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Rick Nelson

Rick Nelson was one of the very biggest of the '50s teen idols, so it took awhile for him to attain the same level of critical respectability as other early rock greats. Yet now the consensus is that he made some of the finest pop/rock recordings of his era. Sure, he had more promotional push than any other rock musician of the '50s; no, he wasn't the greatest singer; and yes, Elvis, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins, and others rocked harder. But Nelson was extraordinarily consistent during the first five years of his recording career, crafting pleasant pop-rockabilly hybrids with ace session players and projecting an archetype of the sensitive, reticent young adult with his accomplished vocals. He also played a somewhat underestimated role in rock & roll's absorption into mainstream America -- how bad could rock be if it was featured on one of America's favorite family situation comedies on a weekly basis?

Nelson entered professional entertainment before his tenth birthday, when he appeared with father Ozzie (once a jazz musician), mother Harriet, and brother David on a radio comedy series based around the family. By the early '50s, the series was on television, and Ricky grew into a teenager in public. He was just the right age to have his life turned around by rock & roll in 1956 and started his recording career almost accidentally the following year. The story's sometimes been told that he had no professional singing ambitions until he recorded his debut single to impress a girlfriend. The single, a cover of Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'" that went to number four, was helped immensely (as all of his early singles would be) by plugs on the Ozzie & Harriet TV show.

So far the script was adhering to the Pat Boone teen idol prototype -- a whitewash of an R&B hit stealing the thunder from the pop audience, sung by a young, good-looking fella with barely any musical experience to speak of. What happened next was easy to predict commercially but surprisingly satisfying musically as well. Nelson was a fairly hip kid who preferred the rockabilly of Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley to the fodder dished out for teen idols, and over the next five years he would offer his own brand of rockabilly music, albeit one with some smooth Hollywood production touches and occasional pure pop ballads. Nelson recruited one of the greatest early rock guitarists, James Burton, to supply authentic licks (another great guitarist, Joe Maphis, played on some early sides). Some of his best and toughest songs ("Believe What You Say," "It's Late") were written by Johnny and/or Dorsey Burnette, who had previously been in one of the best rockabilly combos, the Johnny Burnette Rock 'n Roll Trio. Ricky could rock pretty hard when he wanted to, as on "Be-Bop Baby" and "Stood Up," though in a polished fashion that wasn't quite as wild and threatening as rockabilly's Southern originators.

Nelson really hit his stride, though, with mid-tempo numbers and ballads that provided a more secure niche for his calm vocals and narrow range. From 1957 to 1962, he was about the highest-selling singer in the U.S. except for Elvis, making the Top 40 about 30 times. "Poor Little Fool" and "Lonesome Town" (1958) were early indications of his ballad style; in the early '60s, "Travelin' Man," "Young World," "Teen Age Idol," and other hits pointed to a more countrified, mature style as he honed in on his 21st birthday (by which time he would shorten his billing from "Ricky" to "Rick"). He could still play rockabilly from time to time, the most memorable example being "Hello, Mary Lou" (co-written by Gene Pitney), with its electrifying James Burton solos.

Nelson was lured away from the Imperial label by a mammoth 20-year contract with Decca in 1963 (which would be terminated prematurely in the mid-'70s), and for a year or so the hits continued, at a less frenetic pace. Early-1964's "For You," however, would be his last big smash of the '60s. The fault wasn't all the Beatles and changing music trends -- on both singles and albums, much of the material was either substandard pop or dusty Tin Pan Alley standards, although isolated tracks still generated some sparks. He wasn't exactly starving, as he continued to appear on Ozzie and Harriet. But by the mid-'60s even that institution was declining in popularity, leading to its cancellation in 1966.

Nelson had a strong country feel to much of his material from the beginning, and by the late '60s it was becoming dominant. He covered straight country material by the likes of Willie Nelson and Doug Kershaw and formed one of the earliest country-rock groups, the Stone Canyon Band, with musicians who had played (or would play) with Poco, Buck Owens, Little Feat, and Roger McGuinn. A cover of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me" made the Top 40 in 1970, but his country-rock outings attracted more critical acclaim than commercial success, until 1972's "Garden Party." A rare self-composed number, based around the frosty reception granted his contemporary material at a rock & roll oldies show, it became his last Top Ten hit.

Nelson would continue to record off and on for the next dozen years and toured constantly, yet he was unable to capitalize on his assets. A big part of the problem was that although Nelson wanted to play contemporary music, he didn't write much of his own material, which was a basic precept of self-respecting rock acts after the advent of the Beatles. Nor did he tap into good outside compositions, and there's little of interest on the albums he recorded over the last decade or so of his life. He died (along with his fiancée) in a private plane crash on December 31, 1985, on his way to a New Year's Eve gig in Dallas, at the age of 45. ~ Richie Unterberger
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: The Complete Epic Recordings

Disc 1

1. You Can't Dance

2. Something You Can't Buy

3. I Wanna Move With You

4. Five Minutes More

5. Gimme A Little Sign

6. Stay Young

7. Wings

8. It's Another Day

9. One X One

10. Change Your Mind

11. Everyday I Have To Cry Some

12. Love You So

13. Chump Change Romeo

14. What Is Success

15. Carl Of The Jungle

16. No Words Of Love

17. New Delhi Freight Train

18. Mama, You've Been On My Mind

19. Getting It On

20. Conversation

Disc 2

1. That's Alright Mama (Memphis Sessions Mix)

2. Send Me Somebody To Love (Memphis Sessions Mix)

3. Stuck In The Middle (Memphis Sessions Mix)

4. It Shall Remain

5. It's All Over Now (Memphis Sessions Mix)

6. Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone (Memphis Sessions Mix)

7. That Ain't The Way Love Supposed To Be (Original Mix From The 16-Track Master)

8. In My Heart

9. Almost Saturday Night (Memphis Sessions Mix)

10. Dream Lover (Original Mix From The 16-Track Master)

11. True Love Ways (Memphis Sessions Mix)

12. Sleep Tight, Good Night Man (Memphis Sessions Mix)

13. Rave On (Memphis Sessions Mix)

14. Dream Lover (Memphis Sessions Mix)

15. Send Me Somebody To Love

16. Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone

17. Almost Saturday Night

18. Rave On

19. Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone (Ep Version)

20. Almost Saturday Night (Ep Version)

21. Rave On (Ep Version)

x

Track List: Stay Young: The Epic Recordings

1. One X One

2. You Can't Dance

3. Wings

4. Five Minutes More

5. Something You Can't Buy

6. Gimme A Little Sign

7. Stay Young

8. Mama, You've Been On My Mind

9. Carl Of The Jungle

10. Conversation

11. New Delhi Freight Train

12. That's All Right Mama

13. Dream Lover

18. That Ain't The Way Love Supposed To Be

x

Track List: The Best Of Rick Nelson: 1963 - 1975

1. Fools Rush In

2. String Along

3. There's Nothing I Can Say

4. The Very Thought Of You

5. Since I Don't Have You

6. For You

7. Mean Old World

8. Gypsy Woman

9. Mystery Train

10. She Belongs To Me

11. Garden Party

12. Easy To Be Free

13. Rock-N-Roll Lady

14. Fadeaway

15. One Night Stand

x

Track List: Playing To Win

1. Almost Saturday Night (Remastered 2001)

2. Believe What You Say (Remastered 2001)

3. Little Miss American Dream (Remastered 2001)

4. The Loser Babe Is You (Remastered 2001)

5. Back To Schooldays (Remastered 2001)

6. It Hasn't Happened Yet (Remastered 2001)

7. Call It What You Want (Remastered 2001)

8. I Can't Take It No More (Remastered 2001)

9. Don't Look At Me (Remastered 2001)

10. Do The Best You Can (Remastered 2001)

11. No Fair Falling In Love (Remastered 2001)

12. Give 'Em My Number (Remastered 2001)

13. Tired Of Toeing The Line (Remastered 2001)

14. Rave On (Remastered 2001)

15. Doll Hospital (Remastered 2001)

16. Radio Girl (Remastered 2001)

x

Track List: Garden Party

1. Let It Bring You Along

2. Garden Party

3. So Long Mama

4. I Wanna Be With You

5. Are You Really Real?

6. I'm Talking About You

7. Nightime Lady

8. A Flower Opens Gently

9. Don't Let Your Goodbye Stand

10. Palace Guard

x

Track List: Rudy The Fifth

1. This Train

2. Just Like A Woman

3. Sing Me A Song

4. The Last Time Around

5. Song For Kristin

6. Honky Tonk Woman

7. Feel So Good (Feel So Fine)

8. Life

9. Thank You Lord

10. Song For Kristin (Additional Strings)

11. Love Minus Zero / No Limit

12. Gypsy Pilot

x

Track List: Rick Nelson In Concert (The Troubadour, 1969)

1. Come On In (Live At The Troubadour/1969)

2. Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart (Live At The Troubadour/1969)

3. Violets Of Dawn (Live At The Troubadour/1969)

4. Who Cares About Tomorrow - Promises (Live At The Troubadour/1969)

5. She Belongs To Me (Live)

6. If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Live At The Troubadour/1969)

7. I'm Walkin' (Live At The Troubadour/1969)

8. Red Balloon (Live At The Troubadour/1969)

9. Louisiana Man (Live)

10. Believe What You Say (Live)

11. Easy To Be Free (Live At The Troubadour/1969)

12. I Shall Be Released (Live At The Troubadour/1969)

x

Track List: Rick Sings Nelson

1. We've Got Such A Long Way To

2. California

3. Anytime

4. Down Along The Bayou Country

5. Sweet Mary

6. Look At Mary

7. Can't You See The Reason Why

8. Mr. Dolphin

9. How Long

10. My Woman

x

Track List: Perspective

1. When The Sun Shined Its Face On Me

2. Without Her

3. The Lady Stayed With Me

4. Three Day Eternity

5. For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her

6. Stop By My Window

7. Hello To The Wind

8. Wait Till Next Year

9. Love Story

10. So Long Dad / Love Story (Reprise) (Medley)

11. I Think It's Gonna Rain Today

x

Track List: Country Fever

1. Take A City Bride

2. Funny How Time Slips Away

3. The Bridge Washed Out

4. Alone

5. Big Chief Buffalo Nickel (Desert Blues)

6. Mystery Train

7. Things You Gave Me

8. Take These Chains From My Heart

9. (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle Blow

10. Walkin' Down The Line

11. You Win Again

12. Salty Dog

x

Track List: Another Side Of Rick

1. Dream Weaver

2. Marshmallow Skies

3. Don't Blame It On Your Wife

4. Reason To Believe

5. Suzanne On A Sunday Morning

6. Baby Close Its Eyes

7. Barefoot Boy

8. Don't Make Promises

9. Promenade In Green

10. Georgia On My Mind

11. Daydream

12. I Wonder If Louise Is Home

x

Track List: Bright Lights & Country Music

1. Truck Drivin' Man

2. You Just Can't Quit

3. Louisiana Man

4. Welcome To My World

5. Kentucky Means Paradise

6. Here I Am

7. Bright Lights And Country Music

8. Hello Walls

9. No Vacancy

10. I'm A Fool To Care

11. Congratulations

12. Night Train To Memphis

x

Track List: Spotlight On Rick

1. I'm A Fool

2. I Tried

3. I'm Talking About You

4. Yesterday's Love

5. A Happy Guy

6. From A Distance

7. Stop, Look, Listen

8. Don't Breathe A Word

9. That's Why I Love You Like I Do

10. In My Dreams

11. Just Relax

12. Live And Learn

x

Track List: Best Always

1. I'm Not Ready For You Yet

2. You Don't Know Me

3. Ladies Choice

4. Lonely Corner

5. Only The Young

6. Mean Old World

7. I Know A Place

8. Since I Don't Have You

9. It's Beginning To Hurt

10. My Blue Heaven

11. How Does It Go

12. When The Chips Are Down

x

Track List: Love And Kisses

1. Love And Kisses

2. I Catch Myself Crying

3. Love Is Where You Find It

4. Try To Remember

5. Our Own Funny Way

6. Liz

7. Say You Love Me

8. More (Theme From "Mondo Cane")

9. Raincoat In The River

10. Come Out Dancin'

11. I Should Have Loved You More

12. I Paid For Loving You

x

Track List: The Very Thought Of You

1. My Old Flame

2. Just A Little Bit Sweet

3. The Loneliest Sound

4. You'll Never Fall In Love Again

5. The Very Thought Of You

6. I Don't Wanna Love You

7. I'll Get You Yet

8. I Wonder (If Your Love Will Ever Belong To Me)

9. Be My Love

10. I Love You More Than You Know

11. Love Is The Sweetest Thing

12. Dinah

Comments

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welcome to the hotel california
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GARDEN PARTY FAV
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Very special in all the guitar music I play'! Ricks not to be forgotten or his tv show !!
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Love Rick Nelson--one of the best!!!!
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it doesent get any better than ricky
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RICK & RICKY NELSON 50es Only Music ROCK MUSIC
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LOVE RICK NELS0N ,AND LOVE ALL OF HIS MUSIC HE WAS GREAT,IN SOME WAYS HE WAS MORE POPULAR THAN ELVIS,FOR AWHILE ANY WAY SUCH AN ICON.
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RICK NELSON and Ricky Nelsom....
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ecox654
Glad to spend the morning listening to many of Rick's early hits. Loved his style both on and off the stage.
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Much overlooked Artist, He was at the top of his game in 1985 with remakes of his former timeless hits..I recorded a Tribute Album that can be seen on You Tube under Lee Walker 58 or visit me Facebook
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I saw Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band around 1980 or 81, he was great.
Report as inappropriate
He was MY "heart throb". His sleepy bedroom eyes.
Report as inappropriate
RICK NELSON WAS A DAMN GOOD ARTIST,A CLASS ACT

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