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Ricky Nelson

Rick Nelson was one of the very biggest of the '50s teen idols, so it took awhile for him to attain the same level of critical respectability as other early rock greats. Yet now the consensus is that he made some of the finest pop/rock recordings of his era. Sure, he had more promotional push than any other rock musician of the '50s; no, he wasn't the greatest singer; and yes, Elvis, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins, and others rocked harder. But Nelson was extraordinarily consistent during the first five years of his recording career, crafting pleasant pop-rockabilly hybrids with ace session players and projecting an archetype of the sensitive, reticent young adult with his accomplished vocals. He also played a somewhat underestimated role in rock & roll's absorption into mainstream America -- how bad could rock be if it was featured on one of America's favorite family situation comedies on a weekly basis?

Nelson entered professional entertainment before his tenth birthday, when he appeared with father Ozzie (once a jazz musician), mother Harriet, and brother David on a radio comedy series based around the family. By the early '50s, the series was on television, and Ricky grew into a teenager in public. He was just the right age to have his life turned around by rock & roll in 1956 and started his recording career almost accidentally the following year. The story's sometimes been told that he had no professional singing ambitions until he recorded his debut single to impress a girlfriend. The single, a cover of Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'" that went to number four, was helped immensely (as all of his early singles would be) by plugs on the Ozzie & Harriet TV show.

So far the script was adhering to the Pat Boone teen idol prototype -- a whitewash of an R&B hit stealing the thunder from the pop audience, sung by a young, good-looking fella with barely any musical experience to speak of. What happened next was easy to predict commercially but surprisingly satisfying musically as well. Nelson was a fairly hip kid who preferred the rockabilly of Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley to the fodder dished out for teen idols, and over the next five years he would offer his own brand of rockabilly music, albeit one with some smooth Hollywood production touches and occasional pure pop ballads. Nelson recruited one of the greatest early rock guitarists, James Burton, to supply authentic licks (another great guitarist, Joe Maphis, played on some early sides). Some of his best and toughest songs ("Believe What You Say," "It's Late") were written by Johnny and/or Dorsey Burnette, who had previously been in one of the best rockabilly combos, the Johnny Burnette Rock 'n Roll Trio. Ricky could rock pretty hard when he wanted to, as on "Be-Bop Baby" and "Stood Up," though in a polished fashion that wasn't quite as wild and threatening as rockabilly's Southern originators.

Nelson really hit his stride, though, with mid-tempo numbers and ballads that provided a more secure niche for his calm vocals and narrow range. From 1957 to 1962, he was about the highest-selling singer in the U.S. except for Elvis, making the Top 40 about 30 times. "Poor Little Fool" and "Lonesome Town" (1958) were early indications of his ballad style; in the early '60s, "Travelin' Man," "Young World," "Teen Age Idol," and other hits pointed to a more countrified, mature style as he honed in on his 21st birthday (by which time he would shorten his billing from "Ricky" to "Rick"). He could still play rockabilly from time to time, the most memorable example being "Hello, Mary Lou" (co-written by Gene Pitney), with its electrifying James Burton solos.

Nelson was lured away from the Imperial label by a mammoth 20-year contract with Decca in 1963 (which would be terminated prematurely in the mid-'70s), and for a year or so the hits continued, at a less frenetic pace. Early-1964's "For You," however, would be his last big smash of the '60s. The fault wasn't all the Beatles and changing music trends -- on both singles and albums, much of the material was either substandard pop or dusty Tin Pan Alley standards, although isolated tracks still generated some sparks. He wasn't exactly starving, as he continued to appear on Ozzie and Harriet. But by the mid-'60s even that institution was declining in popularity, leading to its cancellation in 1966.

Nelson had a strong country feel to much of his material from the beginning, and by the late '60s it was becoming dominant. He covered straight country material by the likes of Willie Nelson and Doug Kershaw and formed one of the earliest country-rock groups, the Stone Canyon Band, with musicians who had played (or would play) with Poco, Buck Owens, Little Feat, and Roger McGuinn. A cover of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me" made the Top 40 in 1970, but his country-rock outings attracted more critical acclaim than commercial success, until 1972's "Garden Party." A rare self-composed number, based around the frosty reception granted his contemporary material at a rock & roll oldies show, it became his last Top Ten hit.

Nelson would continue to record off and on for the next dozen years and toured constantly, yet he was unable to capitalize on his assets. A big part of the problem was that although Nelson wanted to play contemporary music, he didn't write much of his own material, which was a basic precept of self-respecting rock acts after the advent of the Beatles. Nor did he tap into good outside compositions, and there's little of interest on the albums he recorded over the last decade or so of his life. He died (along with his fiancée) in a private plane crash on December 31, 1985, on his way to a New Year's Eve gig in Dallas, at the age of 45. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Whole Lotta Shakin's Goin Home

2. Blood From A Stone

3. Boppin' The Blues

5. Down The Line

9. I'm Confessin'

10. I'm In Love Again

11. I've Been Thinkin'

12. I Can't Help It


Track List: Unchained Melody

1. Unchained Melody

2. Just A Little Too Much

3. Lonesome Town

4. One Minute To One

5. Poor Little Fool

6. Restless Kid

7. So Long

8. Teenage Doll

9. That's All

10. True Love

11. Be Bop Baby


Track List: For You: The Decca Years 1963-1969

Disc 1

2. I Got A Woman

7. Gypsy Woman

12. String Along

17. I Rise, I Fall

19. Fools Rush In

22. For You

24. The Nearness Of You

29. The Very Thought Of You

Disc 2

10. There's Nothing I Can Say

21. I'm A Fool

Disc 3

11. Raincoat In The River

14. I Need You

21. Louisiana Man

22. Congratulations

26. Night Train To Memphis

28. You Just Can't Quit

Disc 4

1. Alone

5. Mystery Train

23. Suzanne On A Sunday Morning

Disc 5

11. Promenade In Green

Disc 6

1. Believe What You Say

5. Hello Mary Lou

7. I'm Walkin'

13. My Bucket's Got A Hole In It


Track List: Greatest Love Songs

1. Never Be Anyone Else But You

2. Poor Little Fool

3. Sweeter Than You

4. Again

5. Lonesome Town

6. Don't Leave Me This Way

7. I'm Not Afraid

8. Hello Mary Lou (Goodbye Heart)

9. So Long

10. Young Emotions

11. I Wanna Be Loved

12. Unchained Melody

13. It's Up To You

14. Tryin' To Get To You

15. Teenage Idol (1962)

16. Old Enough To Love

17. It's All In The Game

18. Young World

19. True Love Ways

20. Dream Lover (Original Pre-Overdub Mix)

21. Gloomy Sunday

22. That's All


Track List: The Best Of Rick Nelson - 20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection

1. I'm Walkin'

2. String Along

3. Fools Rush In

4. For You

5. Gypsy Woman

6. The Very Thought Of You

7. Mystery Train

8. She Belongs To Me

9. Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart (Live)

10. Believe What You Say

11. Easy To Be Free

12. Garden Party


Track List: Greatest Hits

1. I'm Walkin'

2. Be-Bop Baby

3. Stood Up

4. Believe What You Say

5. Poor Little Fool

6. Lonesome Town

7. I Got A Feeling

8. Never Be Anyone Else But You

9. It's Late

10. Just A Little Too Much

11. Sweeter Than You

12. Travelin' Man

13. Hello Mary Lou (Goodbye Heart)

14. Everlovin'

15. Young World

16. Teenage Idol

17. Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear To Tread)

18. For You

19. She Belongs To Me

20. Garden Party


Track List: The Greatest Hits Revisited

1. Hello Mary Lou

2. Travelin' Man

3. I Got A Feeling

4. I'm Walkin'

5. Don't Leave Me This Way

6. Believe What You Say

7. Never Be Anyone Else But You

8. Waitin' In School

9. Teenage Idol

10. Garden Party

11. Stood Up

12. Mighty Good

13. Fools Rush In

14. Sweeter Than You


Track List: More Songs By Ricky / Rick Is 21 (Remastered)

1. I'm Not Afraid

2. Baby, Won't You Please Come Home

3. Here I Go Again

4. I'd Climb The Highest Mountain

5. Make Believe

6. Ain't Nothin' But Love

7. When Your Lover Has Gone

8. Proving My Love

9. Hey Pretty Baby

10. Time After Time

11. I'm All Through With You

12. Again

13. Mighty Good

14. I Wanna Be Loved

15. Young Emotions

16. Right By My Side

17. Yes Sir, That's My Baby

18. You Are My Sunshine

19. My One Desire

20. That Warm Summer Night

21. Break My Chain

22. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans

23. I'll Make Believe

24. Travelin' Man

25. Oh Yeah, I'm In Love

26. Everybody But Me

27. Lucky Star

28. Sure Fire Bet

29. Stars Fell On Alabama

30. Hello Mary Lou (Goodbye Heart)

31. You Are The Only One


Track List: Ricky / Ricky Nelson (2001 Digital Remaster)

1. Honeycomb

2. Boppin' The Blues

3. Be-Bop Baby

4. Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

5. Teenage Doll

6. If You Can't Rock Me

7. Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

8. Baby I'm Sorry

9. Am I Blue?

10. I'm Confessin'

11. Your True Love

12. True Love

13. Be-Bop Baby

14. Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

15. If You Can't Rock Me

16. Shirley Lee

17. Someday (You'll Want Me To Want You)

18. There's Good Rockin' Tonight

19. I'm Feelin' Sorry

20. Down The Line

21. Unchained Melody

22. I'm In Love Again

23. Don't Leave Me This Way

24. My Babe

25. I'll Walk Alone

26. There Goes My Baby

27. Poor Little Fool

28. Stood Up

29. Waitin' In School

30. Believe What You Say

31. My Bucket's Got A Hole In It


Track List: Rick Nelson Sings For You

1. For You

2. Fools Rush In

3. Down Home

4. That Same Old Feeling

5. You're Free To Go

6. I Rise, I Fall

7. That's All She Wrote

8. A Legend In My Time

9. Just Take A Moment

10. Hello Mister Happiness

11. Hey There, Little Miss Tease

12. The Nearness Of You


Track List: The Best Of Rick Nelson, Vol. 2 (1991 Digital Remaster)

1. You Are The Only One

2. Travelin' Man

3. Hello Mary Lou (Goodbye Heart)

4. A Wonder Like You

5. Everlovin'

6. Young World

7. Summertime

8. Teenage Idol

9. I've Got My Eyes On You (And I Like What I See)

10. It's Up To You

11. I Need You

12. That's All

13. I'm In Love Again

14. If You Can't Rock Me

15. Old Enough To Love

16. A Long Vacation

17. There's Not A Minute

18. Today's Teardrops

19. Congratulations

20. Lucky Star

21. My One Desire

23. Tryin' To Get To You

24. One Of These Mornings

25. It's All In The Game

26. If You Can't Rock Me (Alternate Version)


Track List: All-Time Greatest Hits

1. I'm Walkin'

2. A Teenagers Romance

3. You're My One & Only Love

4. Stood Up

5. Believe What You Say

6. Lonesome Town

7. Never Be Anyone Else But You

8. Fools Rush In

9. For You

10. Garden Party


Track List: Lengendary Masters - Volume 1

1. Be-Bop Baby

2. Have I Told You Lately That I Love You

3. Stood Up

4. Waitin' In School

5. Believe What You Say

6. My Bucket's Got A Hole In It

7. Poor Little Fool

8. Lonesome Town

9. I Got A Feeling

10. Never Be Anyone Else But You

11. It's Late

12. Just A Little Too Much

14. I Wanna Be Loved

15. Mighty Good

16. Young Emotions

17. Right By My Side

19. Yes Sir, That's My Baby

20. Milk Cow Blues


Track List: For Your Sweet Love

1. For Your Sweet Love

2. Gypsy Woman

3. You Don't Love Me Anymore (And I Can Tell)

4. Everytime I See You Smiling

5. Pick Up The Pieces

6. String Along

7. One Boy Too Late

8. Everytime I Think About You

9. Let's Talk The Whole Thing Over

10. I Got A Woman

11. What Comes Next?

12. I Will Follow You


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Ricky Nelson beautiful voice beautiful eyes!!!!!
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Ricky Nelson!!!!!! Awesome!!!Lo n g time since I have heard him!!!!
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The original teen idol
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Tricky Ricky good music
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I remember watching the TV show Ozzy & Harriet!.
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I know God has his arms around son.
It is. Inded a Lonely Town, without you, Ricky Hilliiard Nelson. You and i new each other at one my dear friend.
I miss you so much pal. Skip parrish.
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Me encanta esta canción. Esta versión ya es una regrabación. En español la cantaron "Los Hermanos Carrión".
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Lonesome town - Rick Nelson off his Ricky sings again Lp: love it, love it - perhaps because I recognize the town.
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Ricky died way to young! He had a great voice.
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My 1/2 brother James Kirkland was hired at the same time James Burton was. They were in the Imperial recoding studio recording some songs with Bob Luman. They were on tour with Bob. Ozzie discovered them there and hired them.
Kirkland played bass. After he left Ricky he went to Nashville and played with Jim Reeves and was the first bass player to play an Electric Bass on the Grand Ol Opera. He played with others during his career. He just received an award at the Texas Country Music Hall of Fam
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In the 60-s he was my grandmother' s favorite and she was 70 years old at the time. Her and I would watch Ozzie & Harriot Show , great memories He enjoyed such a wide range of fans. He was certainly one of my favorites.
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Seen him perform in a little town bar once. His prescence was as impressive as his music. Such a natural.
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Thanks for the biography. I grew up with him and his family. Sure do miss those good times.
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Ricky RICK' NELSON sang from His' Heart' & Soul', "ILOVIT" & YOU' "RICK" ("RIP"), Judy & B'
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The original teen idol .
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We went to some Rick Nelson concerts at the San Jose CA fairgrounds. He was wonderful talent. The airplane crash was a more sad story than shown in the bio. Rick was on a shoe string and their plane to go to gigs was an ancient Douglas DC 3 prop plane. The group used coke and I am pretty sure there was some being used on the plane. It is all a heart break.
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Died too young. Damn airplanes took a lot of talented lives over the years.
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My first album wad a Rick Nelson effort, then I turned to The Beatles. Rick, along with most pre Beatles acts suffered tremendously , declining in popularity. I still have fond memories of Ricky Nelson however.
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My mom was a huge fan of Ricky Nelson, so in 1961, when I was born, I was named Ricky. I, too, love listening to this great singer. Ricky, thanks for being moms number one man.
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My heart is lovingly there always
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Rick was a pioneer. Parents encouraged kids to watch Ozzie and Harriot with Rick belting out rock and roll at the end - made them turn the channel when Elvis was on. They only showed Elvis from the waist up.
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Rick Nelson Had much more then he could deal with and was blessed way more the he thought God Bless your memory Rick Nelson I enjoyed your music and still do and thought it was great too see Rick Nelson too acted along the great John Wayne > Kimberly
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I'm still a poor little fool for them o'l songs.
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Rick Nelson was and still is one of THE best singers that have ever sung. It takes a special kind of voice to give you chills when you hear them sing. In my personal opinion he had so much more talent than Elvis because he has one of those smooth, wonderful voices.
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I get great memories of 50 and 60s when I hear this song.
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It's late - Ricky Nelson off Ricky Sings Again: One of my favourite Ricky Nelson songs. It might be Remastered but I couldn't pick the difference - I love it.
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Believe what you say - Ricky Nelson off his Greatest Hits revisited: Ricky at his rockin' best.
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ricky nelson was a great and always will be the best singer every
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ricky nelson was a great and always will be the best singer every
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ricky nelson was a great and always will be the best singer every
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Lonesome town - Ricky Nelson off his Legendary masters Vol 1 album: What a good song and the original version too - too often we get later recordings of Ricky's hits.
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celticwarrio r 1 0 6 6
When I was a boy in the early 60s living in a very small town in the south, his Traveling Man put the traveling bug in me as a way to imagine more of this world. This is still with me these many years later. Having seen much of the world, I still think of his Traveling Man and smile as I sing along! :-) Thanks for that gift!
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It always takes me to the 60s when life was so peace full thank you lord
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We. All. Know. Elvis. Was. King & that. Will. Never. Change. But. Rick. Was. Special. Rip. Rick. I. Liked. Him. Very. Much. God. Bless. U. &. E.
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The first rock video was Rick Nelsons Travelling Man. I stood infront of the Mirror for hours to get my hair to look like his. A great role model.
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What I also like about Rick Nelson is that he transcended his teen idol image to do some good work with his Stone Canyon Band.Give a listen to "She Belongs to Me".A song written by Bob Dylan.
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Thanks James Burton for showing Rick Nelson how to rock.Man just listen to that guitar.
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What I appreciate about Ricky is he just made good music for people to enjoy. No edginess or anger like nowadays.
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Rick was so very cool
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dragonlady60 8 8
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i love these song, very much. thanks Rick for all your songs you gave us as a gift.
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Rick, u still our Idol, I love everything about you, wonderful, and handsome,
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Love Rocky Nelson
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Was one of my favorite artists growing up. Loved his music and looked forward to his singing at the end of each Ozzie & Harriet TV show.
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I like his sound. it like his voice too...kinda cute;)
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Rick was so underated, it was crazy, the purists know better now !
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Brings back the days when you could actually understand the lyrics and sing them on a NYC street corner (Brill Building).
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Wonderful singer great music
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