Ricky Nelson has been safely enshrined in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame for 24 years. As a star of the long running Ozzie and Harriet television series, he became one of the first teen idols of rock music during the late 1950s and early 1960s. He placed 54 songs on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart during his career but only two reached the top of the mountain.
Fifty years ago this week “Travelin’ Man” replaced “Mother-In-Law” by Ernie K-Doe as the number one song in the United States, ultimately spending two non-consecutive weeks at the top.
Jerry Fuller wrote the song and originally offered it to Sam Cooke, who turned it down. Nelson then quickly recorded the song, which went on to sell six million copies worldwide. Overall Nelson would go on to record 23 songs written by Fuller.
Typical of the innocent early 1960s, “Travelin’ Man” was a catchy pop song about having a girl in every port, including an Eskimo, a señorita, a fräulein, and a china doll, among others.
The flip side was also a hit song. “Hello Mary Lou,” written by Gene Pitney, also entered the top ten. Interestingly, it was the A-side of the single in most other countries. It reached number two in England and spent 14 weeks at number one in, of all places, Norway.
Nelson was only 21 when “Travelin” Man” became a hit, but it would, in many ways, mark the end of the first period of his career. He would start calling himself Rick Nelson instead of Ricky, and he would begin issuing more pop-oriented material as opposed to the rock songs that dominated his early releases.
Ricky Nelson would produce dozens of memorable songs during his career, but very few as good as his second number one hit. It was a well-deserved number one song 50 years ago this week.