97. Ricky Nelson

Ricky Nelson, later known as Rick Nelson, was a child television star who became a fine rock and roll singer in the late 1950s. His father, Ozzie Nelson, was a bandleader, while his mother Harriet was a singer in the band. The Nelsons made the transition from music to family radio comedy to television stars. Ricky was the younger of two sons, and eventually the two children were featured in the television show.

I strongly encourage you to read the Wikipedia biography. The man squeezed a lot out of his tragically shortened life:

Ricky Nelson’s Biography on Wikipedia


Ricky took an interest in rock and roll music, and asked his dad if he could perform a song on TV. Here is Ricky Nelson in his first performance on The Ozzie and Harriet Show:

Despite the rather stiff performance, ratings soared. Ricky was so cute!

Most of the show’s performances are lip-synched, and therefore less interesting. Here’s one more vintage live performance:

I have often said the two most underrated artists I know are KC & The Sunshine Band and Ricky Nelson. Ricky took his musical career seriously, and within a year had assembled his own band, featuring James Burton on guitar, now a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. His solos on songs like “Stood Up” and “Believe What You Say” help make these among the best 50s rock and roll songs.

We can agree to disagree on K.C. & The Sunshine Band.

Here are the boys ripping through “Believe What You Say”; the body language between them suggests a comfortable rapport:

It must be great having your father be a big shot TV producer. Ricky shouldn’t be faulted for taking full advantage of his good fortune. In addition to his fine band, he was blessed by the presence of the Jordanaires on backing vocals. The Jordanaires are most famous for backing Elvis Presley, but also worked in Nashville extensively, and contributed to great songs like Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”. Pretty much everything they touched was turned to gold. Their contributions to songs like “Travelin’ Man” and “Lonesome Town” should not be underestimated.

This is lip-synched, but here’s Ricky “performing” one of my favorites, “String Along”. The juxtaposition between the song sentiment and the fact that Ricky was so adorable is very amusing:

There are only a couple songs from the post-teen idol days, “Mean Old World” and “Garden Party”. Extra consideration is always given to unique stories, and “Garden Party” qualifies.

Here is the list of songs:

Travelin’ Man, Ricky Nelson ✭✭✭✭
Lonesome Town, Ricky Nelson ✭✭✭✭
Stood Up, Ricky Nelson ✭✭✭✭
Garden Party, Ricky Nelson ✭✭✭✭

String Along, Ricky Nelson ✭✭✭
Believe What You Say, Ricky Nelson ✭✭✭

Mean Old World, Ricky Nelson ✭✭
Poor Little Fool, Ricky Nelson ✭✭
It’s Late, Ricky Nelson ✭✭
Fools Rush In, Ricky Nelson ✭✭
Hello Mary Lou (Goodbye Heart), Ricky Nelson ✭✭
Be-Bop Baby, Ricky Nelson ✭✭
You’re So Fine, Ricky Nelson ✭✭
Waitin’ In School, Ricky Nelson ✭✭

Never Be Anybody Else But You, Ricky Nelson
I’m Walkin’, Ricky Nelson

Related songs:

I’m Walkin’ (Alt), Fats Domino ✭✭✭✭
I’m Walkin’, Fats Domino ✭✭✭

The (Alt) version of “I’m Walkin’” is a slower, real time version, which was speeded up slightly before national release.

String Along, Fleetwood Mac ✭✭

And since I shot my mouth off, here are the seven must-have songs by K.C. & The Sunshine Band:

Get Down Tonight, K.C. & The Sunshine Band ✭✭✭✭
(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty, K.C. & The Sunshine Band ✭✭✭✭

That’s The Way (I Like It), K.C. & The Sunshine Band ✭✭✭
I’m Your Boogie Man, K.C. & The Sunshine Band ✭✭✭
Please Don’t Go, K.C. & The Sunshine Band ✭✭✭

Rock Your Baby, K.C. & The Sunshine Band ✭✭
Boogie Shoes, K.C. & The Sunshine Band ✭✭
Keep It Comin’ Love, K.C. & The Sunshine Band ✭✭

Rock Your Baby, George McRae ✭✭✭

One thought on “97. Ricky Nelson

  1. Bill Steele January 5, 2011 / 4:35 PM

    John-I found your blog through your mention of it on Golf Club Atlas. I find your choices and analysis both eclectic and interesting. I had always thought Ricky Nelson fell into that category of manufactured teenage idols (given Ozzie’s pushing of him on the television show)…although I did like and admire “Garden Party” very much. However, in the late 1980’s, I saw Dylan in concert do a cover of “Lonesome Town” which made me go back and reconsider Nelson as an artist. I agree that he is vastly underrated by many. As far as KC and the Sunshine Band, I know there is a tendency to downgrade disco era music, but every time I hear “Get Down Tonight” (especially the first few bars) and “That’s The Way (I Like It)” it gets me moving. By the way, I never understood why “I Like It” was in parentheses. Oh well…

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