Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ricky Nelson

It’s crazy to say this maybe, but I think Rick Nelson was always cool. Even when he was a geeky teenage idol, he was cool. That’s not to be taken lightly. I mean, Tab Hunter, Tommy Sands, love ‘em or hate ‘em, but they weren’t so cool. Nor was Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Vee, Paul Anka, or even Bobby Sherman.

But Ricky, he was cool. The proof, if any is needed, was his successful reinvention of himself as a country-fold-rock singer songwriter. No album by Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band would have been out of place in an early 70s collection with CNSY and Melanie and Curved Air and Savoy Brown.

But even before that, he exuded a self confidence and attitude, even with juvenile material (Young Emotions), and when the material was good (Restless Kid) it was no contest.

And for the inevitable statistics: Ricky had exactly 100 top 100 singles, the first in 1957, the last in 1973. I have 35 in this self-made collection, and I have more elsewhere, in a collection that I downloaded but haven’t actually listened to yet.

I got the Verve tracks from some kind of Baby Boomer collection, and I’ve got the Legendary Masters Series, the double album, which I procured at the Country Music Centre, and which had an unholy mix of hits and others. And I have a cassette collection called Teenage Idol, which doesn’t work very well anymore, and the Decca tracks come from The Decca Years, which is brief, but nice. I got a few singles too – Mighty Good , I Wanna Be Loved / Summertime.

He became “Rick” in 1962, and some of his later stuff was released as Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band.

Ricky Nelson:

A Teenager’s Romance – Ricky’s first hit was a clone of Tommy Sands’ Teenage Crush, except that it sounded different and had a Jordinaires soundalike group on background vocals. From the summer of 1957.
Be-Bop Baby – Not bebop at all of course. This is still the 50s version of bubble gum. From the fall of 1957.
I’m Walking – The A side of that first hit. The vocal is a bit stilted, I mean come on, listen to Fats. But it does swing a bit. From the summer of 1957.
Stood Up – Not a nice feeling. “Stood up,” he says, “brokenhearted, again.” I wonder whether the “again” refers to brokenhearted, or stood up, because if he’s brokenhearted again, well, hey, that’s life. But stood up again? Once it’s forgivable. Twice? Well… from the winter of 1958.
Tryin’ To Get To You – The romantic partner as the elusive goal. Elvis recorded this for Sun and RCA put it on his first LP, and Roy Orbison recorded this, also for Sun. There is an oddball version by The McGarrigle Sisters as well.
MyBabe – By Willy Dixon. An R&B hit by Little Walter, and covered by many.
Milk Cow Blues – From Johnny Lee Wills & His Boys to Elvis to Eddie Cochran to Ricky Nelson. For a teen idol Ricky had a good sense of rock and roll. From the winter of 1961
Poor Little Fool – A number 1 hit in the summer of 1958. Here’s Ricky the dupe. He has his comeuppance. Frankie Mills did a remake in the early 70s.
Waitin’ In School – Ricky the teenager, compare School Day by Chuck Berry, and you hear the innocence in this. The B side of Stood Up and a hit in the winter of 1958.
I Believe What You Say – Why wouldn’t he. An odd way to express commitment. From the spring of 1958.
Shirley Lee – Done by Billy Lee Riley as Pearly Lee.
Down The Line – Just straight ahead rock and roll, just as the title suggests.
• I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You) – Didn’t Patsy Cline do this? So did B. J. Thomas. So did etc etc… By Hank Williams
I’m In Love Again – Well, I’m Walkin’ did well enough, so here is another Fats Domino number.
It’s Late – Wake Up Little Suzie redux, but without so much drama. From the spring of 1959.
Old Enough To Love – A series of over-the-top metaphors prove that he may be old enough but he certainly isn’t disciplined enough. This snuck into the top 100 for 3 weeks in the spring of 1963.
Restless Kid – Ricky brings his mellow delivery to the tale of the kid who could not stop moving. There is something subtly sophisticated and endlessly cool about this one.
Just A Little Too Much – Can one love too much? From the summer of 1959.
A Long Vacation – The answer to Summertime Blues.
Lonesome Town – The understated arrangement here is perfect: the vocals, the acoustic guitar arrangement, the backing vocals. Today they would pour electric piano all over it like sticky syrup that would turn the whole thing to goo. From the fall of 1958.
Travelin’ Man – This mellow tale of a roving vagabond reached number 1 in the summer of 1961. In the words of Mark Sten: “…the music and the melody where so despondent that the record seems oddly schizoid.”
Young Emotions – here’s where it gets syrupy, and it highlights the quality of a record like Lonesome Town. From the summer of 1960.
Never Be Anyone Else But You –The divorce rate would argue otherwise. From the spring of 1959.
Young World – When you’re in love the whole world is young. Or something. A typical Ricky ballad, from the spring of 1962.
I’ve Got My Eyes On You (And I Like What I See) – Just like that.
Teenage Idol – The lonesome life of the star. Why don’t I believe it. From the fall of 1962.
It’s Up To You – Put your life into someone else’s hands. Go ahead. Well… this was a hit in the winter of 1963. Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas covered this.
A Wonder Like You – Compare your girl to the pyramids, I supposed it’s worth a try. From the fall of 1961.
I’ve Got A Feeling – Not the Crowbar song. From the fall of 1958.
Everlovin’ – The B side of A Wonder Like You. From the fall of 1961.
Sweeter Than You – The B side of A Little Too Much and a hit in the summer of 1959, this is similar to Lonesome Town, except that the actual song isn’t nearly as good.
My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It – This Hank Williams song, the B side of I Believe What You Say, was a hit in the spring of 1958.
Don’t Leave Me – Not so many of Ricky’s songs are about romantic discord, but here’s one that is.
My One Desire – This is a song by someone with only one thing on his mind, by his own admission.
Hello Mary Lou – What may be Nelson’s most famous record, this was written by Gene Pitney, who did his own, somewhat anemic, version. It only ever reached number 15 on Billboard, and that was in the springof 1961, and it was the B side of Travelin’ Man. The Statler Brothers covered this.
That’s All – A balladeer standard. Ricky’s version is from the spring of 1963.
There’s Nothing I Can Say – From the fall of 1964, a new Ricky (Rick by then, actually). Here he is recording for Decca, and he’s lost the teen idol sound totally. This is slightly country, very mellow, and very real.
For You – Not the Bruce Springsteen song. An earlier Decca side, sort of a bridge sound between the old Ricky and the new Rick. From the winter of 1964.
Mighty Good – This was one side. From late 1959. A bit more rock and roll than usual.
I Wanna Be Loved – And this is the other side. Also from late 1959.
Summertime – An odd arrangement, it sounds exactly like We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet by Blues Magoos, a song that would not exist for another five years. This was the B side of Young World, and a small hit in the winter of 1962.
Garden Party – Rick’s vindication. This record by Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band put Nelson back in the top 10 for the first time in 10 years, and that was in the fall of 1972. This tale of the frustration of trying to feed new music to an audience waiting for oldies was all over the radio, but it wasn’t really a good radio hit; the tune is too thin to stand repeated playings. Yes I know I said it was a great record. Live with it. • Fools Rush In – An adaption of a standard, from the fall of 1963.
String Along – Tale of a guy that’s feeling kind of ignored. This, if I’m not mistaken, was his first Decca hit, in the spring of 1963. A hit also for Fabian.
The Very Thought Of You – Rick experimenting with styles. From the spring of 1964.
For Your Sweet Love – Another example of what is essentially the Ricky Nelson updated and slightly countrified.
I’m Called Lonely – This is real hard core country. From the late 60s.
I’m Talking About You – And this is rock and roll. Chuck Berry did this, so did the Stones.
She Belongs To Me – By Bob Dylan, from Bringing It All Back Home. Rick’s version was a top 40 record late in 1969, though I never heard it on the radio. There is a version of this song by The Nice, and this is the only other one I know, and it’s worthy.

No comments:

Locations of visitors to this page