Johnson
May 1966 – ‘BRIGHT LIGHTS AND COUNTRY MUSIC’ (Decca 4036) with “Truck Drivin’ Man”, “You Just Can’t Quit”, “Louisiana Man”, “Welcome To My World”, “Kentucky Means Paradise”, “Here I Am”, “Bright Lights And Country Music”, “Hello Walls”, “No Vacancy”, “I’m A Fool To Care”, “Congratulations”, “Night Train To Memphis”. With James Burton, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, Clarence White, J Nichols, Glen D Hardin. ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘Not mad about Rick’s adaptation to Country music, but his fans will welcome the versatility. His first album in the idiom, with the Jordanaires among the backing sounds, includes well-loved songs and, occasionally, big orchestra’ (awarded two stars). ‘NME’ says ‘Noisy, energetic, rocking Country music, with plenty of Nashville-sounding string backing. The Jordanaires give good support to compelling singer Rick Nelson. Some of the lead guitar work is absorbing’ (three stars). ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘A dozen cuts from Rick who somehow manages to make this C&W album quite bearable. Although there is a certain amount of drone and whine Rick injects enough youth and humour resulting in a pleasant and atmospheric LP… without overpoweringly heavy doses of corn’
April 1967 – ‘COUNTRY FEVER’ (Decca 74837/ UK Brunswick STA8680) with “Take A City Bride”, “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “The Bridge Washed Out”, “Alone”, “Big Chief Buffalo Nickel (Desert Blues)”, “Mystery Train”, “Things You Gave Me”, “Take These Chains From My Heart”, “(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle Blow”, “Walkin’ Down The Line”, “You Win Again”, “Salty Dog”. Arranger: Jimmie Haskell. With James Burton, Joe Osborne, Clarence White, Glen Campbell, Ritchie Frost, Glen D Hardin. ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘Rick was once one of the top Pop stars, still is a distinctive sort of guy. His interest in Country music is fairly recent but this stands, without much argument, as one of his most consistent performances yet on LP. His own composition “Alone” is more than fair; his “Salty Dog” is full of good humour and honky-tonk piano backing. His “You Win Again’ can rate with the treatments by long-time Country greats. The range is from the unhappy to the jubilant. The style is mellow and, above all, very sincere. Dylan’s “Walkin’ Down The Line’ comes through well. It’s all very friendly. And musicianly’
November 1967 – ‘ANOTHER SIDE OF RICK’ (Decca DL4944/ UK MCA MUPS 302) Press ads announce ‘An album that breaks new ground in the evergreen world of Rick Nelson’. ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘Rick hasn’t meant very much for several years now here. But with names like Koppelman-Rubin, Jack Nitzsche, Don Peake given production credits, one is tempted to listen very carefully. And I found some interesting items here – apart from the many Timmy Hardin tracks, all of which are carefully, but unadventurously recorded. “Don’t Blame It On Your Wife” is the best thing Rick has recorded for some time, and I never thought Rick could put as much into “Georgia” as he does. An interesting LP’
January 1970 – ‘IN CONCERT, THE TROUBADOUR 1969’ (Decca 75162) Debut recording of Rick Nelson with The Stone Canyon Band, recorded 13 December. With “Come On In” (Rick Nelson), “Hello Mary Lou” (Gene Pitney), “Violets Of Dawn” (Eric Andersen), “Who Cares About Tomorrow/Promises” (Nelson), “She Belongs To Me” (Dylan), “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” (Dylan), “I’m Walkin’” (Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew), “Red Balloon” (Tim Hardin), “Louisiana Man” (Doug Kershaw), “Believe What You Say” (Dorsey and Johnny Burnette), “Easy To Be Free” (Nelson), “I Shall Be Released” (Dylan). Ricky Nelson (vocals, guitar), Randy Meisner (bass), Allen Kemp (guitar), Tom Brumley (steel guitar), Patrick Shanahan (drums) Liner notes: Eric Andersen. ‘NME’ writes ‘a very excellent live recording… it’s very Country with lovely steel guitar, and will surprise a lot of people who still think of him as Ricky Nelson of ‘Hello Mary Lou’ Pop hits fame’. US Album Chart no.54
September 1970 – ‘RICK SINGS NELSON’ by Rick Nelson And The Stone Canyon Band (Decca 75236 /MCA MUPS422) with “We’ve Got Such A Long Way To Go”, “California”, “Anytime”, “Down Along The Bayou Country”, “Sweet Mary”, “Look At Mary”, “The Reason Why”, “Mr Dolphin”, “How Long”, “My Woman” all by Rick Nelson. Rick Nelson (vocals, guitar, piano, producer), Allen Kemp (lead guitar), Tim Cetera (bass), Tom Brumley (steel guitar), Patrick Shanahan (drums). ‘Gramophone’ says ‘Mr Nelson’s writing is well up to the best of modern Country standards, and is not unrelievedly mournful either’. Richard Williams in ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘Like few albums recently, this one’ll pick you up when you’re down, make you smile, help you love a little more. Unlike most of our early-sixties idols, Nelson never did have feet of clay.’ US Album Chart no.196
December 1970 – ‘THE VERY BEST OF RICK NELSON’ (UK, Sunset Records SLS 50164) with side one: “Hello Mary Lou” (2:14), “Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You)” (2:48), “Lonesome Town” (2:13), “Be-Bop Baby” (1:58), “Stood Up” (1:49), “Never Be Anyone Else But You” (2:10), “(It’s A Young World” (2:24), “Believe What You Say” (2:02). Side two: “Travellin’ Man” (2:18), “It’s Up To You” (2:42), “Everlovin’” (2:04), “I Wanna Be Loved” (2:41), “Sweeter Than You” (2:15), “Just A Little Too Much” (2:08), “Poor Little Fool” (2:29), “It’s Late” (1:59) featured musicians Ricky Nelson (vocals, rhythm guitar), James Burton (lead guitar), Joe Osborn and James Kirkland (bass guitar), Richie Frost (drums), Gene Garf and Ray Johnson (piano), Jimmie Haskell (arranger and conductor)
November 1971 – ‘RUDY THE FIFTH’ Rick Nelson And The Stone Canyon Band (MCA MUPS 440) Rick’s 27th LP, with “This Train”, “Just Like A Woman”, “Sing Me A Song”, “The Last Time Around, “Song For Kristin”, ‘Honky Tonk Women”, “Feel So Good”, “Love Minus Zero (No Limit)”, “Gypsy Pilot” etc. With Rick Nelson (vocals, guitar, piano, producer), Allen Kemp (lead guitar), Rudy Meisner (bass), Tom Brumley (steel guitar), Patrick Shanahan (Drums), Andy Belling (piano). ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘This latest album, which coincides with a British tour, is mainly Country influenced material with a couple of Dylan numbers, a deplorable version of “Honky Tonk Women”… the Country influence lets up on the second side for a gospel sing-along “Thank You Lord” and a classical sounding “Song For Kristin”, an acoustic guitar/string instrumental. A welcome second coming’
March 1972 – ‘GARDEN PARTY’ Rick Nelson And The Stone Canyon Band (Decca 75391/ MCA MDKS 8009) with side one: “Let It Bring You Along”, “Garden Party”, “So Long Mama”, “I Wanna Be With You”, “Are You Really Real”. Side two: “I’m Talking About You” (Chuck Berry), “Night-Time Lady”, “A Flower Opens Gently By”, “Don’t Let Your Goodbye Stand”, “Palace Guard”. With Rick Nelson (vocals, guitar, production), Allen Kemp (lead guitar), Tom Brumley (steel guitar), Stephen A Love (bass), Patrick Shanahan (drums), Don Nelson (flute). US Album Chart no.32
January 1974 – ‘WINDFALL’ (MCA 383) Rick Nelson with the Stone Canyon Band. Includes “Legacy”, “Evil Woman Child”, “Windfall”, “Lifestream” (Nelson), “Someone To Love” (Rick Nelson). With Rick Nelson (vocals, guitar, producer), Dennis Larden (lead guitar), Tom Brumley (steel), Jay DeWitt White (bass), Ty Grimes (drums). Gregg Shaw writes ‘over his last three albums, Rick Nelson has attained the heights of creativity which even the excellence of his early work never prepared us for. In the year or so since ‘Garden Party’, anticipation among his audience has run high. And now ‘Windfall’ fulfils most expectations, but with a few surprises’ (in ‘Rolling Stone’)
March 1991 – ‘RICK NELSON SINGS FOR YOU’ (MCA) with “For You”, “Fools Rush In”, “A Legend In My Time” (Don Gibson), “You’re Free To Go” (one of the “He’ll Have To Go” sequels, by Don Robertson). Orchestral arrangements by Jimmy Haskell, with James Burton guitar
1983 – ‘ROCKIN’ WITH RICKY’ (Ace Records CDCHD85) original 14-track vinyl LP expanded with 18 bonus tracks for the CD reissue. Concentrates on early Rock ‘n’ Roll sides, “Mighty Good”, ‘Milk Cow Blues”, “If You Can’t Rock Me”, “Be-Bop Baby”, “There’s Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “It’s Late” etc
1985 – ‘RICK NELSON LIVE: THE COLLECTION’ (Castle Communications CCSLP211) Four months prior to his death Rick filmed a concert TV special at the Los Angeles Universal Amphitheatre. Which makes this soundtrack album his last live recording. Some of the more familiar songs lose none of their original charm even when his fine voice sounds a little bored. “Believe What You Say” and “It’s Late” benefit from a tough Rock ‘n’ Roll backing, while his long-time favourite covers of “Honky Tonk Women” and “Boppin’ The Blues” add to his reputation. Includes “Stood Up”, “Fools Rush In”, “Garden Party”, “Lonesome Town”