Travelin’ Man By Ricky Nelson

July 17, 2014


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.

Poor Little Fool by Ricky Nelson

December 23, 2013


Ricky Nelson placed 54 songs on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Singles Charts but only two made it to number one. The first of the two became the first single to top the newly created BILLBOARD Hot 100 Chart.

Billboard had just discontinued their Most Played By DJ’s Chart leaving only their Top 100 and Best Sellers In Stores Chart. The Top 100 became the Hot 100, which would be their major pop singles chart for decades. “Poor Little Fool” became the initial number one song on the Hot 100, August 4, 1958, and it remained in that position for two weeks. It also topped the Best Sellers In Stores Chart for the same two weeks.

Ricky Nelson had a big advantage over most other recording artists of the 1950s as he was able to sing his songs at the end of the popular OZZIE AND HARRIET television, which had made him a star and one of the original teen idols. He came into millions of homes via television each week, which enabled him to sell tens of millions of albums and singles during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

My Favorite Albums From 1961

January 7, 2012

This is the third year in a row that I have looked at my favorite albums from 50 years ago. Since I was not buying albums at the time, my appreciation of the music is after the fact. I have also found that my musical tastes of pre-Beatles era material tends to be more eclectic now than it ever used to be. So, here are my top 10 albums from 1961.

10) New Juke Box Hits by Chuck Berry.

Average Chuck Berry was still better than most of what was being released during the early 1960s. There are none of his definitive hits here but what was included was a solid example of Berry type of rock ‘n’ roll. The best known song was “I’m Talking About You,” which was covered by a host of bands including The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, The Yardbirds, the early Beatles, and The Animals. Add in such straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll such as “Runaround,” “Rip It Up,” “Stop and Listen,” “Little Star,” “Diploma For Two,” and “Sweet Sixteen” and you have a very solid, if not classic album.

9) Lonely And Blue by Roy Orbison.

Roy Orbison will always be remembered for his series of single releases for the Monument label during the first half of the 1960s. His perfect tenor voice that could soar almost beyond belief was the perfect vehicle for the catchy rock and pop he produced during his classic period. Any of his Greatest Hits albums from the era are music bliss. Lonely And Blue was his first album for the Monument label and while there are a number of what can be called filler songs, he still manages to make them interesting and listenable. The highlights were his big hit “Only The Lonely)” and his interpretations of two Don Gibson tunes, “I’d Be A Legend In My Time” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Any Roy Orbison album on the Monument album would make most top 10 lists for any given year.

8) Volume 2 by Joan Baez.

Joan Baez was a pivotal figure in the folk revival movement of the 1960s. Her perfect pitch voice, her commitment to social causes, and her choice of material made her an important figure during the decade. Her debut album made my top 10 list last year and her sophomore effort was more of the same. It was mainly traditional material such as “Lily Of The West,” “Old Blue,” “Banks Of The Ohio,” and “Lonesome Road,” which not only entertained but told timeless stories.

7) Now Here’sJohnny Cash by Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash had left the Sun label and signed with Columbia but left behind a number of tracks in the Sun vault. By the early 1960s he was on his way to becoming a country superstar. Sun kept releasing his early material to capitalize on his growing popularity. Now Here’sJohnny Cash was his only 1961 release. These older tracks caught Cash on the cusp of transitioning from a rockabilly artist to one who would help establish what would become traditional country music of the era. It was a more simple sound with only minimal backing but the album is a nice ride through his early career and helps to understand the foundation and early evolution of his music.

6) The Genius Sings The Blues by Ray Charles.

Ray Charles was about to sign with the ABC-Paramount label for whom he would sell tens of millions of albums and in his own way would change the fabric of American music. It turned out that he had one last good album in him for the Atlantic label. He fused a strong blues element with his brand of soul that emerged as one of the more creative and influential albums of the year. What he did with such songs as “(Night Time Is) The Right Time,” “The Midnight Hour,” “I Believe To My Soul,” and “Nobody Cares” hinted at his infusion of country elements to his music in the years ahead.

5) A Man Of Constant Sorrow by Judy Collins.

Today it is easy to forget what an important part of the early folk movement Judy Collins was during the 1960s. 1961 saw the release of her debut album that contained mostly traditional folk songs from around he world, plus a reworking of Bob Dylan’s “A Man Of Constant Sorrow.” The album is somewhat dated today but remains a nice glimpse into a very different world of 50 years ago.

4) Roy Orbison At The Rock House by Roy Orbison.

This is a repeat of the Johnny Cash release. The Sun label released this album to capitalize on Orbison’s growing popularity with the Monument label. This was the pre-pop Orbison who was a rocking rockabilly singer. “Devil Doll,” “Ooby Dooby,” “Rock House,” “Mean Little Mama,” and “Sweet And Easy To Love” showed a very different artist than he would become later. It remains a unique album in his catalogue of releases, one of the better releases of 1961, and is still worth seeking out for a listen or two.

3) Blue Hawaii by Elvis Presley.

Elvis issued a number of forgettable soundtrack albums during his career but this one was a winner. Blue Hawaii spent 20 weeks in the number one position on the Billboard Magazine Pop Album Chart and was one of the 10 most commercially successful albums of the decade. It deserved every accolade it received, as the music was equal to many of his studio albums of the time. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” and “Rock-A-Hula-Baby” are almost worth the price of admission alone. An essential Elvis Presley release, which is very high praise indeed.

2) Patsy Cline Showcase byPatsy Cline.

This was Patsy Cline’s second studio album and it would make her a star. Her hits “I Fall To Pieces,” “Crazy,” and “Walkin’ After Midnight” are all memorable and definitive country songs. Her covers of “The Wayward Wind,” “San Antonio Rose,” and “True Love” all showed an artist of depth and talent. While country music has never dominated my turntable time, this was an album that has received extensive play during the last several decades.

1) Rick Is 21 by Ricky Nelson.

Ricky Nelson released dozens of albums during his career, but no studio album as good as this one. It was the perfect cross between the rock of his early career and the increasingly pop sound that he would develop during the 1960s. Big hits such as “Travelin’ Man” and “Hello Mary Lou” would serve as counterpoints to the rocking “Break My Chain” and the ballad “Stars Fell On Alabama.” It was the first Ricky Nelson album I purchased and it remains my favorite release of 1961.

Greatest hits by Ricky Nelson

October 28, 2011

Except for Elvis Presley, no artist was as commercially successful during the late 1950s and early 1960s pre-British Invasion era than Ricky Nelson. He was a wholesome and safe alternative to the likes of Elvis, Fats Domino, and Little Richard, but a lot more hip than Pat Boone and The Kingston Trio.
One of the original teen idols, Nelson had the advantage of starring in the television series, The Adventures of Ozzie And Harriet. As he got a bit older he would close many of their episodes with a performance of his newest single. This constant exposure to a weekly television fan base resulted in his singles and albums selling in the tens of millions.

His early career was built around a combination of rockabilly songs mixed in with ballads. Many of his singles became double hits, where both sides of the record would chart; usually one side would be uptempo rock ‘n’ roll and the other side something slower. During the early ’60s he moved toward a more polished pop sound.

Nelson’s material has been released many times over the ensuing years. Unless you want to explore his legacy through a box set or the reissue of his original albums, though, the best representation of his sound is the 2005 release, Greatest Hits. Its 25 tracks cover most of his hits from 1957 through 1963, except for one song. My only complaint is that they are not in chronological order, which is always appreciated with a compilation album like this.

The best of the rockabilly sides include covers of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin,’” “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It,” and “Be Bop Baby.” This side of his career is often ignored today but these tracks, among others, remain an important part in the development of rock ‘n’ roll as it exposed this type of material to a middle American audience.

Ballads such as “Poor Little Fool,” “Lonesome Town,” “Never Be Anyone Else But You,” and “Young Emotions” represent some of the best of the era.

“Travelin’ Man” and “Hello Mary Lou,” released in 1961, continued the trend of combining rockabilly and ballads on one single but here more of a pop sheen was added to the mix. Both sides became huge hits, with “Travelin’ Man” reaching number one on the Billboard Singles Chart and “Hello Mary Lou” checking in at number nine. They remain two of Nelson’s better and most recognizable performances.

“Fools Rush In” is the only track from 1963 and marked his transition to a pop sound. It would also mark the beginning of a downturn in his popularity as The Beatles were about to change music, likening his style and sound more as a link to the past.

I would have liked to have had 1962’s “Teenage Idol” and 1972’s “Garden Party” presented back to back as they represent the two sides of his artistry and make for nice bookends when considering his overall career.

Ricky Nelson died in a plane crash at the age of 45. He is a member of both the Rock and Roll and Rockabilly Halls of Fame. When the best of his music is culled down to 25 tracks, it becomes an essential listening experience to anyone even mildly interested in the music of the late ’50s and early ’60s.

Article first published as Music Review: Ricky Nelson – Greatest Hits on Blogcritics.

I’M Walkin’ 45 by Ricky Nelson

January 22, 2011

Rick Nelson covered Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin'” two months after its release. That was typical during the fifties as white artists would issue pop versions of the rhythm and blues hits of the day. Many times this prevented the R&B versions from becoming hits on the pop charts. Once in awhile the originals would sneak through.

Ricky Nelson sang “I’m Walkin'” on the Ozzie & Harriet show and then released it as the B side of his first record during May of 1957. “A Teenager’s Romance” would reach number two on the pop charts and “I’m Walkin'” would reach number four, which was exactly the same position Fats Domino’s version reached.

Nelson’s early singles had a rockabilly feel and this two sided hit was no exception. He also had the advantage of presenting his material on one of the most popular television shows of the era.

“I’m Walkin'” remains an excellent outing from one of the original teenage idols.

Poor Little Fool 45 by Ricky Nelson

October 31, 2010

“Poor Little Fool” was released during mid-1958 and became Ricky Nelson’s first number one hit spending two weeks on top of The United States music world. He had reached number two, twice and three, once but had never made it to the top of the mountain.

It was close to a traditional ballad with a soft vocal that just flowed freely past the senses. While he would issue some up-tempo hits in the future, this song would lead him in a pop direction with good commercial results.

Also of note, it was the first song to reach the top of BILLBOARD MAGAZINE’S newly named Hot 100 chart.

Be Bop Baby/Have I Told You Lately That I Love You 45 by Ricky Nelson

October 27, 2010

Ricky Nelson released the double sided hit “Be Bop Baby/Have I Told You That I Love You” during 1957. His first two hits had been issued on the Verve Label but now he switched to Imperial which would become his home for 38 of his 54 chart singles.

This was back in the era when one single could produce two hits and so it was here. “Be Bop Baby” reached number three and “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” checked in at number 29.

The songs were a good match. “Be Bop Baby” looked back to his rockabilly roots with a stacatto beat while “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” was a romantic ballad originally made popular by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters in 1950.

This is Rick Nelson at the beginning of his career and while the songs would not rank with his very best work, they were still very good.