Ricky Nelson was probably the first rock and roll star created exclusively by television. Joining the radio cast of Ozzie and Harriet in 1949, he would go on to appear on the television version from 1952-1966. At age seventeen, in 1957, he scored a national number four hit with the Fats Domino song “I’m Walkin’.” The Nelson family was quick to capitalize on this success and for years would end each show with Ricky performing one of his songs. This television exposure would propel Ricky Nelson to thirty top forty hits in a five year period.
The British Invasion and the cancellation of Ozzie and Harriet saw the end of commercial success for Ricky Nelson. In the early 1970s , Nelson re-invented himself as a country rock artist and released the critically acclaimed Garden Party album. While commercial success would elude him, he kept releasing albums and touring until his death in 1985 in a plane crash.
Greatest Love Songs is a 22-song CD that covers the famous and some not so famous love songs from Ricky Nelson’s career.
Ricky Nelson remains a smooth and pleasurable listening experience. However, this disc by virtue of its theme has a couple of things working against it. First, because of the fact that it features just love songs, it eliminates his outstanding early Rockabilly catalogue of up-tempo recordings. Second, it is difficult to find 22 excellent love songs by Ricky Nelson; to fill out the album, some of his later and weaker material had to be included.
When Greatest Love Songs sticks to early career songs by Nelson it shines: “Poor Little Fool,” “Lonesome Town,” “Hello Mary Lou,” “Young Emotions,” “I Wanna Be Loved,” “It’s Up To You,” and “Teenage Idol” are all Ricky Nelson at his best and nearly half a century later provide a good listening experience. Nelson had a decent voice that could carry a ballad well.
The problems begin during the second half of the album. Covers of such songs as “Dream Lover,” “Unchained Melody,” “It’s All In The Game,” “Dream Lover,” and “True Love Ways” all pale in comparison to the original versions. Nelson has difficulty adapting his particular vocal style to these unique songs. There is nothing truly offensive here but nothing outstanding either.
All in all, Greatest Love Songs is a good introduction to the legacy of Rickey Nelson. No, it does not gather all of his best work into one place, but it does provide an excellent sampling of a section of his career.
Ricky Nelson remains a somewhat forgotten figure in 1950s rock history, despite being elected to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1957 and selling more records from 1957-1962 than anyone except Elvis. Greatest Love Songs can be a good jumping off place to explore the catalogue and legacy of Ricky Nelson, but don’t just stop here – there is a lot more great Ricky Nelson music out there waiting to be explored.